King’s Winery

Topola and Oplenac surroundings have always been known as a quality vine-growing and wine-producing region. Suitable moderate continental climate with regular temperature fluctuation and specific terrain configuration, mostly exposed to the east and south, influenced the earliest local population to grow vine. The Ancient Romans named a neighbouring village Vincea, after quality wine made of very fragrant and tasty local grapes. The first records on vine-growing in this region date back to 1432 and a travel book written by Bertrandon de la Broquière, a Burgundian pilgrim and a clerk in the court of Philip III the Good. Grapes and wine are still a symbol of this region’s villages, therefore it proudly carries the title of the capital of Serbian vines.

The surrounding sunny hills with mild slopes are rich with fruit, herbs and mushrooms. “Oplenac harvest”, a traditional three day festival of grapes, wine and national folklore, has been taking place every October since the times of Prince Alexander.

Karadjordje was the first to plant vineyards on the slopes of his estate in Topola, near the peak of Oplenac hill. The old documents from the times of the First Uprising testify that the Topola vineyards yielded so well that there was not enough space to store the abundance of grapes and wine.

Although Prince Alexander paid great attention to the vineyards in Topola, it was during the reign of his son, King Peter I, that Oplenac region had its first boom. The foundation of the Venčac Vine-growing Cooperative in 1903, had the key role in the progress and large-scale development of vine-growing in this region. The Cooperative gathered vine growers from Vinča, Brezovica, Lipovac, Topola and Banja. At that time there were around 1,500 hectares under vineyards. Through its persistent efforts and great achievements, the Cooperative rapidly imposed itself as the leader of vineyard cooperatives in the Balkans. Many prominent figures from the world of wine culture were the guests of the Cooperative, and often held seminars on the topics of vine-growing and wine-producing, which shortly gave top results in wine production. The Cooperative started producing wine, cognac and even sparkling wine, under supervision of technologists mostly from France.

Alongside the construction of the Royal Mausoleum, King Peter I commissioned a small winery to be constructed behind the church. Grapes were processed in until the beginning of World War One. One item was preserved from that first King’s Winery until the present times − a huge barrel of over 4,000 litres, given to King Peter I in 1909 by Petar Joksić, grandson of a Karadjordje’s troop leader. It has a carved inscription of a verse: “Who doesn’t know why one should drink red wine, he is no man but a spawn cursed by the land”.

King Alexander I continued his father’s and grandfather’s enterprise by planting over 50 hectares of Traminac, Chardonnay, Gamut and Pinot Noir vines purchased in France, but also local sorts, which produced excellent coupages. In time, famous wines were created – Triumph, Oplenka, Žilavka and Rosé. The King’s vineyard became seedling nursery for quality grape sorts, wanted by experimental estates, agricultural schools and households. The wines from the King’s vineyards were served at the official visits by European heads of states and found their way to the dining tables of foreign courts.

In 1931, the King’s Winery was built in the foot of Oplenac slope, on the French model. The building has been preserved and it is still an extraordinary example of a modern wine-cellar. It is 45m long and 15m wide and has a ground floor and two underground floors, with constant temperature of 8˚C. There are 99 oak barrels, including three in the ground floor museum exhibition, received by King Alexander in 1922, as a wedding gift from the people of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. Each barrel has capacity of 2,000 litres, and on the front side carved inscription of the Serbian, Croatian and Slovenian national anthems’ first verses. The museum exhibition has some of the bottles from the period of the Winery’s foundation, as well as the equipment that was used in the process of wine bottling.

The King’s Winery also contains archive wines, which are certainly the oldest national wines in Serbia. Among others, Oplenka, Žilavka and White Burgundy from 1931, in uniquely shaped bottles with the Royal coat of arms, and Prokupac, Hamburg and Plemenka from later vintages. After World War Two, Oplenac vineyards were neglected until 2000. After their renovation, the first harvest took place in 2006, and from the following year on, wines from the King’s vineyards are once again served all over the world.