Sparkling Success for the First Macedonian Sparkling Wine: Lazar Winery
Ristov family from Negotino have been producing grapes for four generations but the grape production was sold to other wineries. Up until 20 years ago, when Lazar Ristov decided to start his career as a professional winemaker and established his own family winery, starting with a small production in his family house. The wines were first sold mainly to the small local restaurants and then production slowly expanded with more wines being produced under different labels and many of them going on to win medals at international wine competitions.
In search of new innovative products and based on growing demand for sparkling wine, Lazar Winery introduced this new product in their portfolio in 2019. The winery successfully launched small test production of sparkling wines that were sold in the local market in bulk, served in a glass. There was high demand for the wine, and they decided to increase production of white and rose sparkling wines to be bottled and sold to restaurants, bars and retail shops in the country. With Swiss support, Lazar Winery invested in new modern production technology to bottle prosecco and frizzante sparkling wines for the local and international markets.
“With the new semi-automatic machine, we sped up the bottle filling process significantly – going from 500 bottles per work shift to 1500 bottles per hour. This way, we manage to respond to the increasing market demand for sparkling wine. “We are proud to be creating a new consumer habit on the local market, as Lazar’s frizzante and sparkling wine is the first domestic wine of this type”.– the owner Lazar Ristov shared. The new technology also contributes to increased wine quality.
The “Charmat Method” that the new machine is based on, adds CO2 inert gas before and after filling of the bottle. In contrast to traditional method sparkling wines, “Charmat” wines undergo much less lees contact and oxidation, remaining ideally sparkling and carbonated. This also reduces the need for wine additives in the production process, thus making Lazar’s sparkling wine a more natural and healthier beverage.
A large portion of Lazar’s sparkling wine is being sold in their restaurant and hotel that they built as an addition to their winery which was relocated near the ancient town of Stobi in the Tikvesh Region several years ago. The region is not only known as the largest vineyard acreage in North Macedonia, but also for its proximity to the E-75 highway connecting Europe with Greece and the Middle East, providing a strategic advantage to easily attract more tourists. Realizing the huge potential for wine tourism, Lazar made significant investments to renovate the winery into a hotel to include rooms and a large restaurant. The project was co-financed by a World Bank project implemented in North Macedonia. Additional investments, such as a horse stable with pedigree horses, were included to make the destination more attractive for the millions of passengers and regional tourists along the highway.
The new wine varieties have increased the winery and the restaurant sales, bringing new employments to Lazar’s team. Pilot supplies of the sparkling wine have already been exported to Denmark, Poland and Slovenia, and more orders are expected. For the next harvest season, Lazar Winery are planning increased supply from local grape growers and will also increase their storage facilities. They are now preparing the design and production process for bottling sparkling wine in 200 ml bottles which will be offered in bars and restaurants.
The region’s potential and Lazar’s ambitions for developing wine tourism, are in line with future plans for offering oeno-archeological tours around Stobi, horse riding tours in the vineyards, and wine tours to neighboring wineries too. The advanced sparkling wine production technology that Lazar pioneered in the country allows for economies of scale as well as greater control over the quality consistency of the end-product. It also benefits several small businesses with whom Lazar Winery works – these include local farmers and tourism providers.
The Swiss Increasing Market Employability Program helps local producers and processors to diversify and advance the wine production, as well as to promote wine varieties locally and globally.