Source: eKapija | Sunday, 10.06.2018.| 15:03
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Dragana Janjic
Dragana Janjic
She experiences “nostalgia” and “bonanza” in a wine glass only, and, as all southerners, she has a “kardas” (a great friend) in “sevdah”. Dragana Janjic of Vranje, a wine fairy, co-owner of the first female winery in Serbia, is always on the move. Nothing’s too hard for her – running a winery, family matters, constant traveling...

“When you absolutely can’t, that’s when you must”, she says laughing and adds that, although she doesn’t find anything too hard, it’s not as if it’s always easy. She tries not to neglect her old friends (although she sometimes schedules her hangouts a full month head), to spend her weekends with her family, to visit new destinations and to simultaneously run one of the youngest and most successful wineries in Serbia.

She doesn’t hide that her babysitter, as well as her children’s grandparents, are often lifesavers for her and that her kids are well used to traveling between Belgrade and Vranje, especially when she needs to continue beyond Vranje, most often to the Nis Airport, and then to an appointment abroad, a trade fair, a presentation...

The Aleksic Winery (Vinarija Aleksic), run by three sisters – Dragana, Maja (Aleksic Ilic) and Marija (Aleksic), entered the market 6 years ago, and very bravely at that – with 7 labels simultaneously. The number has since grown to 14, and today they have a total of 20 employees, an annual production of 350,000 liters and seven exporting markets. One of the employees is technologist Jelena Zivanovic, so it’s no wonder that they say that their wines are “made by a woman’s hand”. The winemaking business is also a tradition on the female side of their family, inherited from their mother, a native of Dalmatia, who arrived to Vranje upon her marriage.

The Aleksic family has been a family of entrepreneurs for thirty years now.

– If you love your job and you live on that love, then your job is your life. Six years ago, we continued the family tradition of entrepreneurship and set off on our own winemaking journey. Now it seems to me it was the best decision we could make.

Who’s the boss here?

The idea of wines made by women was immediately welcomed by the market, but it’s no secret that, initially, there were some unusual reactions as well.

– People would ask me: “Ok, you’re the director, but who’s the owner?” I’d say I was the owner. “Ok, but who’s the boss?” – Dragana recalls an anecdote from the time before the word spread out about the wine made by women.

They didn’t pay much attention to unwritten rules when they were entering the market, so the winery simultaneously offered seven labels six years ago. Now there are 14 in total, and they are preparing another three for this year.

– We wanted everything – Dragana laughs.

– I believe that this was partly down to the fact that we are a very young group of people, with 31 being the average age at the winery. We wanted both international and native varieties, white and red wines, roses... We are always looking to try something new, to experiment, to see how each variety and each wine performs, whether it perseveres, whether something needs to change. We are not giving up on the Serbian oak for either white or red wines. Looking back, I believe that starting out with a large number of labels was a good idea, and the market performance has proved this.

The Aleksic wine cellar produces around 350,000 liters of red and white wines and roses each year – Nostalgija, Bonanca, Kardas, Sevdah, Barbara, Arno, Zuti Cvet, Amanet... In late 2017, they also presented Biser, their first sparkling wine, made from the Smederevka grape variety. The wine won the silver medal at the Decanter contest in London.

They are also proud of the small bottle (0.187 l), which they have been offering for two years, carefully positioning it in the market, although, as she says, critics claim that it’s not a real wine... They insist on identical quality, regardless of the size of the packaging. The “small” Bonanca and the “small” Kardas are also the only Serbian wines on Air Serbia’s flights since recently.

In the upcoming years, the winery is looking at a lot of work. They are planning to expand the production, primarily in the segment of red wines, so that they could rest for a longer period of time.

The Aleksic winery used to work exclusively with grapes from cooperative vineyards until this spring, and now they’ve started raising their own vineyards. They were leased 70 ha of state land for thirty years. This land used to feature vineyards which were cleared several years ago.

– In all these years, the wine was produced from grapes from cooperative vineyards, but we’ve always wanted to have our own vineyards. The moment has finally come. We are ready for new challenges.

The full yield from the new vineyards, however, is expected in six years only, so they have a long way ahead of them. We also asked Dragana if it was true that the glass has an effect on the wine drinking experience or if it was just a story for tourists.

A glass of wine to end the day...

– In addition to the serving temperature, the choice of a glass is also very important. The glass has a great effect on the impression the wine leaves and the right one needs to be chosen to experience full enjoyment. The right glass brings out all the best flavor characteristics from the wine, above all the aroma and the harmony. I’ve had the opportunity to attend a great presentation of a famous world producer of glasses, which had made glasses to suit wine varieties, all to the end of presenting the wines in the best light.

Our interviewee reveals that Sauvignons and Rieslings are her favorites (“although we don’t make Rieslings at the moment...”), but that she doesn’t have a favorite wine:

– To me, the choice of a wine depends on the moment, the company I’m in, the environment, the food, the mood... Wine is a thing of the moment. The company always contributes to the impression, but a glass of wine at the end of the day is a small ritual I keep practicing.

The family

At the celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the family company, Dragana’s father said something that our interviewee believes is one of the best pieces of advice she’s ever been given: “My capital is not in my property, but in the market and the people”.

Maja Aleksic Ilic, Dragana Janjic and Marija Aleksic
Maja Aleksic Ilic, Dragana Janjic and Marija Aleksic
The three wine fairies adhere to this principle. Dragana is older by two and a half years than Maja and by 13 years than Marija. The eldest and the youngest sisters are economist (Marija is still studying), whereas Maja is an engineer of technology.

– When we were children, Maja and I would only see vineyards in Dalmatia when we were visiting our grandfather... Marija is the youngest one and she took part in the very beginning of the wine production as a child. We are all very close to each other, regardless of the differences in age and disposition. We understand and complement each other very well. Of course, the support I get from my husband in this business is invaluable. He’s always there to hear me out, to give advice, encourage me and help me solve dilemmas. I always ask him first about things I don’t know.

Wine friends

Despite her numerous obligations, Dragana discovers new world destinations with her “wine friends” once a year.

– Six women, different in character, have been connected through their love of wine. Traditionally, once a year, we visit Serbian and European wineries. These trips are planned ahead and never canceled. It’s a special kind of pleasure to be introduced to a wine in the place it originates from, but also to share knowledge and experience with fellow winemakers.


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