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Interesting wine blogs in 2020

Interesting wine blogs in 2020

Wine education is becoming an increasingly important part of today’s social culture. The habit of drinking and sharing wine with family, relatives, friends, and business contacts inevitably unlocks the natural competitiveness, an essential part of human nature. In addition to how we drink wine, we want to know how to choose it, how to approach the exact occasion, and what food to combine it with. It is a daunting task in the ever-expanding ocean of variety the divine drink offers and the numerous sources of information.

The good news is that we can educate ourselves effortlessly or absorb a considerable amount of information without even realizing it. It can happen as we look for how to take advantage of the few free minutes between two activities, waiting in a queue, or just when we want to get away from the daily routine and decide to open an internet site without any engagement. Wine blogs are an easy and fun way to educate. They can give us helpful tips and easy-to-remember information about the wine world and seamlessly turn that into a lifestyle. The result – we won’t feel ashamed of ourselves when we get home with a bottle of wine, and we won’t look at the restaurant waiter when we order wine. Higher self-esteem, more fulfilling moments, or just a delight for the senses. Blogs and influencers are in the thousands, but here are some interesting suggestions:

Picture : Unsplash, Maddi Bazocco

  1. Wine Spectator The blog was created in New York, and it focuses on what’s happening in the American wine and culinary world. We can find over 15,000 wine ratings a year, along with tips on how to store them and culinary recipes that are suitable matches. Over 250,000 Twitter and 432,000 Instagram followers. Restaurants in the United States, with a particular focus on wine, are recommended and are categorized according to the variety of wines offered in terms of prices and styles. Everyone could challenge themselves by browsing through the search engine for the best wine list. Numerous interviews with sommeliers and wine directors about current emerging trends reveal different aspects of topics that are enticing the wine lover. Articles such as “How to buy wine online?” and “How to order wine in a restaurant?” are especially valuable to those who go through the world of wine and more shy people who would not take risks. How COVID 19 affects grape harvesting in the Southern Hemisphere and how restaurants across the globe manage their survival are always up to date. Quizzes and wine games can provoke the more curious.

Picture : Unsplash, Christian Burry

2. Vine Pair Another New York-born wine blog. Unlike Wine Spectator, beer and spirits connoisseurs can find useful information here. Due to its great variety, as well as the included online shop for glassware, bar accessories, branded clothing, and more, this site is a favorite corner of bartenders and professionals in the drinks industry. The 2019 top 50 wine rankings, the 25 best roses, and exciting offers for everyday drinking with excellent value for money remind that the site is a paradise not only for connoisseurs of beers, spirits, and cocktails but also for wine enthusiasts. Almost 18,000 followers on Twitter and nearly 60,000 on Instagram.

Picture : Unsplash, Drew Beamer

3. Wine Folly Hometown of Seattle, United States. Unlike the first two, Wine Folly has a much more descriptive and educational function. Or at least it suits a much more classic style. All major wine regions in the world are considered. When you are stuck with the question, “What exactly is Montepulciano?”, It takes us two minutes to open the site and sigh with relief after reading it. It is the place to find some of the most accurate and well-crafted wine maps. The individual flavors and fruit characteristics of the wines are described in detail as well as how to distinguish them. Their books for wine newbies are a great introduction to a world of information. The blog looks at exciting and comprehensible stories and all manner of ways to fill our daily lives with wine topics. Over 45,000 Twitter followers and almost 268,000 on Instagram.

Picture : Unsplash, Louis Smit

4. The Wine Cellar Insider A project by Jeff Leve that has a different structure from the three blogs described above. It comes close to the pages of Jancis Robinson and Robert Parker, as it mainly specializes in specific regions – Bordeaux, Rhône, and California. Detailed articles can be found about the top manufacturers in the indicated areas and information on fine wines trends. The blog has a wine forum with questions on various topics, as well as discussions on opened wines from specific vintages and their presentation. Almost 9,000 Twitter followers and 18,000 on Instagram.

Picture : Unsplash, Kyle Wagner

5. Social Vignerons A wine blog that offers articles for beginners looking for how to distinguish different flavors and aromas in wine to interviews with the most influential people in the wine world as authors of books, winemakers at top wineries, Master Sommeliers and Masters of wine. The concept of the site also includes depicting funny wine cases – “How to open a bottle of wine without a corkscrew?”; “Why never add a cube of ice to a glass of red wine?” And more. Over 121,000 Twitter followers and more than 44,000 on Instagram.

Picture : Unsplash, Bundo Kim

6. Wine & Spirit Education Trust Blog In addition to being one of the official institutions for wine education, WSET also maintains a wine blog that features articles on various wine topics as well as impressive stories from its students, graduates, and lecturers. Although it publishes an average of one article per week, it could be found an engaging content. It is also my first European proposal – the organization is based in London. There are almost 16,000 followers on Twitter and nearly 56,000 on Instagram.

Picture : Unsplash, Serge Esteve

7. Grape experiences/ swirl.sip.savor Cindy Rynning’s Wine Blog, where she describes her wine journeys, interviews with winemakers and owners of wine and wine events. In 2015, it ranked in the Top 100 of the most influential wine bloggers in the world, and in 2017 and 2018, won the Best Wine Blog in the United States. She hosts groups on wine cruise tours and generally enjoys life or, as the French say: “La vie est belle.” Over 12,000 Twitter Followers.

Picture : Unsplash, Guillermo Nolasco

8. Jamie Goode’s Wine Blog Jamie Goode is another London based wine blogger, but also an old acquaintance in the wine circles. He started his blog back in 2001, and since then, he has not stopped reflecting on all kinds of news from the wine world. He is the author of several books, and his page contains reviews of wines and producer profiles, as well as studies on everyday topics and unusual stories. There are 50,000 Twitter followers and almost 27,000 on Instagram.

Picture : Unsplash, Mary Oloumi

9. Wine Enthusiast Podcast If you’re not reading, but you are a good listener and wonder what to do while driving, Wine Enthusiast podcasts are the solution for you. From 5 minutes to 40-50 minutes of length, you can learn helpful information, trends, news, and tips for wines from different regions. Podcasts are increasingly emerging as a way of reaching the end consumer who, for one reason or another, is not accustomed to reading. Well, there is always an alternative. This blog has over 217,000 Twitter followers and over 357,000 Instagram followers. The numbers themselves indicate what is on the way of happening shortly.

Picture : Unsplash, Samuele Erico Piccarini

As I mentioned before, blogs and influencers are thousands, but I’ve made a selection of some of the most popular ones. And they are more than enough homework for the entire COVID 19 quarantine period, and maybe longer. Now comes the bad news for some Bulgarian readers – all listed in English. The good thing is that there are many translation sites; the most straightforward way is Google translate. It is also a fact that all the blogs use tons of pictures, and even the images itself provide a lot of data. Welcome to Kindergarten! Wine education is indeed fun, as it is learning English. And in the COVID 19 quarantine period, time is certainly enough. Wine is life, and life is fun.

Picture : Unsplash, Austin Diesel

 

Author 

Pavlin Ivanov

Varbovka – a meeting of generations along the way of wine

Varbovka – a meeting of generations along the way of wine

The COVID 19 quarantine period continues, and I continue with the Bulgarian wine stories.

The Crusade to the North met me virtually to Varbovka Winery – another small producer dedicated to the “Mission of Wine Production in the North Central Region”. As I mentioned in my previous article on Haralambievi, the North Central region from the swing of viticulture and winemaking over the past century has become a God-forgotten place these days. Varbovka is the name of a village with 1500 inhabitants, 10 km from the town of Pavlikeni. Thirty years ago, both the Pavlikeni and Suhindol wineries boast huge amounts of wine for export. Thousands of decares of vineyards are grown in the area, and cooperative wineries such as Varbovka (created back in 1934) and Dimcha deal with the primary processing of grapes and wine, which then goes to Pavlikeni and Suhindol and becomes a final product.

Penevi, Plamen and Svetlana, are winemakers at Suhindol Vinprom. Changes in the regime quickly reoriented them to the idea of starting their own project in 1999. They bought the former Varbovka cooperative winery and started working vineyards for rent. Their dream came true, but not quite. The reality is sobered them up and for a short period of time they realized that it will be difficult for them to fight against the theft of grapes in the vineyards. Another factor that tilts the scales is the age of the vineyards that are inappropriate to provide the quality that their family has set out to achieve.

During this initial period of its existence, the Varbovka Winery mainly produced bulk wines for other wineries as well as for export to Japan and Germany.

In 2015, the family focused on the production of bottled wine for the Bulgarian market and the full purchase of grapes from trusted growers offering quality tested over time. The focus is on limited series and the pursuit of quality. This model of work continues to this day.

The heirs of the Penevi family also did not waste their time surrounded by wine, vineyards and inspiring parents. Kaloyan has chosen to be a winemaker since his early childhood and graduated from Wine Technology at UCT Plovdiv. At first, Lora didn’t even think about wine, and focused on Marketing and Sales at Varna Free University. Entering the family business, she was increasingly interested in wine and has successfully completed the WSET Level 3.

And when fate puts you in a situation of no choice, there is only one way forward. This is also the case with Kaloyan and Lora. They lost their father in 2015 and have to become actively involved in the family business by helping their mother Svetlana. Kaloyan integrates his views and ideas into the ultimate wine look, and Lora is involved in marketing and sales of the family business. They bring a revival, a new dimension, longing to preserve the tradition, but also to restart Varbovka winery. It does not scare them into being the last remaining fortress of winemaking in the Pavlikeni region. Instead, they embarked on bold experiments.

Varbovka’s wine offerings are in three series. No Occasion reflects that typical of countries such as Spain and Italy with an attitude to wine – no special occasion is needed to raise a glass in your hand every day. Wine is a way of living, an emotion to share with family and friends. This is the idea of ​​varietal wines from Chardonnay, Muscat Ottonel, rose wine from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, as well as a cepage from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The grapes for them come from the Suhindol area. The family believes that the varieties should be self-explanatory and does not use oak barrels for maturing whites and roses. In 2016, the Penevi family for the first time sent their wine to a competition. It was then that their Cabernet Sauvignon rose won the silver medal at the IWC in Bucharest, where only 30% of the winners of the medals for wine were awarded one. 2000 bottles of each type of wine were produced.

The Penevi family are adamant that the local varieties, or as they like to say: “native varieties”, have a future potential. Native varieties are the trademark of the Native series. They say, “Nothing is accidental.” Yes, it is no coincidence that in 2018 a close friend of the parents from the village of Orehovitsa, Plevensko calls the family and offers them to make wine of the Kailashki Misket variety. Varbovka and Haralambievi are the only wineries that currently produce white wine from Kailashki Misket. Many producers have tried unsuccessfully to work with the variety, while others make home-made brandy because of its aromatic characteristics. The whole batch is 1500 bottles. Stylistically Kailashki Misket of Varbovka is totally different from that of Haralambiev’s. The first is well ripened, with a juicy, distinct fruit that outweighs the aromatic flavors typical of the variety.
It has a full body and can be combined with more substancial dishes such as white meats with typical rich and creamy French sauces, risotto, pasta, firmer cheeses. The second is rather a fresh and elegant summer adventure with an unforgettable nose. It is no accident that the sommelier Marin Atanasov (the man behind the Wineground Bottles & Beans project) is a sworn fan of this wine and introduces it to his Divino.Taste master class in 2019.

Another experiment with a local variety is white wine from Tamyanka(Muscat Blanc a Petit Grain). The family buys grapes for it from the Haskovo region. In Southern Bulgaria, this variety has been taken seriously and it has been worked with it for longer time and producers such as Bratanov and Rupel are no accidentally proud of their impressive results. Varbovka’s Tamyanka is a different read, ethereal and elegant urban mademoiselle who does not intrude but delicately suggests her femininity.

Gamza has an interesting history in the area. In the past, huge quantities of wine were produced here. Lora tells us that, unlike the New Zealand version, closer to Pinot Noir, the Gamza style of Pavlikeni and Suhindol is denser and closer to Sira. The third wine in the Native series is a rose from Gamza and features a sparkling pink color, far from the Provençal, and with juicy strawberries, raspberries and cherries. The material for it travels from Novo Selo, Vidin to Varbovka. The series is only 1200 bottles.

The family has an ambition to increase the collection of local varieties. The stumps are driven by harvest variations when they decide to buy grapes. They only vinify material they have approved as quality and if they find something interesting, they do not miss it. Therefore, we can still expect more surprises from them. For the labeling of the Native series, Lora uses ornaments from BG Pafti – belt elements for national costumes. The idea of ​​connecting with Bulgaria directs her to them after a long search.

The highest class of Cabernet Sauvignon wine falls in the Varbovka Cuvee series. It is one-of-a-kind and from the 2016 vintage. It matures in stainless steel vessels together with oak alternatives – two types of wood with different degree of roast for 6 months. This is the largest series of the winery – 15,000 bottles. The family thinks 2016 is particularly successful for Cabernet Sauvignon and decides to produce more of it. The grape is grown in the village of Doyrentsi, Lovechko. In addition to being ranked 36th in Divino’s Top 50 rankings for 2018, it is also the first major solo campaign by the tech-brother, Kaloyan. Wine experts tell him about Cuvee Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 that it is a serious request to continue making high quality wine.

Varbovka Winery has chosen to be one of the boutique wineries in Bulgaria and therefore its wines will not be found in the big chains. Those who decide to try them can find the Varbovka branded bottles in:

Sofia: Vino Orenda, Enjoywine, Coupage, Tempus Vini, Balaban, Bread and Wine

Plovdiv: Wine Culture

Stara Zagora: Kent Store

Veliko Tarnovo: Vino Veritas

Varna: Rhodope Milk Shops, Cheers, Wine ground bottles and beans

Pavlikeni: The Absolute + Shop

Today, Varbovka Winery provides permanent employment for 8 people, including its family members. It faces many trials and difficulties of various nature, and the COVID 19 pandemic brings additional tension and uncertainty to the future. However, Lora and Kaloyan have long decided that they will stay home to support their family, home and Bulgarian wine. Laura is optimistic and thinks that after the last two years in which the winery appears on the Bulgarian wine scene, participating in festivals and exhibitions, the best moments are yet to come. Supporting local products and small producers is very often about helping whole regions and believing that Bulgarian crafts have a future.

Author

Pavlin Ivanov

COVID 19- What’s next?

COVID 19- What’s next?

For more than two weeks, we have all been locked up in our houses, trembling at the thought that COVID 19 would knock on our door at any moment and will look for its toll. We read news that is full of negativity. In every one of these articles, reports and videos on health and economical topics we spot exact the same sentence. “The pandemic will lead to a deep and unknown economic crisis so far.”

By repeating this sentence, we slowly and surely immerse ourselves in a world of fear controlled by the survival instinct, and forget to analyze the situation, reading the information from articles written after past crises. The information there will be coming from sources that impartially share facts from events that have already happened. That is why, as a passionate wine lover, I decided to do a study of how things went in the wine world over the past recession.

There have been and will always be economic crises. As a rule, every 10 to 15 years there is a recession, a decrease in consumption, which, in addition to the devastating effects on the economy (including the wine industry), has a corrective, purifying, cathartic nature and gives birth to new models of development. Yes, it clears the market from oversaturation, low-quality products, and unnecessary consumption.

How does this affect the wine industry? Here are some of the trends we could see in the coming months and years, and some of us may have already observed:

Picture : Irene Credenets, Unsplash

The wine industry will increasingly focus on the production of wines without maturing in oak barrels.Or at least not new ones. With prices over € 1,000 for a brand new good quality oak barrel, very few producers would be able to buy one for the next few harvests. And what does that mean – a possible boom in terroir wines with all their associated definitions – the expressiveness of varietal character, less human factor, organic and biodynamic wines, or in a nutshell – closer to nature. (https://winesvinesanalytics.com/features/article/64854/Whats-Good-About-The-Recession)

2.Lack of market glut.If certain brands, which are not particularly distinctive, could break through during an economic boom, they would certainly not succeed in a shrinking demand. It will eliminate the quality and so-called craft wines from the mass producers. It should be mentioned here that this will only happen if these manufacturers have already established their sales channels. The prominent players in the market have long-established their trading networks and will only maintain the already paved roads.

Picture : Irene Credenets, Unsplash

  1. Automatically creates a higher value in the lower price segment.Luxury or premium customers will always exist, and many will not be affected at all by the economic crisis. By contrast, middle-class consumers who tend to shop for luxury goods during a boom and bust will limit the amount of shopping and move to at least one level down the ladder. Namely – in the middle price range, where the price/quality ratio is difficult to beat. It will also happen to the average grower who has his own vineyards. Instead of producing bottles that cost more than 30 euros, it will target 10-15 euros, and grapes used for high-end will be used in the middle. Thus the winner will be His Majesty, the ultimate consumer. And this same manufacturer will create a sales channel in this segment that will continue to grow beyond the end of the crisis. During a boom, this is a much slower and more complicated process, requiring more marketing and advertising investment in a more competitive environment. Or, in other words, smaller volumes but less competition.

Picture :  Unsplash

4. Victory over the established trend for insufficient bottle aging of wines. The habit, especially of the Bulgarian consumer, not to wait enough for the vintages with potential for aging, but to finish them young and green, will be limited. Due to the fact that it will reduce purchasing power, certainly a large number of higher class bottles from the last few successful vintages will remain in the cellars. They will be given a chance to reveal their true self. Here again, in the context of Bulgarian wine, the underestimated Bulgarian varieties will be given the opportunity to show their potential and also to a wider audience.

Picture : Jean Luc Benazet, Unsplash

5. The discovery of a fine wine asset as a shelter for the savings. Viewed as commodity indices, the world’s top wines (Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Italy, California) prove that during all previous recessions they do not record as sharp declines as stock market, for example. Of course, as with any asset, they decrease in value initially, but over time they return to pre-crisis levels and even surpass them. Therefore, many investors around the world include in their portfolio wine in the form of buying units in indices or physical wines. For a period of 10 years it has been confirmed that the portfolio containing ” fine wines ” has the highest value compared to other investments in stocks and bonds. (https://www.wineinvestment.com/wine-blog/2020/03/market-turmoil-cult-wines-perspective/

Picture : Random Institute, Unsplash

6. Some will still benefit from the diversity of the market. During a recession, the conservative approach to wine selection is usually reinforced – buying what is known without unnecessary risk and adventure. This is not true of the millennial generation or those who like to experiment. They certainly spend more time online and tend to compare prices, search, and take advantage of great deals. Adding to this the fact that many of them spend their day at the computer and work from home, the development of online wine sales will be a real boon for them. On the other hand, many customers with no online shopping habits will rediscover the online space. It will also be reviewed by winemakers, distributors and retailers. This will lead to higher computer education of the employees, development of new advertising and marketing approaches, and from there – bold steps towards the inevitable digitization of the Bulgarian society. And it will certainly close many jobs, but will also allow new jobs to be created. Of course, it will only be for those who want to study and requalify.

Picture : Erik Mclean, Unsplash

7. Return to Mother Earth or in other words to the roots. We will face the closure of hundreds of restaurants, hotels and physical retail outlets. In practice, this means that between 50,000 and up to the worse forecasts, as many as 500,000 people in Bulgaria are at risk of losing their jobs. Bulgarian agriculture has long complained of depopulation of small villages, the outflow of workers from the industry to large cities and the services sector, and the increasing difficulty of finding people willing to work despite rising wages. And if so far this was a chance for retirees to add income to their pensions by doing seasonal work, then many people of working age, faced with the dilemma of survival, would consider returning to work on the farm and in the field. Some would do it for the season, while others may rediscover the coziness of the villages and the proximity to nature for longer. And if wine growers have been struggling to find grape growers so far, it is likely that this year may turn in opposite way.

Picture : Maja Petric, Unsplash

8. Improvement of service in hotels and restaurants and higher level of education. The hotel and restaurant business is inevitably linked to the wine industry and is one of the driving centers of sales. And when, after the long-awaited opening of the sites, some of them are half empty, the level of service will inevitably be increased, and with it the wine culture. The few business customers will be treated as pleasure and honor, not as given. Staff and owners will think about how to impress them to spend more, and to come back. The people who remain will accept their job not only as a job, but as a profession in which wine knowledge is of the utmost importance.

Picture : Jay Wennington, Unsplash

9. Return of Bulgarians from abroad and partial increase of consumption. A considerable number of Bulgarians have already returned from abroad, facing greater risk of facing the virus in countries such as Italy and Spain. Many more may return in the coming months and years. This may increase the unemployment rate, but it will also increase the consumption in the country, albeit to a minimum. And although overall consumption will decline, things can turn pink to some extent thanks to this wave. Will this affect the consumption of wine? At a time when alcohol is recommended as a safeguard – why not. When it comes to alcohol, Bulgarians are capable of miracles.

The trends described above, and some of them that are my own thoughts, may not happen, or at least not exactly in their form, but one thing is for sure. The perfect storm is here and will change the whole world and together with it the wine industry. It is up to us to look positively at what is happening and to be flexible and adaptable in the times ahead. Let us look back and learn from history from time to time so that we do not make the same mistakes as before. Let’s build a new wine world together!

Picture : Allie Smith, Unsplash

Picture : Jereny Bishop, Unsplash

Author

Pavlin Ivanov

Balar – wisdom, vitalization, and something more

Balar – wisdom, vitalization, and something more

2006 is not only the last year before Bulgaria accedes to the EU and the opening of borders to Europe but also the year in which the Balar Winery was born – a promising project that opens completely different dimensions to wine production. It all begins with the planting of 140 decares of vineyards around the Skalitsa Dam, 36 km southwest of the town of Yambol, at the foot of the Monastery Hills. The abundance of sunny and warm days, low rainfall, and altitude of 150-200 m that forms the terroir where Muscat Ottonel, Gewurztraminer, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Carmenere, and Tempranillo find their home. A colorful variety of participants, just like the story surrounding the Balar endeavor. The dreams and longings of nine friends from Yambol to drink delicious wine from their vineyards become a reality. The first wine appeared in 2009, and since then, many Ks have been listed in the Balar crown.

What is K? K is a blend  because the people behind the project initially thought they would produce blended wines and numbered it 1 to 9, depending on the varieties. With vintages, varieties in blends change, but their style and character remains. The K Series wines are aged between 4 and 8 months in 225-liter French oak barrels and at least a year in a bottle.

The cellar produces about 30,000 bottles a year, with no ambition to increase the quantity. Quality is a cult concept. Diana Stoyanova and Svetlana Koeva, winemakers in the winery and one of the main participants in the irreparable uniqueness of the vision, are behind the quality care.

And if K is a fortress, a stronghold where red varieties boldly express their qualities and peculiarities, then Ballarina is a symbol of the elegance, tenderness, and aroma of white and rose wines. Ballarina is a game of words, a sense of lightness and freshness, and also the beautiful and charming lady of Balar. She is naturally playful and flexible as a ballerina and smells gentle and catchy.

Balar is an Old Bulgarian word that means wise man, wise. They say that wisdom cannot be reached so quickly, and sometimes a lifetime is not enough. Guided by spontaneity and the pursuit of naturalness, Balar comes to the idea of ​​vitalization. A practice that is known from Masaru Emoto but in a slightly different form. The Japanese freeze water after prolonged exposure to music or spoken words, and then remove its crystals to make a massive difference in the structure of ordinary water. The concept of Balar is the energy of vibrations that affect the molecular charge of a liquid and change the aura of matter.

The vibrations come from the music that is played to a selected wine barrel, and through a particular device, they are dispersed only inside the liquid itself. All happens without the sound reaching the outside of the room. And after the decision was made, in 2013, the first wine was launched, a blend between Merlot and Petit Verdot in equal proportions. Nine are Beethoven’s symphonies, the first choice for musical accompaniment in the process of wine aging is the Ode to Joy.

Ode symphonies are thought to be the best of this author, which is why the series from K1 to K9 appears. 2016 is the second vintage of vitalized wine, where Petit Verdot and Merlot appear again, but this time in a 60/40 ratio and Vivaldi was used as an accompaniment.

And once the experiment is complete, the vitalized wine needs to be isolated. Balar Winery uses a platinum bottle for this purpose. From the first vintage were produced 320 bottles and from the second one, 1180 bottles or 4 barrels in total.

How do they come up with this idea? In search of another dimension, something different from the usual common human understanding. To deliver pleasure, to be useful, or to add sentimental value, for no reason, but not by chance, following an inner instinct. In May 2019, after six years of waiting, Ballar finally received a well-deserved recognition – a patent for an invention by the Bulgarian Patent Office. But not only the winery but also the buyer of wines get a bit of uniqueness – only a kind of vitalized wine created by patented technology.

And just like any new initiative is appreciated, Balar’s wine medals do not come too late. The Gold Medal for Vitalized Wine 2013 at the London Wine Experts Awards, the Gold Medal for Vitalized Wine 2016 from the Balkan International Festival in Sofia; Gold Medals for the Rose Ballarina 2018 from the Frankfurt International Wine Trophy and the Rose Ballarina 2017 from the Vinaria Plovdiv.

Coincidence is a leading factor in many situations, but with Balar, coincidentally or not, they are the only winery in Bulgaria, and perhaps in the world, which uses such technology to mature their wines. Seeking advice on this bold initiative, they find wineries in France that use music in their vineyards or during the fermentation process. There is also a dairy farm in Switzerland that matures its cheese with music. There is no winery yet that plays music to its wines directly into the barrel in the time of maturation. Following the life path of the old Bulgarians, they reach their wisdom, or the story repeats itself – spontaneously, intuitively, and without coincidence.

It is no coincidence that the young Mariana Varbanova, the daughter of one of the co-founders of the Balar project, returned to Bulgaria in 2019. After spending seven years in Brussels as a European policy consultant, the family mission takes her back to her home country to become an ambassador for the unique wines produced in the village of Skalitsa. The magic of wine appeals to its followers. After her arrival on Bulgarian soil, Mariana devotes all her energy to the magic liquid. She becomes one of the co-owners of the winery, studies WSET Level 3, dreams of more wine adventures, and never stops trying exciting wines, spending time in the winery, and travel to new destinations. All this in less than a year in the country. Indeed, the future of the Balar project is in safe hands, and we can only expect pleasant wine surprises in the future.

Author

Pavlin Ivanov

Mission Haralambievi – trembles to Bulgarian, German discipline and French grace in a wine context

Mission Haralambievi – trembles to Bulgarian, German discipline and French grace in a wine context

At a time when COVID 19 has run into our homes and we don’t see a way out of the situation, we all need heroes, examples to follow, and hope for a better future. That is why I decided to present the fascinating story of the Haralambievs – the wine heroes of the North Central Region, or more precisely, Pleven.

The city of Pleven is famous for its Viticulture and Wine Institute, the Cave Museum of Wine in Kailaka Park and its old wine-making traditions. From time to time, every older person owns a small vineyard of about a decare that he cultivates to produce wine for personal use. Unfortunately, this tradition is increasingly dying out with the trend of population aging in the region and depopulation of villages.

As a citizen of Pleven, I have always been extremely emotional when talking about my home city, and after entering the wine world, also when the region is mentioned on a wine topic. That is why I was pleasantly surprised at last year’s Divino edition at the end of November when I first met the Haralambievs ((https://www.haralambievi.com/) and their wines. What did I say then? There is a light in the tunnel. Not only because it was the only wine hero of the Pleven region – the only winery in the area, but also because the wines were impressive, distinctive and nothing showed so far on the Bulgarian wine scene. Not only myself but many of the wine community, as well as many lovers of the magical fluid, became convinced of this.

Caroline Gilby, Master of Wine, and traditional explorer of Bulgarian and Balkan wines, tired of the long tastings almost bypassed the stand, but when tried the wine remains astonished. Immediately captured the character of the North, fascinated by Pinot Noir at Haralambievs, defining it as very “different” from the wines at the other stands that she has already tried.

Not only the wines, but also the people behind them have always been important to me, and many others in the industry. Mitko and Tsvetelina, founders of Haralambievi Cellar (https://www.haralambievi.com/), grab with nobility, kind words, passion for the smallest detail when talking about vineyards and wine, and proverbial industry. For them, viticulture is a way of life!

How did it all start? The story of Mitko and Tsvetelina is not different than the life stories of many of us. What sets it apart is that for ten years, they have never stopped pursuing their dreams and fulfilling them. Tzvetelina, a native of the village of Sadovets, Pleven, like every other student (at the time “Industrial Management” at the Technical University, Sofia), went for work and travel program in America in the summers of 2007 and 2008. She is introduced to the restaurant industry there, and, in her words, it is a valuable experience that shapes her for life. She teaches her strictness, discipline and determination. She returned to Bulgaria and, at one stage of her life, lived in Sadovets, and in 2009 she met Mitko (a forest engineer by education and a man who loves and is strongly connected with nature), knowing that she had discovered the right half. As happens in the movie “Good Year” with Russell Crowe and Marion Cotillard, the young couple firmly state that they will remain in the region and launch the Haralambievi project. Every beginning is difficult, and besides romance, it is also filled with 24/7 work. They started with their first vineyard of 90 acres near the village of Sadovets. The vineyard is named “Kalugeritsa” and its name comes from a small songbird Kalugeritsa, which Mitko discovers during the planting of the vineyard.

The plot is located 180 meters above sea level, on the left bank of the Vit River, in a strategic location where most of the rainfall in the area falls. The soils of the massif are gray-forest, on a limestone base, excellent gravel drainage, and typical for Pleven – karst or limestone. Karst is one of the main reasons Mitko and Tsvetelina choose right here to plant their vineyards – the terroir is unique to Bulgaria. They call it the Bulgarian Loire Valley. Mitko and Tsvetelina are classics, but also modernists, dreamers, experimenters, and, above all, optimists.

In search of the best planting material, they began working with the Viticulture Institute in Freiburg, Germany, and from there, they took the experimental varieties Solaris, Muscaris, Shoirebe, Cabernet Cortis, which are planted in the vineyard in the Mogilite area between the villages of Petarnitsa and Gortalovo. The last variety, which is red, is characterized by very early ripening – the end of August. Gives concentrated, well-colored wines of interest to winegrowers.

The real diamond in the family’s collection, their greatest wine love, is local and was created in 1976, at the Institute in the Pleven variety Kailashki Misket. The cross is between Hamburg Misket and Villar Blanc. Typical of it is that it ripens later than other Muscat varieties and retains high acidity, unlike Muscat Ottonel. It was harvested on September 5th for vintage 2019. During its fermentation, the whole cellar was filled with floral aromas, and this exciting moment is sealed forever in Tsvetelina’s memories. The Haralambievs are among the few who dared to present this delicately gracious variety. (Only one other winery- Varbovka, from the region of Pavlikeni, Tarnovo region produces wine from it in Bulgaria).

The family of the planted varieties in the vineyard “Kalugeritsa” is complemented by the elegant French mademoiselle – the variety Pinot Noir. Or at least that’s the definition of it that stylistically ranks the wines from the range to those of Burgundy and Loire. Haralambiev’s aspirations do not end here, and they also introduce the single vineyard model, which is particularly clearly related to the Pinot Noir variety and its three different faces from three vineyards.

When they label their ‘Trois Visage’ series, made up of ” Blanc de Noir ”, ” Rose de Noir ” and ” Rouge de Noir ”, they indicate on the label the vineyard from which the grape comes. The contract they make with Mother Nature is that each year, depending on the characteristics of the harvest, they will change the source of the grapes for each of the wines. Or if this year the name of the vineyard for Blanc de Noir is Calugerica, then next year it could be Above the Caves or Dabnik.

As I Mentioned them, it is time to introduce the other vineyards, for which Mitko and Tsvetelina speak with a lot of love and a sense of sentimentality, related to their characteristics. Each of them has its place in their hearts and their own story.

The Dabnik vineyard near the village of Gorni Dubnik is also located on the left bank of the Vit River on typical fertile robust soils on the limestone base, well-drained from the gravelly terrace of the river. It covers 150 decares, and it is positioned at 180 meters above sea level. Its location near the Sofia-Pleven road and is clear visibility from there makes it symbolic to the family. It has a European look. It is picturesque and tidy and leaves good energy and hope in the soul every time you stare at it. It is the hope that makes Haralambievs think that this is where they will build a future tourist visitor center for wine-travelers. It is planted with the local variety Rubin, creation of the Pleven Viticultural Institute, as well as Pinot Noir, Merlot, and the only white variety there – Muscat Otonel.

The Mogilite Vineyard, near the eponymous locality, is located between the two villages of Petarnitsa and Gortalovo. Here we are already going on the right bank of the Vit River, in the lower part of the Subbalkan zone, and the altitude is 300 m. It covers 210 decares and is characterized by shallow gray-forest soils on a karst base. The massif is located next to the Petarnishka Bara, one of the river Vit tributaries and a forest, which is a climate barrier for the area. The TurkStream project passes through this area, and some of the vineyards have to be uprooted, but fortunately, very few of them. The plot Mogilite is the youngest acquisition of the family – since 2015, it can be reached only by poor roads. That’s why they strategically have positioned their German resistant varieties in it.

Tsvetelina and Mitko are heavily influenced by the German and French schools when it comes to vinification. And although they learn a lot of the intricacies of the craft, they turn to consultations with notorious names among Bulgarian winemakers such as Nikolay Krastev (Tsarev Brod), Peter Georgiev (Rossidi) and Radostin Milkov, or known as the tandem “Vinostudio,” which is their unifying consulting project. All of them are behind some of the latest adventurous and experimental wines on the Bulgarian market, such as Pet Nat Riesling, white wine of the Gergana variety, rose from Evmolpia, Pet Nat Mavrud and a different reading of Rubin and Mavrud in the limited series by Milkov and Georgiev. When Mitko and Tsvetelina went to Nikolay Krastev for a first-time consultation, he tries to tactfully discourage them from delving into the already flooded Bulgarian wine market. A visit to the vineyards, however, radically altered his skepticism and assured him of the uniqueness of the region’s terroir and potential. They were given the green light from the acknowledged Majesty of the Bulgarian wine scene.

And as it is written on the grave of Jane Sandanski: “The slave fights for freedom, and the free for perfection.” Tsvetelina started “Winemaking” at UCT Plovdiv. Although she is a mother of three, she manages to find time to study, between caring for her family and the vineyards. Winemaking is not her last step towards education, and she also decides that WSET Level 3 will add valuable knowledge to what has already been gained. At Wine and Spirits Academy Bulgaria (https://wsab.bg/?page_id=391), she meets with personalities such as Alexander Skorchev, Eduard Kuriyan (https://rossidi.com/) and Dimitar Nikolov (https://apollowine.com /) that brought dimensions to her dreams. Tsvetelina defines them as very successful and inspiring speakers.

The Haralambievs family’s slogan is: “Wine is our love, the vineyard is our impulse.” It is also reflected in their concept of making wine. They spend all day working in the vineyards, thinking of them every morning. To survive financially during these ten years and ensure sustainability, until their vineyards reach their optimum development and ready for making bottled wines, they sell high-quality grapes to both wineries and local customers, and also bulk wine. Here is the coveted first bottling of the 2019 harvest is coming. Of course, it does not go without obstacles. It rains almost throughout the whole growing season. They say: “Luck comes to the prepared.” Luck also comes to Mitko and Tsvetelina after many years of hard work. The rain stops just in time of flowering, and it led to an excellent vintage for white wines and the first of Haralambievievs (https://www.haralambievi.com/).

Haralambievi (https://www.haralambievi.com/) and oak aging. Mitko and Tsvetelina are not supporters of the excessive use of oak, but only when necessary. Following the global trends in winemaking, they make balanced, elegant, graceful wines, allowing the individual varieties to speak for themselves, to let the terroir to enrich its uniqueness and to make the wine itself. In this regard, the family has only three brand new 500 l French oak barrels. 

For the 2019 harvest, they will only use them for aging their Rubin, Cabernet Franc, and for a single batch of Chardonnay. The three described are still being matured in oak barrels. Looking at their wine series, labeled The Chosen One is their Sauvignon Blanc. They decide to plant this old French acquaintance because of market demand, or in other words, the market chooses it.

In the Trois Visages series, the moody kid Pinot Noir displays his three faces in white, rose, and red wine. Yes, white wine of red variety. After Eduardo Miroglio, another brave producer was found to read the Burgundy variety using Bulgarian glasses. In the Royal series, the winery pays tribute to pure royal or traditional grapes – Blanc for Chardonnay and Dark for Cabernet Franc. Here, Chardonnay has another mission – to characterize Haralambievs non-oaked standard or to give its freshness and fruitfulness casually and purely. It was rated in the Top 50 Divino’s rank list – ranked in the wines from the 20th to the 50th place. Cabernet Fran is still being aged in oak but is expected to appear in September this year. It is the other weakness of the family, who is convinced of his vast potential in Bulgaria. Its distinctive and genuine character is expressed in peppery notes that are easy to recognize from the first sip. The variety is planted in three of their plots, but each of them is micro vinified or processed in a separate vessel. Mitko and Tsvetelina have strong faith in the indigenous varieties and their future role on the Bulgarian and why not the international stage. This impulse found their expression in the H’s series, or more simply Haralambievs (https://www.haralambievi.com/).

The red Rubin variety, a cross between Sira and Nebiolo, more widespread in southern Bulgaria, is represented at a high level in the north as well. Tsvetelina says that here, influenced by the cool climate, or more accurate microclimates of extremes and large amplitudes, it retains higher acidity and presents an entirely different dimension to the final result – wine. The Haralambievs accentuate bottle maturation and believe that it is essential for the proper development of the wine. They allow the white varieties at least six months and the red ones for more than 12 months, if necessary 18 months, then another 6 in a bottle.

The economic engine in the North Central Region. The first and historic 2019 harvest in question is 50,000 bottles. That still puts them on the wine list as a small producer. On the other hand, the winery employs 4000-5000 man-shifts annually, with 60-70 seasonal workers working days during the harvest, with it continuing from August 10 to October 20 there.

The vineyard manager and four workers permanently employed in the winery in Petarnitsa and the vineyards, as well as a two-person sales team in Sofia, are permanently in their company. In essence, their brand manager is Nikolai Yordanov, who has excellent credit for starting the winery. Their concern and cohesion with the local community also gave birth to a project for dual training with the agricultural school in Dolni Dabnik. The school opened a class in Vineyard management, and the contract students make internships in the cellar and have the opportunity to continue working for it after the end of the period.

The COVID19 pandemic is occurring at the most unfavorable moment for the family – a few days after their first bottled vintage is launched. The family invests in designer labels made by the notorious Stefan Gyonev, a modern look, and several official wine events for professional audiences.

Tsvetelina thinks that although the crisis will have a stressful effect on the market, it will merely rearrange itself. The better ones will even be in a more favorable position, believes that this is not the time to give up, but on the contrary – with endless optimism, be flexible and adaptable to the situation to wait for better times. And for them, the family already has a dream – to create a tourist visitor center near the village of Gorni Dabnik. A new initiative, a unique opportunity for the economically backward region of Pleven, a new struggle, a new ray of hope, a new page in the history of the Haralambievs family cellar (https://www.haralambievi.com/).

Author

Pavlin Ivanov