The EBRD and FAO give quality wines of the Western Balkans a boost

Why the Western Balkans economies are adding wine to their export basket

Wine is gaining ground when it comes to the agrifood export menus of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo1, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia. Globally, 2021 marked a record for wine exports by volume, with an increase of 4.4 percent compared with 2020, and an increase of 15.5 percent in value to reach USD 34.4 billion, according to data by the International Organisation of Vine and Wine. Increases are being driven by sales of bottled wine, which are starting to overtake those of wine produced in bulk, a trend that looks set to unleash the region’s potential.

Building and promoting the region’s bottled-wine sector is part of a joint initiative by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). With support from Italy through the Central European Initiative and the Western Balkans Enterprise Development and Innovation Facility, the initiative aims to diversify agrifood exports to non-traditional markets, including fruit and vegetables alongside the more established grain and cereal sectors. For wine, areas of work include improving the quality and consistency of production and developing a marketing strategy to promote the region’s wine on the international markets.

“The Western Balkans region boasts approximately 200 indigenous grape varieties, a favourable climate, connection to European Union markets and a strong wine heritage,” says Nemanja Grgić, Principal Manager, EBRD Agribusiness. “All these ingredients combined make the region a strong contender in the quality wine sector on both the domestic and international markets, given the right investments and technical assistance to build the capacity of producers and raise the profile of its products.”

Expanding quality and quantity

Currently, the Western Balkans region contributes around 1 percent of global wine production on almost 65 000 hectares of dedicated land, an area expected to significantly increase along with the surge in related wine businesses. Approximately 800 companies, ranging from family producers to large firms, many of which have started business in the last decade, focus on wine.

“So far, the Western Balkans economies have mainly been producers of bulk wine. This is about to change, thanks to efforts to produce quality bottled wines that have a clear provenance and that build on the region’s diversity of vines and terroirs, bringing unique flavours to the market,” says Julia Frédéric, FAO Wine Marketing Expert. “We are marketing these wines at a regional level and building technical capacity in production and alignment with international standards and regulations. We are also exploring the idea of a Western Balkans Wine Traceability Seal so that wine producers can promote their excellence, including through direct sales to tourists.”

In addition, wine tourism as part of wider cultural packages such as lake visits, hiking excursions and gastronomy tours provides a lucrative income stream for local producers, boosting rural development both through direct sales, and by raising the profile of the region and its wines.

The Western Balkans Wine Region Symposium

The EBRD and FAO organized a Western Balkans Wine Region Symposium on 19 May. At the event, public- and private-sector experts and speakers explored the past, present and future of the region’s wine sector. Speakers presented a marketing strategy outlining key measures to pave the way for further development of the sector. In addition, best practices in sustainable wine production were shared through case studies, including from Italy and North Macedonia.

With the diversity of grapes, flavours and terroirs on offer and the work in progress to improve the quality and consistency of production, it’s time to make the case for the wines of the Western Balkans to start making regular appearances on high-end lists around the world – a win for consumers and a win for agrifood system resilience, diversified export markets, and sustainable incomes.


This news story was first published on the FAO Investment Centre website.
Visit Agtivate’s Project Corner to find out more about the EBRD and FAO project:
A Fresh Approach to Diversifying Agrifood Exports in the Western Balkans

Photo credit ©Marijan Močivnik, Studio Ajd
1References to Kosovo shall be understood to be in the context of Security Council resolution 1244 (1999).


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