Meeting with the young Bulgarian winemakers

Meeting with the young Bulgarian winemakers

One of the exciting masterclasses of Divino this year was the meeting with the young Bulgarian winemakers. Many stories have been told about how these people, who have committed themselves to one of the world’s oldest professions, face the reality of the Bulgarian wine industry and how they adapt and study, travel and follow world trends.

The masterclass was led by Georgi and Vladi Vankov, that are behind the project “All for the wine” – a wine shop in Varna. The main topic for discussion was the attitude towards the young wineries for traveling to other winemaking countries and specializations in international wineries. The work of a season contract in Bulgaria and the difference in seasons in different hemispheres in continents such as Australia and South America in practice allow two wine campaigns to be completed within one year, and according to the leading class for the more motivated and up to 3-4 even. Moreover, if the first thought of man is about the financial part of these expeditions or how well these people will be paid for their tireless work, according to the stories in the hall, the most valuable gift for the adventurers remains the traveling experience. Also the meeting with new cultures, the adoption of new winemaking technologies, exploration of remote wine regions and their climatic features.

According to Georgi and Vladi, staying in Australia and New Zealand is most profitable, because, with the money saved from the season spent there, young enthusiasts can then travel to Chile and Argentina where, in their words, the situation at the state level is not very much different from the one in Bulgaria. Alternatively, in other words: lower pay, unclear legal frameworks or completely missing ones, and if this may sound unattractive, then it is an excellent opportunity for easier entry into the country and adaptation to local culture. The most improbable are the results of these practices. According to the storytellers, if a night-shift night shift technologist is caught sleeping during the Australian and New Zealand work, he will inevitably be fired the next day. At the same time, a few hours’ sleep during the night shift in Chile and Argentina is in most cases quite reasonable, but despite the quality of the wines produced, it is quite high.

Here comes the question of where does Bulgaria stand in this puzzle? The answer: somewhere in the middle. The work of the young Bulgarian wineries is highly appreciated not only because of the long 15-hour shifts they are forced to give when grapes are taken in the winery but also because of their motivation for good results, strictness and excellent organization of the activity.

However, on their soil here in Bulgaria, they are forced to struggle sometimes with the opinion of wine owners for an earlier than the actual date for grape harvest in the name of preventing theft of fruit on the vineyards. A traditional problem is also the quantity/quality ratio. If winemakers are looking for a higher amount for a higher profit margin, young winemakers are looking for lower yields and grape selections in the name of producing smaller quantities but better quality wines. Still, the young Bulgarian hopes recognize that the model of boutique wineries producing a limited range of wines from 2000-5000 bottles is a huge challenge when it comes to exports due to the demanded minimum volumes of importers of 20,000+ bottles. Then what are the prospects for the Bulgarian boutique wine – breakthrough of limited series of high-end wines in high-class restaurants that do not need high volumes? That is already happening in Michelin restaurants in England, Belgium, Hong Kong, the United States.

The meeting with the young wine-makers was attended mainly by technologists or students that will be future technologists, but other people could be noticed. At the very end of the session, that question was asked: “After so much time spent in wineries abroad and endless opportunities to stay and work there at more favorable personal conditions, what is the return of the young wineries back to Bulgaria? “The answer was that the reasons are many an individual. Some of the technologists are part of families that have small wineries and come back with experience and vision to flow into the family business. Others do not like living in other countries and follow the popular English thought: “From the east to the west, home is the best.” However, in general, what brings back the young winemakers to Bulgaria is that they are keen to help the Bulgarian wine to return to the international stage, taking into account the vast potential and opportunities that will reveal to our country in the coming years. In the hands of these brave and irreconcilable people, the Bulgarian wine industry is in safe hands. These young hopes are the factor that will tilt the scales towards the production of quality and exciting wines that will present Bulgaria’s new face to the world.


Author Pavlin Ivanov

Villa Melnik – under the sandy hill …

Villa Melnik – under the sandy hill …

Villa Melnik – under the sandy hill …

A sandy hill, tunnels beneath it, historical monuments, sunny hills planted with vineyards, incredible scenery are just some of the things we imagine when we start talking about Villa Melnik Winery. And we have not yet reached the magic of the wines they produce. Villa Melnik is not a non-accidental meeting of traditionalism with innovation in Bulgarian winemaking. Villa Melnik has opened in the spring of 2013 in the village of Harsovo, near the smallest town in Bulgaria – Melnik. The winery team calls their wines brave and combines local traditional varieties of grapes with international, mainly French. Warm Mediterranean climate and the altitude of about 300 m, and also long and dry autumns of the region, contribute to the even ripening of the grapes and the variety of tastes. The numerous types of wine, skillfully interwoven in blends by Villa Melnik, do not let the wine lover stop with only one or two wines but tempt him to taste more and more.

I wish to begin my short story with Villa Melnik‘s orange wine, which is from vintage 2017 and is one of the first reasons to name the team innovators and modernists. The famous Sauvignon Blanc provides a real fiesta for the nose and the palate – sweet perfume, intense quince flavor, orange peel marmalade aromas, a sinful nuance of Turkish delight, mysterious sweet spices. This rich and appealing dessert described above does not impose and does not leave weight behind itself because it combines elegant acidity that balances the overall delight and refreshes the palate. This orange wine would be suitable for a hot summer day when it could be sipped well-chilled and without food. Also can be enjoyed in the company of charcuterie, strong cheeses, juicy, grilled autumn vegetables, traditional pumpkin dishes, and why not with foie gras and light desserts. The romanticism of this orange wine lies in the secret that continuously improves its taste, develops, and brings new elements into the mosaic of flavors.

After the orange adventure, it’s time to mention Bergule – the blend of Broad-leaved Melnik with Pinot Noir. The mission of creating high – quality wine from Pinot Noir very often turns out to be impossible for the winemaker. It carries many difficulties. Especially in Bulgaria, a land of robust red wine varieties, where the production of quality wine is just starting. Pinot Noir here often feels in shaky hands, where could be made up of high alcohol levels, with low acidity and jammy fruit. All this takes away its inherent elegance, grace, and sophistication, of which it is famous in France, and in particular in Burgundy, the real home of Pinot Noir. But this is not the case with Bergule wine. The decision of the winery to make a blend with Broad-leaf Melnik can undoubtedly be called bold and reinforces the central Villa Melnik concept of promoting courage in meetings between local and international varieties. Although the wine has 14% alcohol content and dense body, it streams natural elegance, fruit balance and aromas, soft, palatable tannin, and refreshing acidity. The twelve months spent in French and Bulgarian oak barrels not only have not destroyed the abundant red fruit, cherry typical for Pinot Noir but also compliments with integrated notes of vanilla and sweet spices. This red-colored feast for the palate and the nose could be tasted by itself, after a hard day at work or on a day off, but also successfully combined with red meats such as beef, duck, pork, game, and redfish such as salmon and trout. And not surprisingly left for a few more years aging in a bottle, the feast will continue with flavors of leather, tobacco, smoked meat. Broad-leaved Melnik will reveal other parts of its character.

The surprise list does not allow me to miss the Aplauz Early Melnik(or also called Melnik 55), Reserve from vintage 2016. The name of the series Aplauz comes from the English word ‘’applause’’. In this regard, Applauz Melnik 55 Reserve is the wine I can applaud to. Few people have yet heard the term “Bulgarian oak barrels.” The phenomenon ‘’maturing in Bulgarian oak’’ was successfully introduced in Villa Melnik. In this case, the period of aging in Bulgarian oak barrels is 15 months.

What is the role of the barrel here? It softens the wine, balances it, without overloading it with extra dense aromas. It doesn’t overpower the fresh, ripe fruit: the result – a successful combination of dark fruit – blackberries, blueberry, cherry, with notes of milk chocolate, elegance, lightness, completeness, density, pronounced soft ripe tannin, an invitation for more and more. It is no coincidence that the predecessor of Aplauz Melnik 55 won a silver medal at the Vinaria 2015 international competition in Plovdiv, a silver medal at Vinobalkanika 2015 in Veliko Tarnovo and a silver medal from the Decanter World Wine Awards.

There comes a time to mention that Villa Melnik is a family winery, uniting two generations – both parents Nicola and Lyubka Zikatanovi and daughter Militza Zikatanova. Again here is the motive for the traditions, the founder of which is the parents. The father is a native of the neighboring village of Hursovo Kapatovo and has spent many years in the family vineyards before the current project begins. The innovator and inheritor Militza has worked for several years at global spirits giant Diageo. She can often be seen at the stands of Bulgarian and international wine fairs. We can always recognize her by the smile on her face and the inexhaustible energy to reveal the secrets of the wines from the Melnik region. Villa Melnik sets up a level of quality in the Bulgarian wine world. Class, lined with strong family traditions, with a sense of eternity.


Pavlin Ivanov