MONTENEGRO, ALBANIA & NORTH MACEDONIA
THE EXPRESSION OF THE BALKANS
The road is more and more beautiful as the mountains are reflected in a sea of a shining blue. We are in Montenegro, where despite a wine production monopolized at 80% by a single producer, Plantaze, some small estates continue to produce excellent wines from the local grape variety Vranac. Fortunately, the language barrier does not stop us from sharing good moments with the winemakers around culinary specialties.
Above all, this short Montenegrin stay allows us to finish Betty's recovery! Indeed, most of the Montenegrin vehicles come from Volkswagen, and we have no problem finding the right part to replace.
We can't wait to discover Albania: the most unknown and disliked of the Balkans. At first glance, a chaotic impression emanates from this country. All along the road - more or less practicable - unfinished constructions, tons of garbage scattered on the ground and stray dogs are passing by. But little by little Albania reveals its first beauties: the mountains, the sea and above all a warm and welcoming population, very proud of its culture and its country.
Through the stories of the winemakers, we gradually understand this nation with a history different from others: its sudden opening and development after the fall of the dictator, the marks of the recent civil war and the disasters of corruption.
After a few hours in the capital Tirana, an over-polluted and colorful city, we discover a haven of peace in a suburban vineyard, a true paradise for birds and insects.
Then we change landscape and find Nature in the south of the country, it's looks like an endless summer as the temperatures are so warm and the forests shiny green. On the road, we are sometimes stopped by herds of sheep and cows walking. The way of life is very simple, mostly rural and not mechanized.
Albania's winemaking history is one of the oldest with its 2000 years of tradition, but the new generation stands out from the communist era by a more technological production and a lot of control over the wine. In fact, the new vineyards are keen to distinguish themselves from the "garage" wines produced for the family's personal consumption, ensuring excellent quality and highlighting the great virtues of wine for health.
Finally, what particularly appeals to us is the interest in the use of local products. Pomegranates accompany every meal and the production of autochthonous grape varieties such as Kallmet or Vlosh is a no brainer.
A very strong will to develop their own resources shows the Albanians' attachment to their country. Extremely hospitable, they are always ready to help us, and are eager to share their stories.
After Albania, direction Greece, birthplace of Dionysus!
Before crossing the border to enter the European Union, we take a break by the sea, charmed by an infinite beach which seems to only belong to the Betty.
An Albanian from the nearby construction site brings us wood - hospitality is an absolute rule here - and we light a warm fire that encourages long discussions. A beautiful evening, which does not let us foresee the bad news that awaits us the next day: Greece refuses us the entry in the land of the Gods...
At the northern Macedonian border, the customs burst out laughing when we proudly show them our 58 bottles of wine. A joyful turnaround for four carefree French women who rarely inquire about the regulations in effect at customs. 2 liters of wine per person is far too little! Fortunately, more fear than harm, they decide to close their eyes on our unconsciousness and even sign us an autograph "State Police", a collector's item.
We are welcomed in two vineyards and discover the local grape varieties: Stunashina, Plava and Vranec.
The great natural spaces, the mountains and the lakes do not leave us indifferent: Macedonia is a beautiful country!
At the Venta estate, Dragica combines her job as a lawyer with that of a winemaker on the family farm she runs with her nephew Drasko. There, we discover superb red wines made from the indigenous Vranac grape variety.
Through the Uka Farm project, the oenologist and wine producer wants to set an example and inspire not only the Albanians but a whole generation around the world to review their way of consumption and to live from their own resources. This magical place on the periphery of Tirana offers a cuisine based on local products and technological wines made from the region's grape varieties.
Natasha is one of the only women winemakers in Albania - if not the only one! Together with her husband she produces wines from local grape varieties such as Vlosh and prepares the traditional and delicious local cuisine for the guests of the Kantina.
Jordan is an experienced businessman who has worked for many years in finance in the United States, where he discovered his passion for wine. He returns to his native country and builds Popova Kula where he brings the indigenous Stanushina grape variety up to date.
Many thanks to Bérenger Thibaut from Albanie Vacances for his valuable recommendations and contacts.