We had already spent two great nights in Demir Kapija at the Popova Kula Winery, but our thirst was only growing. So on the way out of town, we stopped by Macedonia’s most historic winery, the Vinarija Elenov.
Although it’s right off the highway, not a single sign advertises the Vinarija Elenov’s presence. If you weren’t specifically looking for it, you’d drive right past without ever registering its existence. “Don’t they want tourists?” As we progressed through the winery on our ensuing tour, I realized that it’s possible they don’t. In fact, if I owned the Villa Marija, I’d fight to keep the gates locked forever. I mean it, I’d turn wine-hermit.
The winery was established in 1931 by the Serbian King Alexander I, and was the first in the post-Ottoman Balkans. The Vinarija Elenov is surprisingly large, consisting of a number of barns, halls, houses and fields. It gets far fewer visitors than the nearby Popova Kula, but this is actually the bigger winery.
Our tour brought us through the fields and to the Vila Marija, a stately old house built for the Serbian Queen. The chalet is beautiful but in poor condition, which is a shame when you consider its stunning location and history. It’s baffling that they haven’t restored it, and turned it into a luxury boutique hotel. Perhaps my initial suspicions were spot-on: they’re happy with life as is and don’t want to attract more people. Hey, I totally understand. Wine-hermit.
We went into the cellars to see the massive oak barrels that have been there since the earliest days of the winery. Visible within one of them is a small bullet hole. During World War II, the cellar was stormed by German soldiers, one of whom tried to get at the wine by standing a few meters back and unloading his pistol. But these ultra-thick barrels are Nazi-proof, and the villain’s dastardly scheme was foiled. (I wish I could report that the bullet had ricocheted back into his fascist skull, but he probably just went back upstairs and uncorked a few regular bottles.)
After the tour, we had enough time to sample some wines and enjoy a lunch in one of the Vinarija Elenov’s dining rooms. Jürgen and I sat down by ourselves at a long table in a luxurious dining room that felt like some king’s long-forgotten residence, and enjoyed a perfectly-cooked trout. Having nothing else to do, our guide grabbed a fresh bottle and sat down with us. He brought out a tattered photo album, and proudly showed off some of the Vinarija Elenov’s illustrious former guests. These were likely old Yugoslav politicians, and although we didn’t recognize a single one, we oooh-ed and aah-ed in wonderment. It seemed like a fair trade: you keep filling up our glasses, we’ll provide attentive, friendly company for as long as you want.