WHO ARE THE WINEMAKERS OF SERBIA: Nebojsa Aleksic – Modernist
“When a young man goes to France, it's natural for him to fall in love with wine...”
Nebojsa Aleksic was born in Vranje. After getting a faculty degree in economics, he left for Paris to specialize in management. That's where he discovered his love of wine and gastronomy. Upon his return to Belgrade, he began exploring and tasting various wines more and more. When the state started aiding this sector and when the financial conditions met, he decided to found his own winery. Temet, famous for its wines Tri Morave and Ergo, is now recognizable for its own special kind of winemaking modernism in the heart of Sumadija.
On a sunny April morning, we arrived to Lozovik, located ten minutes away from the center of Jagodina.
My first impression of Temet, looking from the road, from the foot of a hill, is that it resembles a modern American or Spanish winery.
– When I started thinking about establishing a winery, I had three ideas in mind. I wanted it to be different and unique, to be modern, but also to have a vintage feeling, and I wanted the entire concept to be simple. Those were the principles when it came to wine style, design, architecture and marketing as well.
Tradition is necessary, but I believe that it is the soil and not us that carries it. Even the name of the location of our winery, Lozovik, originates in the area's long history of grapevine cultivation.
I admit that I had second thoughts at one point about whether to follow world trends or make a traditional Sumadija winery. In the end, with the help of the architects, I decided for it to be a modern facility, reflecting the time to come, not the time that's passed. I believe that this is the right path to follow.
Is this the origin of the name Temet?
– Yes, I didn't want to name the winery Aleksic, but I also wanted to avoid barbarisms, loanwords and so on. We remembered the Latin word temetum, which mean a strong alcoholic drink, primarily wine. We turned temetum into temet, which has good graphical and phonetic symmetry, is the same in both the Cyrillic and the Latin alphabets and is a palindrome. It is short, simple and memorable, and it is also poignant and has a message.
You were born in Vranje, which also features great conditions for vineyards. How did you opt for the Jagodina area?
– I had been looking for land for the whole two years. A good connection with Belgrade was important to me and I wanted the location to be not more than an hour and a half away by car, but above all, I wanted the soil to be adequate for the cultivation of grapevine.
I had also considered Fruska Gora, the Smederevo area, Topola... A friend recommended Jagodina to me. I arrived one Sunday afternoon and liked what I saw. Soil analyses at the Faculty of Agriculture in Zemun and an institute in Verona followed. The soil turned out to be of remarkable quality and we started sowing in 2009.
We opted for local and international grape varieties. Tri Morave is a mixture of three local varieties – Tamjanika, Smederevka and Morava. We also have red varieties of Tri Morave, made from Prokupac. Ergo is a mixture of international varieties, and there's also the single-variety Pinot Grigio.
Wine allows you to be an antiglobalist. Here, there's demand for something authentic, not something French- or Italian-like. You have freedom and creativity to express what you feel.
How much wine does Temet produce each year? What are your plans for the upcoming summers?
– In 2017, we produced 200,000 liters, which matches the winery's capacities. We don't plan to increase it any further. Instead, we want to keep raising the quality and deal with positioning our wines as well as possible.
We are also preparing to sow another 10 hectares, as our intention is to soon start producing 100% of the grapes we use. There's a lot of talk in Serbia about the importance of producing one's own ingredients. They're certainly needed, but we shouldn't forget that grapes are traded everywhere in the world, in Austria, in France, in Spain...
Furthermore, we have already started producing organically and we are also considering vegan wine. Also, we want to have a closed cycle in the future, to use all byproducts from vineyards and winemaking. We are also working more and more on developing wine tourism, which is in great demand.
Why is it important to cultivate native varieties?
– I'll give you an example from my personal experience. Even though Ergo, for example, is among the more complex and expensive wines, everyone is interested in Tri Morave, as it is authentic.
The first step was made in Serbia – we've convinced local consumers to drink local wines. The next step is to drink local wines made from local varieties. What's important is education, having people learn that native varieties should not be compared to international ones, that the quality is not just in the color and the tannin content. For example, you can't compare Prokupac and Cabernet. In my opinion, the most important thing is for a wine to be well balanced. Any well balanced wine is a good wine.
Who knows, it might happen that, in ten years or so, we start replacing the current varieties with native ones in our vineyards.
WINE IS ART TOO
You lived in Paris as a very young man. Did you ever consider staying there and do you ever wish to move abroad?
– No, never. I'm very opposed to young people leaving Serbia... I didn't consider moving even then. I had acquired precious experience abroad, but I soon realized it's not for me and my sensibility, because of the culture, the language, feelings...
I believe that anyone who's creative, hard-working and persistent can succeed in our country too.
You have exchanged economics for winery. Is there something else you'd like to do? Do you have enough time for hobbies and how do you spend your free time?
– If I hadn't studied economics, I believe I'd have gone for architecture. I like visual arts, I often draw in my free time... Winery is also a kind of art, I believe.
I play basketball, tennis, I ski.
I live in Belgrade, but I visit Lozovik each week – for business and pleasure. I'm glad to spend more time in nature and enjoy this environment...
How do you get along with your next-door neighbors, the Cilic estate?
– We get along excellently. By the way, Misa Cilic is the friend I mentioned earlier, the one who told me about the Jagodina region.
Us winemakers support each other to a great extent. If I'm not drinking my own wines, as a great local-patriot, I like to order wines from the Jagodina winemaking region.
– In choosing the technologists, the architects, the wine growers, I relied on my intuition, talked to people and took recommendations. I wasn't looking for big references, I was looking for honesty and people I would work with who left the impression that they would work as hard as they would for their own business. I often joke that I've used my gut feeling in every situation.
It is also important to learn all the time. I still consult experts from Bordeaux, with whom I worked at the very beginning...
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