News / 01/14/2021 / 189
Foggy morning in the town of Prokuplje (South Serbia). Autumn has already arrived. From the hills surrounding the church of St. Procopius, one can observe still dormant town. At the entrance to the church yard, the churchgoers are greeted by a fresco of Saint Procopius. It is regarded that the church was built in the 10th century and represents, along with St. Peter's Church in Novi Pazar, an example of the oldest preserved Orthodox Christian church in the territory of Serbia.
In the Middle Ages, Prokuplje was also called the town of Saint Procopius because his relics were kept in the church. So, the present name of the town is without any doubt connected with Saint Procopius. But, is there any truth in claims that our autochthonous grape variety Prokupac was named after Saint Procopius and the town of Prokuplje?
It is not uncommon for grape varieties to be named after the geographical region in which they were grown. On the territory of Serbia, we have numerous examples: Smederevka, Braničevka, Plovdina, Slankamenka, Skadarka. Therefore, it can be considered certain that there is a connection between Prokupac and Prokuplje. Also, until the 19th century, it was common to serve wine in the taverns and inns, but unlike today, without specifying the grape variety.
Namely, in the past, wines were valued exclusively by the region from which they originated. Wines from the south of Serbia did not have easy access to export channels towards western markets. These were reserved for wines from Negotin and other regions along the Danube. For that reason, consumers of wines from South Serbia were predominantly located in big cities in the south: Niš, Pirot and Vranje. Wine lists and advertisements in local newspapers from the second half of 19th century state that the most popular wines were prokupačko crno (Prokuplje red), župsko crno (Župa red), niško and leskovačko.
So, in the spirit of the Serbian language, it is common to shorten the phrase "prokupačko crno vino" (red wine from Prokuplje) or "prokupačko vino" (wine from Prokuplje) to a single word Prokupac. Afterall, an inebriated inhabitant of Niš, having drunk a dozen glasses of wine in the local inn, would struggle to shout to the innkeeper to bring him another glass of "red wine from Prokuplje". He would slur or mumble less if he just asked for another Prokupac.
If we attempt to track Prokuplje vineyards, the connection between Prokuplje and Prokupac becomes clear, so we can fully understand why this particular grape variety has become a symbol of Toplica region. After the liberation from the Ottoman Turks, the Christian population (Serbs) returned to urban settlements in Toplica region, whilst the Muslim Albanian population, which previously inhabited the surrounding mountainous areas and was mainly involved in cattle breeding, fled from Toplica. There were also fewer Turks and Circassians. It was noted that almost all the land owners and rich inhabitants of Prokuplje had a piece of land on the hills surrounding the town. Records from 1882 state that Prokuplje, located in Dobrič district, was surrounded by 2,000 hectares of vineyards where Prokupac represented a predominant grape variety.
However, the name Prokupac was not only limited to Toplica region. If we explore written sources from the 19th century, it can be seen that the name Prokupac was also widespread in Leskovac, Pirot, Niš and Pčinja area including Vranje. So, it means the entire territory of south Serbia.
Somewhat further north, on the other side of Mt. Jastrebac, the most common variety in the vineyards of Župa was called Hrskavac or Rskavac. That name was present in the entire Rasina district (the area of today's Župa Aleksandrovačka, Trstenik, Kruševac, Varvarin and Ćićevac) until the 19th century and from there it spread to other parts of Serbia. An article from the newspaper "Pravda" from 1933 states that there were approximately 4,000 hectares of vineyards in Župa, including "special grape called Rskavac in Župa, black grape used for production of the famous Župa red wines and ružica (traditional dark coloured roses)".
It is interesting that both names, Hrskavac and Prokupac, were represented in Levač region, all depending on whether the vines were brought from nurseries in Župa region or from the south of Serbia. Also, the local population of Lapovo knew a variety called "Crno Grožđe" (black grapes) or Rskavac in their vineyards at the end of the 19th century, whilst a separate variety was called "Meko Grožđe" (soft grapes) or Prokupac. From today's perspective, this information does not seem reliable enough to use it to identify the variety, especially because in some parts of Serbia, the name Mekiš (soft grapes) was synonymous with Skadarka variety.
This is best explained in the example of Šumadija region. In 1874, M. Savić wrote down important information about the names of Skadarka and Prokupac: "In various villages of Kragujevac district, Skadarka is commonly known as Mekiš ("mek" means soft in Serbian), most probably owing to its juicy soft berries, unlike Kameničarka which is also called Hrskavac because of its hard and fleshy berries. " He thus confirmed that at that time it was already known that Kameničarka and Hrskavac were the same variety. On the other hand, it was determined for the first time in 1875, based on morphological features of the plant, that Prokupac and Kameničarka were the same variety.
The assumption that the name Kameničarka or Kameničanka (as it is known in the vicinity of Valjevo) is derived from the rocky soil where it thrives better ("kamen" means rock in Serbian) was first mentioned in 1874. However, if we look at Šumadija and the vineyards of Kragujevac (Stragari) where the largest areas under vineyards in Šumadija were located in the past, we will notice that those vast vineyards were not planted on rocky soils but prevailingly on cambisol and vertisol.
Therefore, we should also consider the assumption that the name Kameničarka is derived from the name of Kamenica village near Kragujevac, i.e. the village that was located in the largest vineyard area of Šumadija in the 19th century. In the past, the village of Kamenica was mostly producing wine and it boasted with endless fields of vineyards, but nowadays only private vineyards have remained (it is estimated that there are currently about eight hectares of vineyards in the village) and locals produce wine for their domestic needs. Similarly, Skadarka had the local name Četereška in the region of Negotinska Krajina and Braničevo in East Serbia (named after the village of Četereže).
Although the area surrounding the cities of Smederevo and Požarevac are practically located in Šumadija, where the dominant name of the variety was Kameničarka, the variety found in local vineyards around Smederevo and Požarevac in the 19th century was called Prokupac, which suggests that the variety was introduced from southern Serbia to the region. Previously, this region was largely known for its white wines, particularly Smederevo. This is supported by the fact that the vineyards of Prokupac in the vicinity of Smederevo were concentrated around Katansko Brdo (Katanski Hill), a hilly plateau above Leštar, which starts from the former property of Petar Maksimović, Smederevo's lawyer and minister during the rule of Obrenović dynasty in Serbia.
Professional literature also lists synonyms such as Crnka, Nikodimka, Rekovačka Crnka, Skopsko Crno... But all these names were very localized and narrowly distributed, so they didn't have broad significance, unlike the three primary names: Prokupac, Rskavac and Kameničarka, which were widely present on the territory of Serbia.
The article was originally published at online wine magazine www.vino.rs
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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