History of Wine – Part 3

Part 1, 2, 3, 4.

16th-19th CENTURY

After the arrival of Turkish conquerors, wine production is gradually losing its importance, because Islamic religion prohibits alcohol consumption. Special squads of Turkish soldiers called “akinci” were employed to destroy vineyards. Grapes were mostly used as food, so table grape varieties such as Drenkovi, Afus Ali and Ćilibarka were imported in Serbia during the Turkish period. It should be also mentioned that the Turks are responsible for arrival of plum in Serbia, which is now considered as the Serbian national fruit. After the year 1389, Serbian population fled northwards in order to escape the Turkish rule. Serbian people, clergy, monks and some nobility settled down in Srem region and founded there monasteries, estates and vineyards. They also brought their rich experience in growing grape vine and wine production. Owing to them, vinegrowing started flourishing to the north of the Danube and the Sava rivers – wine regions of Banat and Srem. Their credits are also the change of grape varieties which were grown. For example, instead of formerly grown white grape varieties in Fruška Gora, Serbian population from the south brought the culture of growing red grape varieties, which prevailed soon afterwards.

After signing of the Karlovac Peace Agreement in 1699 when Srem and Banat regions became part of the Habsburg Empire, territory covered by vineyards in Srem increased heavily. During this period, wine also played an important role in politics. Metropolitan bishops of Karlovac often presented the Habsburg court dignitaries in Vienna with barrels of bermet and ausbruch “with discretion” in order to win some privileges for the Serbian population.

During the rule of Maria Theresa, the territory of South Banat was colonized. The Serbs who fled from the Turkish rule and Germans outnumbered all the others. It is believed that the Germans brought Riesling grape variety to Banat. Over time, Vršac vine-growing area became the most productive vine-growing region not only in Hungary, but entire Europe as well. According to the records, 56 million liters of wine were produced in Vršac in 1875.

The Golden Age of Vršac vinegrowing area was interrupted by Phylloxera outbreak. The first isolated case of Phylloxera was discovered in 1880, but since it was an excellent year, nobody listened to Prof. Joseph Weidler’s warnings. In the coming few years, similar to other vinegrowing regions in Europe, Phylloxera devastated vineyards. In Banat region alone, territories covered by vineyards shrank from 7,500 hectares to 2,500 hectares. Local farmers attempted diverse methods to cope with phylloxera plague. Ideas ranged from flooding the vineyards to injecting carbon disulfide into the soil surrounding the grape vine.

Based on scientific findings originating from France, the first cuttings were grafted onto resistant American native rootstock in Vršac in 1882. Phylloxera was eventually defeated, yet it left grave consequences on vineyards and habits of local vinegrowers. After painful experiences with phylloxera, local vinegrowers realized that they need to modernize their production of grapes and wine.

Concerning vineyards in Srem region, phylloxera was first reported there in 1881, and by the year 1890, all old vineyards on Mt Fruška Gora were destroyed. Recuperation of vineyards took about 30 years, and red grape varieties in vineyards were once again replaced by white grape varieties. Red and White Slankamenka, Welschriesling, Rheinriesling,Red Dinka (Ružica), Chasselas, Blaufrankisch became the most common varieties in vineyards. If bermet and ausbruch were known as the most famous wines of Sremski Karlovci in 18th and 19th century, then Welschriesling will earn this title in 20th century.

The first Serbian wine encyclopaedia originates from 18th century, i.e. 1783. It was written by Zaharije Orfelin and published in Vienna under the title “The Experienced Cellar Keeper”. The book was a compilation of everything that was known at that time about production of Fruška Gora wines, as well as French, Italian and German wines. In the section of “herbal wines”, Orfelin described the production method of the famous bermet from Sremski Karlovci.

In 1816, Prokopije Bolić, the Archimandrite of Rakovac monastery, assembled all his personal experience gained by work in monastery vineyards and cellars and published them in 1816 in Budapest in the book titled ” A Perfect Winemaker” together with Serbian translation of the book written by French scientist Jean-Antoine Claude Chaptal. This book is valuable because Bolić described 35 grape varieties which were grown in Mt Fruška Gora at that time, whereas each variety is given its common name, botanical description and agricultural/technical features. Based on this book, we can conclude that white grape varieties prevailed, particularly Smederevka and White Slankamenka (Mađaruša).

History of Wine

Text Tomislav Ivanović

Part 1, 2, 3, 4.