I’ve been to Serbia twice. The first one was a dry occasion so I had to wait until the second one to have the chance of tasting a local wine varietal. I’m one of those guys who “When in Rome, do as Romans do”, and when in Belgrade, drink as Belgradians drink. I don’t know why, but when we went to a restaurant for dinner, they let me choose the wine. I was expecting a lot of foreign wines, as I didn’t know wine was made in Serbia, but there were a bunch of Serbian wines. I checked the grapes, and when I saw Prokupac, that’s the one I chose. It was a red one, by the way. I don’t remember which one was, though I might remember it was good enough to finish the bottle. That was six years ago (time do flies).
Since then, I have been hearing about a Serbian wine producer whose wines started to be appreciated in Spain, Oszkár Maurer. And as magic happens, I got to know another Serbian producer friends of Oszkár’s who happens to produce orange wines, and orange wines only. He is Bojan Baša.
Bojan runs a family estate/natural wine project (5.5Ha of vineyards) exactly on the right bank of Danube River on Fruška Gora Hill between Novi Sad and Belgrade, in the municipality of Sremski Karlovci.
Historically this is one of the oldest spots for the wine production in Europe drawing its roots back to the period B.C. and Roman Empire when the imperial decree of Emperor Marcus Aurelius Probus allowed for the first time vine planting outside of Apennine Peninsula. Marcus Aurelius Probus was born in year of 232 in Sirmium, currently known as a town of Sremska Mitrovica on Fruška Gora Hill. If we want to go even more back in the history, Fruška Gora was a volcanic island in Pannonian Sea some 10 million years ago which had a strong impact on its soil character and diversity.
Bojan works with autochthonous varieties like Tamjanika, Furmint, Morava and international Pinot Grigio. In following years he plans to plant a few more indigenous varieties, historically characteristic for this area like Grašac Beli, Sremska Zelenika, Lipolist, Medenac Beli, Bakator, the aforementioned Prokupac, Kadarka, but also varieties which have a proven presence on Fruška Gora for more than 300-400 years like Riesling and Gewürztraminer.
The project Bojan is running is still young, having in mind that his first vineyard was planted in 2010 with Pinot Grigio and then continued from 2014 on. Every year he has planted approximately 0.5Ha of new vineyard. All the vineyards are south and south/east exposition, 140-210 meters above the sea level, on the right bank of Danube River, a kind of Grand Cru position.
Currently Bojan is producing around 12,000 bottles but he wants to slowly build that number up to 17-18,000 bottles when the 2025 vintage will be on the market. The cultivation of the vineyards is organic and he follows biodynamic practices and preparations and do not use any pesticides, herbicides, insecticides or artificial fertilizers. In the cellar, he says, “we practice low intervention, working traditionally with no use of modern enological resources, respecting the natural processes and using only minimal amounts of sulfur just prior to bottling (if necessary).” The vintages 2016, 2017 and 2018 were bottled with no added sulfur. Alcoholic and malolactic fermentation are spontaneous, on natural yeasts and bacteria without temperature control. The wines are not filtered and for the fermentation and aging he uses 300- and 500-liter wooden barrels of oak, mulberry and acacia.
One of the things that I like about Bojan is that he loves orange wines and it is what he produces. He only does white wines macerated on the skins. Oh, and he always argues with me: “amber wines!” he says all the time.
His first vintage was 2013, and he was able to produce a very exciting and perfectly balanced mineral amber wine. It is a five-day macerated Pinot Grigio, fermented with natural yeasts, left on the lees for 2 years, no racking or manipulation in the meantime, low SO2 (<20mg/L) and then bottled without filtering and aged one more year before releasing. This wine is branded as Jantar MM13 (Jantar is old Slavic word for amber).
The next vintage was Jantar 2015, Pinot Grigio again with the same winemaking and with five days of skin contact. The outcome was a strong-bodied and expressive bone-dry amber wine. Jantar 2016 (eight days on the skins) was bottled in March/April 2019, after spending 30 months in used oak barrels. Jantar 2017 (50% five days on the skins and the remaining 50% seven days on the skins) was bottled in April 2020 and was released by the end of 2020. This will be his first commercial vintage available for export. It will be a rich macerated Pinot Grigio with the color more like Pinot Noir.
From 2018 Bojan has harvested for the first time Tamjanika (the local Muscat variety, close by ampelography to Muscat Frontignian and the Muscat variety from Samos Island in Greece). Wines were ageing in acacia barrels for 18 months and were bottled in June 2020 as limited edition of 905 bottles. Pinot Grigio Jantar 2018 will be bottled in spring of 2021 also in limited edition of 900 bottles of Pinot Grigio. Tamjanika 2018 has seven days of skin contact.
From 2019 in addition to Pinot Grigio and Tamjanika, he picked up Furmint for the first time (treated as a local variety on Fruška Gora, in regards to prove of his presence here from XVI-XVII centuries). Quantities from the 2019 vintage will rise up to around 6,000 bottles, and from 2020 to 12,000 bottles.
Bojan says that “I personally expect a lot from Furmint and having in mind that currently in total we have just 5-6 vineyards of Furmint in Fruška Gora (two of them are ours, and the rest is in hands of Oszkár Maurer and Ernö Sagmeister) we are working on revitalization and trying to bring back Furmint to one of his native habitats. Currently just the three of us in Serbia, are involved in this unofficial and personal project”.
As we can see, Bojan is not a newcomer in the wine world and much less in the world of natural and orange wines. His maceration times go from five to eleven days, no more, and he manages to get wines that are absolutely special. Opening his wines is an incredible experience. Taking for instance Jantar 2017, he says that it needs time to breath, so I opened it couple of hours before lunch. I gave it time, but I couldn’t resist taking a sip. It was like an atomic bomb, pure power. I had a hard tome waiting for it to get some fresh air. At lunch it had the same power, a bit tamed but still a potent wine, what someone could expect from a wine from Serbia. The best part of it came at mid afternoon, when the strength of the wine became a notch tamed and the tremendous character of the Pinot Grigio appeared.
I have to say the typical macerated Pinot Grigio from Collio or Goriška Brda is kind of an entry level wine, a wine to get you ready for tasting Malvasia, Chardonnay, Sauvignon or Ribolla Gialla/Rebula. On the contrary, Bojan’s Jantar is a wine not for the faint of heart. You have to have shaved your teeth in orange wines before tasting and enjoying it. Else it will be too much for you. But believe me, you will love it when you taste it. And you will want more and more and more of it.
Soon we will talk to Bojan Baša about his wines and his project.
Photos (c) by Bojan Baša