“These are wines you just can’t find in France,” says Montenegrin grandfather Marko Djurisic. The 85-year-old is introducing his vineyard’s oaked red wine, Barrique, served with a hefty side of local cold cuts and cheeses (which are totally necessary when sampling 14 per cent volume wines at 10am).
Montenegro might not be the first place that comes to mind for the wine lover looking to do a vineyard tour, but this country is a prime spot for wine production owing to its fertile land and unique microclimate which makes it one of the sunniest year-round spots on the Adriatic. Case in point: surrounding the vineyard are endless mountains reclining beneath the searing Mediterranean sun.
Marko’s family-run vineyard Eco Resort Cermeniza is buried in the hillside of the tiny fishing village of Virpazar, a 10 minute drive from fantastical Skadar Lake (the largest in southern Europe). The vineyard has been producing wine for the same family for over 400 years. In fact, Marko still tends to a vine that is older than him, at the age of 100, which stubbornly continues to produce rich purple grapes of the local vranac variety every year.
Wine production in Montenegro dates back thousands of years. I learn that vranac is actually the grandfather of the Italian primitivo, and that the zinfandel grape variety comes from this grape too – rather satisfying to hear from Marko as I swill my deep ruby red vranac down in one sweet, berry-spliced swig.
Every year, six members of the Djurisic family get together to work on the harvest from 7am until 7pm to produce 2,000 litres of wine endemic to Montenegro. It isn’t just the old-timers continuing their tradition of wine-making here though. Grandson Nemanja Djurisic and wife Jana Djurisic are slowly beginning to take on responsibilities at the vineyard, hosting tastings and organising kayaking trips to lake Skadar for guests wanting to team their wine tour with adventures in the nearby national park.
“We both have jobs in the city,” says 28-year-old Jana, “but coming out here, being in nature, waking to the bird song in the morning and continuing this tradition is really what we love.”
I visit the Radevic Vineyard, just a short drive from Montenegrin capital Podgorica, which (perhaps to Marko’s dismay) actually produces French varieties of wine. Since their first harvest 10 years ago, Montenegrin-American husband and wife duo Goran and Renee Radevic have developed award-winning syrah, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and a rosé as well as a distinct white port after restoring the family vineyard following 26 generations of winemakers.
“We used to dream about this vineyard and after Hurricane Ivan hit where we were living in the Cayman islands in 2004 and we had to be evacuated, we decided we’d come and finally do this,” says Renee Radevic of the couples’ decision to pour their life savings into the estate.
Now the pair host wine tours at the neatly preened vineyard and ship their wine to private buyers in Hong Kong, Germany, Switzerland and (Goran is proud to say) France. Tastings can go on for hours, with the couple – Montenegrin style – insisting aggressively on second helpings of prosciutto, cheeses and Renee’s homemade chutneys.
On a much bigger scale, Plantaze, Montenegro’s largest vineyard, exports wine to more than 40 countries and its cellar – an old military base – is now home to thousands of barrels of wine. Its purple vranac punctuated with cherries is so heavy-bodied and sweet that sommelier Bojan Bracanovic warns me “you’ll need a fork to taste this one”. Light it is not, but served with a thick meat stew typical of the region it goes down a treat.
After four days of wine exploration, I end my journey on the coast at Herceg Novi, sipping a very pale rosé at Castel Savina, the only vineyard on Montenegro’s coastline, perfectly perched above the Bay of Kotor. I watch sailing boats bob in and out of the bay, and wonder if the people yachting around Montenegro’s coast will ever taste the true fruits of this land.