Heart of the business Winery
Vendodhja Shko te harta
Nearby Rubik, Spaç Prison museum
Take the signposted road to Rreshen from the Milot–Kukes motorway. After passing the town centre, keep an eye out for a car wash to your left; shortly after the winery is on the right. A somewhat subdued black sign for EUROGERS Sh.p.k. indicates the entrance into the courtyard of a communist-era storage complex.If arriving by public transport, the winery is in easy walking distance (7 minutes) from Rreshen’s centrally located bus station.
As of 2020 six double rooms and one suite are under construction, to open in autumn.
What to do
Take a tour of the winery, including wine tasting.
Visit of the museum of the communist-era Spaç Prison.
Hiking – information with regional maps available at the InfoKulla information point along the main motorway near Rubik, or online at https://hikingmirdita.com/trails-maps/.
What to bring back
A bottle of Kallmet Rezervë or Shesh i Bardhë wine
The value of tradition at Kantina Arbëri is apparent in every step the Kaçorri family has taken, from producing small batches of wine for personal use and to sell locally, to becoming one of the most well-known wineries in Albania. Today, their wine has been honoured with many international prizes, and the family, with the young Rigers Kaçorri at the forefront, is venturing into other business areas to enhance their visitors’ experience.
The winery started out humbly, when Rigers’ grandfather, who owned considerable land, engaged in the historic winemaking tradition of the predominantly Catholic Mirdita highlands. During the communist period, the vineyards and production were nationalised into large cooperatives. Over the course of the land restitution, beginning in 1990, Fran, Riger’s father, successfully managed to reclaim part of the original estates, and renewed the family winemaking tradition.
A lawyer by profession, Fran then spent the next decade making a living through different business ventures, including national and international trade and construction, in order to expand and modernise the family winery from 2000 to 2002, all the while simultaneously producing and selling wine to the surrounding villages and other customers in the region on a small scale. In 2020, Kantina Arbëri produces 120,000 bottles a year, with production increasing steadily towards 200,000, and roughly 15% of their wine is exported, including to Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, the USA, Hong Kong and Macau.
The success of recent years certainly has to do with Fran’s son Rigers, who inherited his relatives’ passion for wine. He spent six years at university in Italy, completing his studies of enology, wine management and marketing in Bologna and Florence, and his interest in wine has only increased since then. He continued gaining experience in France, Spain and other parts of Europe, and trained as a sommelier before taking over operations at Kantina Arbëri in 2014, breathing new life into the business.
Apart from constructing a new building for fermentation, the family is also in the process of finishing the construction of a restaurant and guesthouse. The idea to diversify their activities came to Rigers when tourists who would come to visit the winery and take part in degustation showed interest in staying for a meal or even overnighting in Rreshen. Since tourism infrastructure in the Mirdita region is still lacking, the Kaçorri family saw this as a great opportunity, and with the help of a well-known local architect, Agim Marku, they started construction on the hill behind the winery.
The architecture of the soon-to-be-finished buildings is inspired by the local kullas, traditional fortified towers with thick stone walls that once provided safety and protection across medieval northern Albania. The new guesthouse resembles these fortified houses closely, though with some modern elements like larger windows, while the restaurant features the characteristic thick stone walls visually contrasting with massive wooden beams and glass façades. The integrated passive cooling system and solar panels on the roofs are just some examples of sustainable technologies as part of a well thought-out architectural approach.
Surrounding the two buildings on three sides, the family has planted grapevines on the slopes of the hill, which will soon add to the family’s own production. However, even more importantly, it will create a green environment for patrons of the restaurant as they enjoy traditional dishes from Mirdita and northern Albania, like cured meat, dried and salted in a wooden box for 12 months, byrek filled with boiled vegetables, or with walnuts, a common regional Christmas and Easter dish.
Rigers intends to raise animals near the family vineyards on the other side of town to produce fresh meat and dairy for guests to enjoy, using the abandoned communist-era warehouses for processing, while the produce for the restaurant (to open in autumn of 2020), will be supplied by farmers from around Rreshen. Even today the family has a close connection with local producers, gathering grapes for their wine and raki production from a total of about 65 families in the villages of Koder Rreshen, Prosek and Bukmire, among others.
In addition, the Kaçorri family owns several vineyards totalling roughly 20 hectares scattered around the region. The varieties they cultivate are exclusively Albanian: a white and recently a red shesh, the kallmet variety, and ceruja, which is grown in the hills around Burrel, with which Rigers started to experiment only recently. The family were one of the first to start the revival of these indigenous grape varieties, while other emerging wineries have focused on internationally famous types.
The vineyards are cared for by Fran’s cousin Nikolla, who oversees the 10 workers who tend to them year-round. In addition, the family employs a local workforce of 35 staff, involved in processing, administration and distribution of the finished products. The long bestselling wines of Kantina Arbëri are their Kallmet and Kallmet Reserve, the latter aged in oak barrels, as well as their Shesh i Bardhë white wine. Other products include a grape raki, either simple or barrel-aged, and a sparkling wine named Ardo, which is the result of the artisanal two-step fermentation of white shesh, of which only three to five thousand bottles are produced annually.
In order to learn more about the production process and get a taste of the different wines and spirits, visitors can take part in wine tasting in the brick and stone vaulted cellar. Sipping and enjoying Arbëri’s wine means following in the footsteps of numerous prominent figures, including politicians and officials, diplomats, celebrities and perhaps most notably Pope Francis, who paid a visit in 2014 and was given a selection of the cantina’s wines.
Thus Rigers’ belief holds true: wine is one of the few things that really are universal. No matter a person’s political beliefs, social status or origin, and even though every clan in Albania has their own wine making history and tradition, all of it is part of the culture that has thrived for over two millennia, and one that the family is proud to carry on.