We were invited to the Republic of Macedonia to discover those wines and the beautiful country where they are produced. Our host was Jordan Trajkov, former Director of the Office of National Tourism and founder of winery/hotel/restaurant Popova Kula, the “Temple of Wine,” perched on a hill just off the main highway 40 minutes north of the Greek border. It is a bucolic, peaceful place overlooking a spectacular valley of vineyards, forests and cliffs.
Jordan started building Popova Kula in 2004 as fulfillment of a dream he had after visiting the Napa Valley in California. At the time he was a former banker in Macedonia who was getting an MBA at the Thunderbird School of Global Management near Phoenix, AZ. After earning his MBA Jordan went on to work as an investment banker for Citibank in New York and Morgan Stanley in London. But September 11, 2001 was a turning point for him. After hearing about the attacks in New York (he was working in London) he immediately called his wife and shouted, “Enough of this. Life is short. We’re returning to Macedonia to realize our dream.” He resigned and booked a flight back to his homeland that day.
Popova Kula makes 24 different wines using both international grape varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay) and grapes native to Macedonia, including Vranec (Said to be the “Grandfather of Zinfandel”) and Prokupec (a rich Balkan varietal that produces complex reds). But the star of Popova Kula is the Stanushina red, white and rosé, wines made from a local grape that cannot be found anywhere else. Jordan explains, “Stanushina used to be the most common grape found in Macedonia. However what I call the ‘chardonnayzation’ of the wine business combined with forty years of a Socialist regime demanded that wineries only produce wines with international grapes. Stanushina was almost extinct by the early 1990s. Luckily I found some vines on my estate and we have cultivated it to the point that it is, I think, our best wine.” And indeed Stanushina can stand up to the best. Similar in color and texture to a good Pinot Noir or Nebbiolo, the wine exude a unique fragrance and depth.