The Uncorking Rural Heritage – engaging young people in a project of cultural and environmental sustainability


Rural areas in European countries have many similarities, both in terms of soil cultivation and crop growth as in further production of typical beverages. However, each area is subject to different climate and geographic conditions and therefore has its own specifics that makes it unique. People have taken these specifics into account, studied them and took them as a challenge for upgrading the local area and for creating the opportunities for themselves and their descendants. The local rural heritage gives us the signature, the basis on which we can build. By studying these specifics and sharing the experiences between the different areas we saw the opportunity to enhance the agriculture, to give an impact on quality production of beverages by analysing the characteristics of the crops and their terroir and the production of beverages, the types of marketing and, as the most important part, we have included young people in all the processes. Central to the project’s success is the active involvement of young people who contribute fresh perspectives and innovative ideas. This article delves into the strategies employed to engage young minds in the project and highlights their significant impact on the preservation and advancement of rural heritage.

The “Uncorking rural heritage” consortium is composed by partners that operate in research and academic area, as well as local authorities and producers. The Tikveš winery from North Macedonia and the Hardanger cider association from Norway represent the producers, the University of Nova Gorica – The School for Viticulture and Enology from Slovenia (UNG) and the Faculty of tourism and rural development from Požega, Croatia– the Enogastronomy programme (FTRR) include the students, professors and researchers, the Hardanger council from Norway, the Municipality of Ajdovščina from Slovenia and the Local development agency LO-RA from Croatia represent the local authorities and the research part is supported by two Norwegian institutes, NOFIMA – The Norwegian institute of food, fisheries and aquaculture research and NIBIO – Norwegian institute of Bioeconomy research. The end of the project is envisaged for December 2023; however, the partners have established a strong connection and will continue to cooperate in the future. 

NORTH MACEDONIA – Fostering Sustainability in Viticulture

Climate change has an increasingly pronounced impact and therefore management measures should be taken in the grape and wine production process, in order to achieve a better end product. Coping with the impacts of climate change and ensuring the long-term survival and development of the wine industry are possible only through the continuous application of standards, scientific research, measurements and practices for sustainable viticulture. The Tikveš winery organized a field visit for the representatives of the organizations involved in the project. About 30 guests from Norway, Slovenia, Luxembourg, Croatia and Italy visited the vineyards of “Tikvesh” to learn about the sustainability practices implemented by the winery and to transfer the acquired knowledge and experience to their respective countries. 

 “We at “Tikvesh” have been aware for some time that in order to increase competitiveness and the recognition of our wines worldwide, it is necessary to change current practices in grape production, incorporate science and consider the increasing impact of climate change on viticulture and the entire wine industry. Simultaneously, it is crucial to actively work on the implementation of ESG standards, which are a prerequisite for further sustainable development and to fulfil our social responsibility by sharing our experiences and knowledge with all other stakeholders in the domestic wine industry,” noted Svetozar Janevski, the president of the Management Board of “Tikvesh” winery, in his opening address to the conference participants. 

The conference also included presentations on the challenges faced by grape producers in different wine regions in Croatia, the uniqueness of Zelen wine from Vipava valley region in Slovenia, as well as experiences in establishing a centre for research and development of cider production in Norway. By engaging with young people in this process, the project creates a pathway for the future of climate-resilient viticulture.

CROATIA – Empowering the Future of Winemakers

Graševina is the most widespread and economically the most important grape variety in the Republic of Croatia. Its significance is primarily in the continental part of Croatia, i.e. in Slavonia. There are different styles of this wine on the market, so characterization and standardization is important for producers and consumers of this wine.

The inclusion of young people in the direct project activities of the Uncorking rural heritage project was carried out through two target groups. The first group were students who participated in the preparation of samples for sensory evaluation of wine, and at the Vipava Students’ Wine Festival, organized by the School of Viticulture and Enology (UNG). The second group were young winemakers, who are the future of the wine industry and who will create and dictate styles on the market for a long time to come. They made up the largest part of the sensory panel for evaluating Graševina wines.

Zvonimir Paponja, a 2ndyear student of Enogastronomy, said the following about participating in the project: „participating in the project provided us with new knowledge and brought the profession of winegrowers, winemakers and sommeliers closer together in the best possible way. Behind each variety and wine there is a certain story, and we had the opportunity to get to know the Graševina variety in great detail. By participating in the Festival in Slovenia, we made colleagues and friends for life and we are still in contact very often. Soon after the summer, we are planning a joint meeting so that we can exchange new knowledge and experiences that we have gained since the last meeting”.

Luka Špoljarić, a young winemaker from the Požega area and a member of sensory panel, said: ”The sensory assessment was well organized and easy to understand. I especially liked pointing out mistakes, commenting together, so we could correct mistakes very easily. I gained a lot of knowledge that was passed on to us by senior colleagues and project managers. A very nice and interesting experience that I will surely benefit in my future work”.

SLOVENIA – Enhancing sensory analyses 

“Through the project I have had the opportunity to learn more about the different steps of making both cider and wine from experienced enologists, researchers and technicians, and how to evaluate the chemical and sensory quality of cider and wine of different local varieties from Croatia and Slovenia. Combining the data from sensory and aroma chemical analysis you can learn and find out why different varieties of apples and grapes give different sensory and chemical profiles. In other words, trying to find what is special, typical for that variety of apple and/or grape.

In Norway where the cider industry is becoming an important part of fruit farms and local specialty, there is a need for more knowledge about chemical and sensory properties of Hardanger cider. Although wine and cider are not the same, we are talking about fermented beverage and exchange of knowledge and expertise in production, evaluation and promotion of locally important products always help. “ said Prof. Dr. Branka Mozetič Vodopivec, the Dean of the School for Viticulture and Enology (UNG).

UNG and FTRR collaborate closely on various projects, events and workshops involving students from both faculties. In March 2023, UNG organized a field trip to Požega and Kutjevo in Croatia for their students and in June 2023 again to Skopje and Tikveš in North Macedonia. On this field trips the students had the chance to meet important people that work in winemaking and spirit production and to see the best practices that are used in these areas. FTRR and their students, however, took part at two events, one was the project dinner in Požega and the Students’ wine festival in Lanthieri mansion in Vipava. For the dinner FTRR enogastronomy students prepared and served local dishes from Slavonia, while students of both faculties presented local wines from Slavonia and Vipava Valley. While, at the Students’ wine festival in Vipava the students from both universities presented wines from Slovenian, Croatian, Macedonian and Serbian wine regions and the best of them have been awarded. UNG students were also helping to set-up venue and participate in the sensory workshop and degustation on Vipava valley Zelen wines, so called Zelen Masterclass. The involvement of students in such events gives them an opportunity to get practical skills in the organization of wine festivals or Masterclasses, the events needed to be organized as a part of wine business. 

UNG has a long-lasting connection to Norway as well, as the university offers to their students and researchers ERASMUS+ mobility exchange programs with Norwegian research companies. 

The Municipality of Ajdovščina has set a small distillery at the Learning centre Brje in order to give the local people and the local schools and universities the possibility to use advanced equipment for the educational purposes and for producing the spirits of much higher quality. In June 2023 the distillery finally opened its doors. The event had also the educational notes as the local students took part in the research about sensory evaluation of aromas that are normally present in local wines. The head of the Department of Economy and Development at Municipality of Ajdovščina, Janez Furlan: “We are convinced that this is another opportunity in the area of Vipava valley and, besides that, I believe that with this equipment we will contribute to a qualitative leap in the production of brandy in our area.”

NORWAY – Celebrating Cultural Heritage through Cider

When growing up by a fjord on the coastline in the south-western part of Norway, the growing of fruit is for many people part of their common heritage. The landscape, soil and seasons lay the foundation for fruitful harvests. These factors also nurture their cultural identity. Apple production, identity and cultural factors all come together in the project Uncorking cultural heritage. Gathering knowledge along the value chain of cider production is at the project core. The backbone of it all, is the cultural heritage on which both apple-growing and various spin-off productions rest. Since monks started culturing apples here around the 13thcentury, apples have through generations become a trademark and a regional pride in the south-eastern part of the Hardanger district and its fjord. 

The Uncorking-project aims to appeal, not only to the involved business and academic segments of the value-chain, but also to the younger generations. Inviting children and teen-agers to take part through such a familiar act as taking a bite of an apple and describe the sensing experience of it, the aim is to collect the words they use for characterizing smell, taste and texture to raise awareness about sensory appearances of apple-products. At the same time, such engagement from the younger-age segments, contributes to enhance their feeling of identity. The fruit, the taste and the whole experience of involvement ads to their sense of being – their sense of ‘me’, their sense of belonging, cultural heritage and identity.  

Hence, the science team at NIBIO has conducted two “Taste Workshops” on the topic taste, smell and texture of apples. The first workshop was held during the “research days” in Odda, the second at the Hardanger Ciderfestival in Øystese. Children, teen-agers and young adults who visited the stands, were challenged to describe sensory appearance of apple fruit and juice using their own sensory terms. Mentimeter, an interactive response system, was used to gather sensory terms and create word clouds. Sweet. Crisp. Nice. Acidic. Velvet. Honey. Balanced. Mellow – and many other words were some of the answers. They were also challenged to identify the which apple cultivar the juice was made from. 

Mats Carlehøg, Ingunn Øvsthus and Margrethe Hersleth from The Norwegian institute of food – NOFIMA have had many local and international presentations and sensory courses for student, politicians, stake holders and general public based on the topics of cider making and sensory results. The audience were challenged to taste different Norwegian or Hardanger ciders and place them on a sensory attribute map by the guidance from Margrethe Hersleth. The educational process included 50-60 young people as well as other target groups.   

The “Uncorking Rural Heritage” project facilitates close collaboration between partner institutions and young participants. Field trips and workshops offer opportunities for students and researchers from different countries to exchange knowledge, experiences, and best practices. By nurturing such relationships, the project sets the stage for future cooperation and the continued development of rural areas and their cultural heritage.

By engaging with the next generation, the project not only imparts valuable knowledge and skills but also fosters a sense of ownership and responsibility. This inclusive approach ensures a brighter future for agriculture, wine, and cider production, and strengthens the bonds between different countries, institutions, and communities. With continued collaboration and dedication, the legacy of rural heritage will be uncorked and cherished for generations to come.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here