25 May 2012

House Wine and the Family Beesness

This is Borivoj Živanović showing off some of his family's accolades.  His "great, grand, grandfather," Professor Jovan Živanović, is considered the Father of Modern Serbian Beekeeping.  Diplomas are framed and flanked by wine competition awards.  We visited the Živanovića estate in Sremski Karlovci with the purpose of visiting their in-house Museum of Beekeeping, dedicated to Borivoj's accomplished ancestor and the methods he employed.  We had no idea that the family had been (more than) dabbling in viniculture and wine making for over 200 years.  Their family legacy is one of wine and honey.  When we arrived, Borivoj and his father, Zarko, were hard at work in the backyard.  The son spoke English, so he'd be the one to give us a tour - but first he had to go deliver some wine to a restaurant.  Over to a sunny patio we were directed to have a wine tasting while we waited. Who's complaining? 
That familiar smell of fermenting grape hovered in the fresh air.   Chardonnay, Riesling, Merlot, Cabernet and then the wine that most people come to Sremski Karlovci for - Bermet.  It's a fortified wine along the lines of vermouth made only in this town at the edge of the Fruska Gora wine region.  A few local families, including the Živanovićs, have passed the recipe down amongst themselves, giving only a laundry list of 20+ herbs and spices as a hint.  We tasted the white (figs, vanilla and pinewood jolted out - very sweet) and the red (spicier, maybe cinnamon?)  Bermet was served on the Titanic - and while "on the Titanic" may not be the best words to use in an endorsement, it obviously means that Bermet was among the finest wines of its day.  As for the honey - delicious.  One was deep brown and strong, the other was different and stupendous.  "Acacia," Borivoj said returning.  Then, he unlocked the Beekeeping Museum.
Beekeeping is something that has become an interest of ours on this trip - like spelunking.  They're both something we will forever associate with Europe.  There is apiculture in America - Merlin's father kept bees - and caving, but both seem to be more abundant over on this continent.  It was actually in Slovenia that we fell in love with caves and hives.  So, it was fitting to go to our second beekeeping museum ever in another former Yugoslav country.  The museum was tasteful and interesting and presented with love.  Old manuals, diagrams and instruments - a honey extractor from 1876, a steam beeswax melter from 1881 - were all on display.  Our guide had such an easy understanding of the process, an ingrained respect for every item in the museum and what it represented.
Borivoj explained that Jovan had single-handedly brought modern beekeeping to Serbia.  "Modern" meant utilizing removable trays and moveable hives.  Above you have the old way of keeping bees, that gnome-hat contraption made from wicker and covered with clay.  In order to harvest the wax inside, one had to destroy the hive and the colony.  The faux house next to it is Professor Živanovića's creation called "Amerikanka" (American Lady).  This was a nod to the fact that "everything new and modern was coming from America."  In goes a tray with the comb and out you can pull it once all covered up with honey.  The bees survive to live another day.  What's more, it allowed beekeepers to move their hives safely to different pastures.  You want the taste of acacia?  Bring the bees out to feed somewhere they'll have all the acacia nectar they can stomach.  
The reiteration of the phrase "and you no have to kill bees" showed the great-great-grandson's esteem for his ancestor.  The Professor, who came to beekeeping late in life, had immediately contemplated the ethics of the process.  All the intellect and fervor he'd previously lent to academic papers and textbooks about the Serbian language (his career beforehand) he applied to beekeeping.  Yellowed issues of the magazine he started, "Serbian Beekeeper,"  were piled up in a glass case.  This church-shaped hive had been decorating the family garden since 1880 but was now too valuable to keep outside.  Another jewel of the museum's collection was the oldest photograph in all of Serbia.  It was a portrait of Josim Živanović, Jovan's father.  Before he become worthy of his own museum, the Professor's father and grandfather had already made a name for their family with their wine. 
Along with keeping his bees and teaching everyone else how to do it properly, the Professor kept up the family wine business and wound up passing both down to his descendants.  Borivoj is a fifth generation beekeeper and a seventh generation wine maker.  In truth, his father is more into the bees and his focus is more on wine.  It's a busy time right now. The steel contents of their 300 year old wine cellar, the oldest in the town, are in the process of being transferred over to newer, bigger, more modern digs.  The wooden barrels will stay put.  What a family to be born into, what tradition.  Heady and sweet.

1 comment:

  1. especially enjoyed reading about the beekeeping and the heritage of the family member you connected with

    ReplyDelete