Wine has always helped in the telling of stories. Our wine, and the occurrence of Vinarija RAJ, has weaved a vivid, personal and romantic story around the founders – Mick and Beka O’Connor.
Mick comes from Salford, Manchester. In UK he was a professional soldier (Royal Marines), and in 1984 he decided to leave the service and attend to traveling round hitherto unknown parts of Europe. In May, with backpack, he flew to Pula and, immediately on landing, threw his return ticket away so as to pursue the adventure that was before him. For days and weeks he moved through Slovenia, Bosnia and Croatia, by bus, hitchhiking or simply on foot.
After a few weeks he caught the fast boat from Belgrade to Kladovo, and was intent on continuing south to Skopje. It was that same evening he met Beka in Zajecar, & he invited her to join him on the road hitchhiking to Skopje. Beka, of course, agrees. They got on famously together, & on arrival in Skopje Mick asked Beka to continue to Prespa and Ohrid Lakes. Here they toured the impressive monasteries and slept under the open sky. They headed to Bitola together, and from here Beka returned home; with Mick crossing the border into Greece.
After a month trip round Greece Mick returns to Zajecar, where he stays for two weeks, enjoying the daily enjoyment of the local specialties prepared by Beka’s Mum. Mick then heads off again to Turkey, where he spends the next five weeks. After another break in Zajecar, they again hit the road together, this time going north, hitchhiking around Europe with Hamburg as their final destination; via Belgrade, Graz, Vienna & Munich.
Mick finally continued to Manchester with Beka joining him two weeks later. Here they spent two months together during which time they continued to travel and explore UK; & its pubs. At the end of 1984, Beka returned home, and after Mick started to work in early 1985 they unfortunately slowly drifted apart.
It was probably inevitable that their paths cross again, considering how, and in what way they travelled together, sharing constant adventures. 19 years later, in 2005, they meet again, spontaneously, as first happened so long ago, in the mid-eighties. Their joint trip this time is not interrupted. In December 2007 Mick and Beka were married in Zajecar, and soon dedicated themselves to their first joint venture, the idea of reviving the nearby village of Rajac and the environment, through the reanimation of the natural and cultural heritage of this region, known for its rich and specific wine traditions.That is how the Vinarija RAJ, a small, modern equipped winery in Rajac, Eastern Serbia, came to be.
The story continues through their children, Momcilo and Smiljana. From the beginning, both sporadically helped in the business or worked for the company. Since 2020, Smiljana has been engaged in winemaking much more intensively. Although she received her master's degree in Liberal Arts in Hamburg, where she lived and was involved in art, cooking and activities in cultural politics, Smiljana returns to her hometown of Zaječar and decides to work professionally in winemaking. Circumstances are like this, at the same time another world traveller moves to the village and in her Smiljana finds a kindred spirit. As a professional oenologist, Kristina Lukić has been advising, supporting and helping the winery for two years, she is an exceptional teacher and collaborator. Kristina and Smiljana create wines in harmony with nature and with each vintage they are different. Production in the vineyard is organic, and interventions during fermentation are kept to a minimum. Their wish is to bring out the best that the plant gave that year with each harvest, so that the grapes themselves are reflected in the colour, smell, and taste of their wine.
From 2022, Smiljana Arnautović assumed responsibility for the further operations of the company and at the same time became a co-owner of the production. For Smiljana, through intensive work with nature in the vineyard, through creativity in production and marketing, including the sensory perception of wine, which is closely related to the sensory perception of cooking, new creative levels and opportunities for positive self-development are opened. Regarding art and activism through art, Smiljana is involved with other young winemakers in organizing promotions and cultural events within the wine tourism of Rajac and Negotin Krajina. Together with Jelena Cvetković Zagorac, another female protagonist of the village of Rajac, Smiljana organizes the event 'Day of wine and good mood', a festival of wine and music, in the spirit of tradition before the grape harvest in honour of winemaking and wine lovers, for two years in a row.
Rajac and Raj Winery are places where women run businesses and they have strong initiative, good mutual cooperation, determination and the will to progress.
Vinarija RAJ is based in Eastern Serbia in the Negotin Krajina area that for centuries has been known as an ideal region for growing grapes and producing wine. Kraijna Wine was one of Europe’s largest wine companies, and the lands around Negotin and Zajecar were completely covered with vineyards. This rich heritage, of the culture of grape growing and wine production, has been developed and cultivated for decades in this part of Eastern Serbia. Building on the specific culture of wine typical for this region, Vinarija RAJ, is using varieties that traditionally succeeded in this area, primarily Red Tamjanika, White Tamjanika and Game.
Vinarija RAJ is located in one of the most beautiful landscapes of Serbia, which is still relatively intact in terms of a lack of industrialization and urbanization. With over 250 sunny days a year, this region is one of the most suitable for growing grapes, primarily due to the specific combination of soil structure, water, altitude and insolation. So, the grapes from which Vinarija RAJ produces their wines come from the slopes around the village of Rajac, where our vineyards lie. One of the primary motivations in establishing Vinarija RAJ was a wish to create products in harmony with nature, but also our personal desire to spend time surrounded by the landscapes of East Serbia. Through our specific approach to production, packaging and communications, we want to emphasize this affinity with our natural surroundings, as well as to motivate others to do the same.
In every aspect of the wine business, whether you’re talking about growing grapes or wine production, it is necessary to have values to the highest standards. Implementation of standards and quality control, in every aspect of cultivation and production, ensures the highest quality of the final product. Vinarija RAJ was founded precisely with this desire (for domestic and foreign wine lovers), to offer products that attract attention with their character and specific indications, and then enchant and win over with their high quality. Therefore, every decision is carefully measured & weighed in order to achieve the highest quality, with the participation of oenological experts and technologists. This allows for the fact that most of the grapes used by the Vinarija RAJ come from our own vineyards carefully maintained throughout the year, in a region that has, for centuries, been under vineyards. Vineyards in the possession of Vinarija RAJ are located on the slopes around the village of Rajac.
For Vinarija RAJ, innovation does not indicate a shift to a purely technological method of wine production. We hope to recreate the overall relationship with the culture of wine in Serbia, as well as in terms of promoting Serb Wine outside the borders of Serbia. These innovations include a modern equipped winery, the first in the Negotin and Zajecar area, with the application of modern production methods and methods of communication.