Grapevine: There's some serious Serbian wines to be found off Finchley Road
PUBLISHED: 10:03 24 May 2015 | UPDATED: 13:23 26 May 2015
A Hampstead couple bought a prime vineyard and produce environmentally friendly 'McC Wines', finds Liz Sagues.
Who’d imagine that an unassuming doorway just off Finchley Road, Hampstead, would open on to an initiative of modern and environmentally-responsible winemaking in a part of Europe where grapes have been fermented for pleasure since Roman times.
There, on the ground floor, is the sales office of McC Wines, an innovative project to make fine wines in Serbia. Two floors above is the clinic of bio-energy practitioner Seka Nikovic. The link is that Seka and her husband Don McCulloch – McC of the company name – are the people who acquired the land, planted the vines and are now reaping awards for their efforts.
Seka hails from Serbia, but has lived and worked in Hampstead for close on 30 years, using her natural skill to heal physical and emotional problems. Former policeman Don spent 18 years in the special force protecting the royal family and a further four in Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorist squad. Both love wine, and when Don’s retirement was imminent Seka pushed him towards actively developing his long-standing enthusiasm. McC Wines is the result.
In 2007 the couple bought (from 40 separate owners, a logistic nightmare) an area of prime vineyard land ideally sited atop a hill in the Fruska Gora region of Serbia, 90 minutes’ drive from Seka’s home town of Novi Sad. Vines had been grown there at least since 294 AD when the nearest town, Sirmium (modern-day Sremska Mitrovica), became one of the four capitals of the Roman empire, but in the 20th-century post-communist upheaval cornfields replaced the vines.
Don and Seka undertook a careful programme of clearing and planting – principally international red varieties merlot, cabernets sauvignon and franc, plus, a first for Serbia, malbec; for the whites they chose traminer, riesling and sauvignon blanc. There’s some pinot noir, too, with hopes of burgundian-style results in time.
The resulting wines, even though the vines are so young, are already excellent, with even better potential. Flagship is Coupage, a smooth bordeaux blend with fine red fruit character and a lightly savoury edge. The first vintage – 2011 – took a bronze medal in last year’s Decanter World Wine Awards, and there have been Serbian gongs too.
Among the whites, there’s a seriously age-worthy riesling and a very appealing traminer, aromatic, full of character yet elegant and delicate.
A huge amount of work is put in to create wines which are as natural and non-interventionist as possible, Seka emphasises. Alongside biodynamic practices in the vineyard (following the lunar cycle, using homeopathic-style natural preparations to boost the vines’ growth and resistance to disease and pests) the winery works as sustainably as possible.
But that hasn’t stopped Don developing a machine to blast ozone at the vines to stop wet-weather fungus destroying ripening grapes: a modern take on a natural solution to a natural problem.
The current wines are far from the end of the story. A sweet wine is likely soon, and further ahead could be one from a rare indigenous variety. “You don’t realise what you’re letting yourself in for,” says Seka – although she’s still smiling.
McC Wines are available through mccullochwines.com (mixed case of six £82, six Coupage £120, plus delivery) or from Bottle Apostle, Crouch End.