Events / 11/17/2016 / 917
The town of Lazarevac is a relatively recent product of Serbian history. Until late 19th century, the main town in this part of Serbia was called Šopić. After the declaration of independence of Serbia in 1878, the region in the vicinity of Šopić became stronger economically, largely owing to growing trade with Austria-Hungarian Empire and the proximity of Belgrade. The town was officially named Lazarevac and inaugurated in the Serbian newspapers on the Day of St. Vitus in 1889. Lazarevac is believed to have been named after the oldest tavern in the area called "Prince Lazar". According to another legend, Lazarevac got the status of town on Lazarus Saturday, hence the name. In any case, Lazarevac already in those times benefitted from its location in the vicinity of Belgrade, the main commercial center for sale of agricultural products.© tourist organization of Lazarevac
Nowadays, while steel dinosaurs and industrial facilities belonging to lignite mining basin "Kolubara" stretch along Ibarska highway surrounded by dotted houses and ghostly abandoned villages whose residents have moved to other locations due to expansion of coal mine, the first thing that comes to mind when speaking about Lazarevac is heavy industry, coal, mines... But, for wine enthusiasts, Lazarevac has become the centre for promotion of Serbian wines.
The festival takes place on Saturday. Not Lazarus', but Lazarevac's Saturday. While rushing in order to arrive on time for the festival's opening ceremony, I am thinking about the future of wine events like the Festival of Serbian Wines in Lazarevac.
Wine events in Serbia are still quite centralized. Wine-loving crowd in Belgrade are privileged to host all important wine promotion events. New wine premieres, mini wine fairs, themed food & wine pairing events, wine festivals and fairs, conferences. Simply, market economy is easily understood - Belgrade as potentially the largest market in Serbia offers the largest potential market share so everybody finds it vitally important to present wines to Belgrade's winelovers.
Then follows Novi Sad with several wine events that we can already call "traditional" with their own identity. They attract tourists from the whole region (Interfest, New Portugieser Days). The city also boasts numerous wine-themed events at local restaurants, so wine audience stays informed about the latest developments on the local wine scene. Altogether, there's no wow effect, but there is something going on throughout the year...
If you need to go to other parts of Serbia in search of wine events, we will have difficulties to avoid local fair-like atmosphere and perception that a wine fair is a subspecies of rural fairs where a group of local winemakers will gather in a corner and sell their wines in plastic bottles (hm, in Serbia, this kind of packaging doesn't have a specific name, whilst in Slovenia I heard that locals jokingly call plastic packaging "Dalmatian magnum"...). If we skip all the events and festivities with such décor, then the following destinations remain: Niš, Kragujevac, Sombor and Lazarevac.
From the very beginning, wine festivals in Niš and Kragujevac set the bar high in terms of quality. During eight years of existence, Lazarevac festival was developing slowly, step by step, with scarce resources. From the beginning, it boasts the reputation of a sincere festival organized with the sole aim to promote Serbian wineries and to encourage consumers to drink local wines. This year the fair looks reenergized, so the organizers have entered a new phase of development.Eight years later, we clearly see the effects of Lazarevac Festival and a clear direction for the future of this feast of Serbian wines.
1) The number of wineries in the vicinity of Lazarevac has increased significantly, but also the area covered with vineyards. A core of small winemakers from Lazarevac has been formed and they have noticeably improved quality of their wines. This was particularly evident at this year's Lazarevac wine festival. Obviously, exhibiting wines alongside well-known wineries from Serbia is a great encouragement for Lazarevac winemakers - they establish contacts with more experienced peers and learn know-how ... This is definitely the noblest quality of Lazarevac Wine Festival.
2) In the local community such as Lazarevac, new wine audience who learnt that restaurants can offer Serbian wines with comparable quality as an alternative to Vranac Pro Corde, has emerged (although still not widely represented). The very fact that the festival was attended by almost 5,000 visitors (information published by the organizer) is impressive because it means that 1/5 of the total population of Lazarevac took the opportunity to discover Serbian wines and winemakers. We also spotted numerous wine enthusiasts who flocked to Lazarevac because of the festival.
3) The rising wine culture is reflected in the exhibition setting: sufficient number of spittoons, enough ice to keep wine chilled, the festival staff providing support to exhibitors ... Over the past 8 years, the organizers have realized that success of a wine event is not dependant on butter rolls, traditional cakes and biscuits, cured meat etc, so these exhibitors have been brought to a reasonable number (if we speak about it, the only objection to this year's festival is a strange blend of stalls representing Župa winemakers and the stand of Mačkat prosciutto that emitted its aromas in a circle of 20 meters, so even the most aromatic Tamjanika wine smelled smoked and barrique-like).
4) Organizers of this year's festival significantly facilitated orientation and movement between stands because exhibiting wineries were grouped by regions. Fans of Prokupac had their section where Župa winemakers were concentrated. Vojvodina (North Serbia) also had its section of the exhibition hall, and so did Šumadija winemakers. A good practical exercise for other festivals to follow.
5) Therefore, the festival is making a shift in terms of quality year after year. This year, a member of local wine media scene, our colleague Neša Andrić (vinovnik.rs) joined the organizing team... Lately, wine media are increasingly showing that their existence has a practical purpose instead of being merely a bunch of scribblers. Indeed, their activities can give (and they actually give) a practical contribution to the spread of wine culture ... I support this!
6) I have an impression after this year's Lazarevac festival that the Tourist Organization of Lazarevac can exploit more efficiently the potential of this festival. If the festival attracts numerous wine audience from Belgrade and other places and totals about 5000 visitors, then it's a perfect opportunity to show them Lazarevac and local tourist attractions... Perhaps an optional guided walking tour (for festival guests who sign up for the tour via social networks) in the afternoon through Lazarevac town centre and a visit to the church of St. Demetrios with ossuary, Kamengrad, contemporary art gallery, monument to Serbian warrior. Perhaps also a guided tour of Lazarevac wineries for the accredited media.
7) Finally, we should pay tribute to Mr. Radoslav Čvorović from Zeoke Vineyards, the visionary who initiated the entire story about Lazarevac Wine Festival. Thanks to his hard work and dedication, the wine festival has survived and reached the present form, which is particularly important given that some much larger and more ambitious wine fairs and festivals have ceased to exist after a few years. Lazarevac and local wine enthusiasts certainly appreciate this. Therefore Mr. Čvorović secured a place in the pages of modern history of Serbian wine.
On our own initiative, we discovered a hidden pearl of Lazarevac. It was already getting dark, but the road took us to ethno-village Babina Reka (Old Woman's River)... While sitting by the fireplace, surrounded by cozy interior and phenomenal food, we summoned impressions from this year's Wine Festival in Lazarevac ... Until next year ... It's worth coming again to Lazarevac.
Awarded wine writer, wine critic and contributor to selected wine magazines. WSET3-certified author and editor-in-chief of www.vinopedia.rs. Member of Vojvodina Sommelier Association. Juror in national and international wine competitions. Lecturing about wines of Serbia and the Balkans. Local partner of Wine Mosaic organization. Co-founder of International Prokupac Day.
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