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“Botunjac’s wines truly express the local ‘podneblje’ (Serbian for ‘terroir’) and show an exceptional beauty…a kind of journey into the past: in fact, every bottle is a surprise, as every wine used to be before.”

By Mariusz Rybak

Kosta Botunjac is a wine-maker and an artist. His motto says that wine is drinkable art (“Umestnost koja se pije”). Consequently, he does everything himself, with little technology. He designs all the labels, some portraying his drawings. Pumps are not used at all, nor industrial yeasts or enzymes. This way a consumer is offered a very traditional wine, which lives according to old principles, with all the virtues and inconveniences.

One of the typical problems is stable quality. Without too much intervention, Mr. Botunjac’s wines truly express the local “podneblje” (Serbian for ‘terroir’) and show an exceptional beauty, but they may also lose a lot of its charm because of many external factors. This makes these wines a kind of journey into the past: in fact, every bottle is a surprise, as every wine used to be before. Nowadays, we tend to be rather risk-averse and to love predictability. Still, a wine lover shouldn’t resign on the experience of Botunjac’s Pinot Noir or Jagoda.

My experience with these wines was exactly of this kind. For the first time I could try them at the BeoWineFair – Belgrade’s wine fair, the biggest in the country. None of the wines were bad, but they were unspectacular and very usual. I was not able to understand many of the exited stories I’d heard about them.

Botunjac, Zupa, Serbia

As a result, I went to visit Mr. Botunjac full of doubt as to whether I would taste something interesting at all. Before he opened a bottle of his standard Pinot, he talked about the ritual of tasting and his philosophy. He might be the only producer in the region who doesn’t love the local Tamjanika grape. In his opinion, Tamjanika is not a consistent wine: its smell promises a lot, while the taste is dominated by high alcohol content and only little charm. More than wines from autochthonous grape varieties, he wishes to offer good wines – produced in accordance with the local terroir, character of variety, and in balance between nature and man. Besides, in his opinion, it is a secondary issue where the variety is originally from when it matches the local conditions and embodies the “podneblje” in its uniqueness.

We started to taste the standard Pinot (there is also a more exclusive version called ‘Pino Svetih Ratnika’ – the ‘Pinot of Holy Knights’) and I got completely overwhelmed by feeling of joy and gemütlichkeit. Memories, sentiments, and sensitivity for every small detail around me made me smile continuously. It couldn’t be only because of wine – it had to be the atmosphere created by Mr. Botunjac, his wife, and his mother, a lovely golden retriever called Zlatko (Goldie) laying at our feet, a fresh air coming from the orchard behind the house, scented with fragrance of elder and acacia blossom. I smiled and they said that there is no need to ask how is the wine. We all enjoyed ourselves.

Ivo Andrić had to experience moments of similar comfort and joy, asking:

And who then was not comforted and supported by wine? And who does not owe anything to it? (From these words occur the hope, bold and undreamt, that suddenly wine from brittle plant will smoothly and truly become merely invisible aroma, and then this ephemeral and changeable aroma of a fruit of the earth will become pure spirit, which lasts and rests on us in some way not known to us, without end and change…)

Then we opened also a bottle of Jagoda, made from an indigenous variety bearing the same name and grown at the moment only by the Botunjac family. These grapes are usually consumed fresh. Although the name means also “strawberry” in Serbian, there is no similarity in flavour. I found it hard to describe this taste and the producer told me that he tends to solve this problem by accepting the uniqueness of this wine and simply telling that Jagoda tastes, not more and not less, like Jagoda.

Helpless at finding any fruit which could describe the aroma of this wine, I agreed and continue to enjoy. ‘Jagoda’ is a semi-sweet wine, produced in small quantities and thus pretty expensive. A bottle costs around $27. Therefore I was extremely grateful to receive one as gift. It was drunk on a special occasion, a few days later – my birthday.

Botunjac_Zupa_Serbia

The fourth creation from this cellar is “Rasplet” (“Solution”), an Italian Riesling, and another mystery. A solution for what should this wine be, is to be decided by each one by himself.

There is no tasting room at the moment, no guest rooms and no parking space. Nevertheless, whoever will travel to Župa must visit this small winery – because of wine and because of the unique ambience. Words will always fail to describe reality.

Mariusz Rybak is currently researching Serbian wine culture and the notion of wine as a cultural good. His musings on such topics can be read on his blog, Kawa and Vino.

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