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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

Sandanski Misket – the white flower of Melnik region

Sandanski Misket – the white flower of Melnik region

There are many opinions on the question of which white varieties are signature for Bulgaria as a wine producing country. The endless controversies are caused by the divergence between the quality of internationally produced varieties of wines and the uniqueness of purely Bulgarian varieties.
For me, Sandanski Misket is a symbol of an exceptional character, diplomacy, but also an aspiration. Perseverance in expressing various terroir, finesse, sophistication, but even militancy. Its militancy stands out in the strong concentration of fruit, intense aromas, and infinite freshness.
It seems like a constant battle with the relentless heat of the Melnik region to send its message to the world: “No, I will not surrender; I will give my best.”
That is the story of two of its producers – Via Verde and Villa Melnik. I had the opportunity to taste Sandanski Misket harvest 2018 from these two wineries.
For Via Verde, Sandanski Misket is an old pal, and this is their second vintage after 2016, which was a manifestation of elegance, a profound expression of terroir and richness of several types of fruit – citrus, stone fruit and tropical.
That is why I was extremely curious and excited when I headed to their stand at the Fair of Independent Winegrowers in London with the idea of trying out my first wine of the day.
I knew that this would be the new vintage of Expressions Sandanski Misket 2018. It was entirely accidental that I would have the opportunity to taste it along with the newly bottled for the first year Aplauz Villa Melnik Sandanski Misket 2018.
Both wines are made from grapes grown in vineyards with a different terroir. Sandanski Misket of Villa Melnik comes from their vineyards next to the village of Harsovo, at 250-300 m above sea level, from a mixture of sandy and clay soils. That of Via Verde comes from the village of Ilindentsi, 580 m above sea level and limestone, carbonate soils. The relatively high altitude of both wine plantings plays its role for the preserved high acidity of the two wines – a synonym of freshness, which to a certain extent also derives from the nature of the grape variety itself. Different soils play their part, and Via Verde‘s Sandanski Misket has much more pronounced minerality that cannot be missed on both the nose and the palate. In Sandanski Misket of Villa Melnik, it is not missing, but it is very delicate and gives the impression of how a mountain stream touches a stony riverbed. Or a sense of elegance on the nose and the palate.
The grape harvest dates of the two growers also differ, as well as the number of bottles produced by them. Villa Melnik, due to the lower location of its vineyards and a slightly warmer climate, harvested the grapes for vintage 2018 in late August, and their colleagues from Via Verde in the first few days of September. Via Verde chose Sandanski Misket for their flagship white variety so far, and they have made about 4,000 bottles. Villa Melnik also vinifies other white varieties, and that’s why from 2018 Sandanski Misket has produced about 2000 bottles.

Bottle of Expressions Sandanski Misket 2018 in Veronika Vassileva’s hands, part of Via Verde‘s team.

And so Expressions Sandanski Misket 2018 – it shows an incredibly intense and complex nose with aromas of tropical fruit – mango, ripe peach, ripe red apple, lychee. The same flavors come up on the palate, supported by a full, well-expressed body, juiciness of the fruit, but also a freshness, which prevents the wine from tasting too heavy, but somewhat exceptionally well balanced. For high quality, adds the long aftertaste that remains on the palate minutes after the first sip. Expressions Sandanski Misket 2018 is a wine that I would recommend for long and sunny summer days but also to pair with many different food options at the dining table- fresh salads, grilled chicken, roasted vegetables, dishes based on tropical fruit sauces, seafood, young and not too strong cheeses like goat’s, and why not with pasta dishes in creamy sauces.

Bottle of Aplauz Sandanski Misket 2018 in Militza Zikatanova’s hands, part of Villa Melnik‘s team

Aplauz 2018 Sandanski Melnik Villa Melnik – a symbol of the femininity and delicacy of this variety, in contrast to the abundance presented above by Via Verde. Or a reminder of the variety’s diplomacy – a lift coming from a specific perfume or its aromatic, Muscat character, a variety of citrus fruits – grapefruit, ripe lemon, and last but not least a hint of honey that cannot be found in the wine of their neighbors. Sweetness for the soul I find in a dry wine with a complexity of aromas, a medium body, exceptional elegance, and a long finish. Food recommendations are the same here as I only would exclude dishes based on tropical fruit sauces, and I would replace them with the one flavored with citrus fruit. I would also prefer Aplauz for an aperitif glass before lunch or dinner. Both wines attract and tempt me with their different style, naturalness, an infinite layers of flavors and the worlds where they bring me to when I taste them. Sandanski Misket is one of my favorite grape varietals, and these two wines are some of the preferred ones made of it

With striking curiosity, I will expect the next vintages, as well as to try the same wines in a few months, to check out their development in the bottle. The beginning is undoubtedly promising both for the wines themselves and for the Sandanski Misket grape variety. Because of the mini skull plantings of it, can be acknowledged as an experimental and boutique at the same time, with the potential to rank among the leading Bulgarian white grapes.

 
Bulgarian white grape varieties – in search of an identity.

Bulgarian white grape varieties – in search of an identity.

Bulgaria has traditionally been a producer and consumer of red wines. Still, in recent times world wine trends have contributed to broader penetration of white wines in Bulgarian households and their more frequent consumption. If the Bulgarian ladies have been admirers of other types of alcohol in the past, more and more of them are turning to the magic of wine, more precisely whites, which appeal to them with freshness, lightness, receptivity. Thus, they become a significant factor in popularizing the golden liquid. Here I have to mention a healthy diet, including salads, white meat, fish that successfully combine with a glass of white wine and make it a more and more common choice for a drink.
Last but not least, there is an increased demand from the young generation (18-25 years), for which white wine falls into the category of a “party drink,” slowly displacing the beer from there. These cases are only a piece of the puzzle, and it would be wrong to consider the Bulgarian market as the only consumer of Bulgarian white wines. Bulgaria exports a large part of its wine production, and the rediscovery of white wines is a phenomenon happening globally.

In this regard, relevant and often asked by the Bulgarian wine industry is the question: “What white varieties can be used for wine production in Bulgaria?”. And for us the wine lovers, too. If we have to call ourselves wine lovers, we are undoubtedly tired of endless bottles labeled Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, and we are looking for something unusual, different, and distinctive. Bulgaria, by origin country of the Old Wine World, but by the trends, today exciting and bold New World experimenter offers many alternatives to the usual suspected white varieties. The key to the mystery is local old Bulgarian grapes and their revival, not without the adventurous new Bulgarian winemakers. Their attempts to replace Bulgaria on the world wine map are associated with 100% local white varieties, but also blending the same with international ones. An opportunity to evaluate the results was this year’s edition of Divino – the biggest festival of Bulgarian wines. Divino 2018 presented many series made entirely of white indigenous Bulgarian grapes. I had the opportunity to attend the masterclass “Traditional White Bulgarian Varieties – Present and Future,” led by Niki Krastev, winemaker of Tsarev Brod winery.

What was I impressed with? There was progress in the quality of the wines selected for the masterclass. All were very fresh and elegant. The most exciting part was the incredible stories of the winemakers and the sommeliers who presented them. I start my story with two wines from Dimyat – “Sense of Tears” 2017 from Maryan winery and “Wine Bridges” 2017 by Ekaterina Gargova. Dimyat is an old Bulgarian indigenous grape variety, which occupies 29134 decares of vineyards, or 38% of all white Bulgarian indigenous grape varieties, 9.5% of all white types in Bulgaria and 4.8% of all vineyards in Bulgaria. The fruit is distinguished by a thin skin and typical accompanying aroma of vanilla, so intense that it is difficult to miss it. “Sense of Tears” Dimyat 2017 is a full-bodied wine, with aromas of ripe citrus fruit, peach, quince, honey, spices, notes of minerality, but with balancing acidity, elegance on the palate and a long finish. The technology of production includes exciting and innovative decisions such as fermentation of half the wine in inox vessels and another half in Bulgarian oak barrels. Then aging for six months in the same Bulgarian oak — an excellent wine that can be tasted both on its own and in the company of salads, white meats, fish, and why not spicier food such as sushi and Thai and Japanese cuisine dishes.

Before describing “Wine Bridges” Dimyat 2017, I cannot miss the fascinating story behind the name of this wine project, revealed by the winemaker Ekaterina Gargova. She has a lot of international experience, but a crucial moment for her was a wine forum she attended several years ago as a winemaker of a Macedonian winery. At the event was mentioned that the wines made of red variety Vranets would become an identity for the Macedonian wine industry, and Ekaterina asked herself the question: “Which varieties will be the identity of Bulgaria?”That’s what motivated her to start the Wine Bridges project as wine builds bridges and connects people, countries, meets concepts.
And so “Sense of Tears” Dimyat represents the terroir of Southern Bulgaria, or, more precisely, the village of Asenovets, Nova Zagora. “Wine Brides” Dimyat is an expression of the terroir of Northern Bulgaria, Tutrakan, according to Ekaterina’s words – “the northernmost vineyard of the Danube.” The difference in both styles is essential, as well as in their technology of production. Ekaterina Gargova’s wine was made through 24-hour maceration with grape skins, followed by five months of maturation, wherewith 30% of the wine naturally occurs malolactic fermentation. The same percentage is aged afterward in old oak barrels and the remaining 70% in stainless steel vessels. The result is the lower alcohol content of 11.5% compared with 13% in the first, delicacy, medium body, completely different type of flavors on the nose and palate – not so intense, excellent fruit of apple and lemon, toast, smokiness. Relatively high acidity and long aftertaste suggest this wine could be an excellent start of a hot summer day, but also preferred match for light appetizers, salads, seafood.

After the adventure with these two wines, I am convinced that Dimiat is my favorite grape variety. Still, I’m damn curious what new surprises will bring several years of aging for which this grape has potential. Gergana 2016 and 2017 from Tzarev Brod winery was the next tasted couple at the masterclass. Gergana is Bulgarian white variety, created in 1956 by the crossing of Dimyat and French Muscat Ottonel, typical for the region of Alsace, France, but also grown in other parts of Europe, including Hungary, Austria, Slovenia, Bulgaria. In both wines, the grape shows a typically robust and distinctive aroma of musk and perfume derived from Muscat Ottonel, freshness, elegance, and succulence of the fruit on the palate. Vintage 2016 of the wine is not as intense as 2017, which shows more perfume, sweetness, maturity, fuller body. Vintage 2016 is characterized by aromas of ripe peach and apricot — two well-made wines, suitable to combine with a variety of dishes and to invigorate the palate.

Vrachanski Misket is an exciting cross between two varieties: Coarna Alba of Moldavian origin and Muscat a Petit Grains, part of the noble grape family of Alsace, France. The wine of Salla Estate, a winery from Varna, Black Sea region, vintage 2017 made of Vrachanski Misket, combines both flavors and aromas of green spices and vegetables, as well as specific perfume, flowers, citrus and white fruit, minerality. Extremely complex wine with almost the same subtle natural spritz, reminiscent of white wines from Vinho Verde, Portugal. Sandanski Misket is a new-emerging Bulgarian variety, the result of a crossing between Melnik’s indigenous Broad-Leaf Melnik vine variety with pollen from Tamianka and Cabernet Sauvignon. It is grown only in the valley of Struma River. Orbelia Winery, located near Petrich, presents its 2018 harvest, which, although not fully ready, shows delicate perfume, juicy fruit, minerality, grace. Sandanski Misket is yet to prove its real character and reveal its potential, but indeed the first results are promising.

The introduction of indigenous varieties is not a new phenomenon in world winemaking, and some of the first examples for that in Europe are Greece and Portugal, which can serve as valuable lessons for Bulgaria in this direction. The uniqueness of aromas and flavors of individual grapes, their minuscule production, which relates the wines made of them in the boutique and rare categories, and offering of an alternative for the best-selling international wines, is indeed a good start. Barriers to the popularity of these wines may be their names, quite often difficult to pronounce and read by Western World that would stop consumers from ordering. High production costs due to small batches regularly contribute to a way too expensive product, and along with the lack of consistent quality, both lead to final wines that are too adventurous, unknown, and misunderstood by the general public. That is why they have the highest sales in the local market and have difficulty breaking through new international ones. The Bulgarian wine scene is regrettably too tight and does not offer particularly great opportunities for expansion and increased production scale, which reflects on the economic survival of micro-wineries.

Consequently, they register their highest rate of sales on the local market rather than entering new international ones. Bulgarian wine scene is too tight unfortunately and does not offer particularly great opportunities for expansion and increase of scale of production, which reflects on the economic survival of micro-wineries. Therefore, only the aggressive marketing politics, the attraction of the Sommelier community in the mission of popularizing these rare products are vital to breaking through the trends and presenting the new face of the Bulgarian wine industry to the world.

Surely Bulgaria will meet the challenges that Greece and Portugal have already encountered and still face today. And whether will succeed dealing with them depends only on the dedication to work, the love and passion of the new generation of Bulgarian winemakers and wine ambassadors, the unwillingness to give up in front of the difficulties, but to continue walking the path of tradition and innovation. 

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.

Author

Pavlin Ivanov

Via Verde – Following the Green Road …

Via Verde – Following the Green Road …

The vineyards in Levunovo, Struma River Valley, Bulgaria

Striving for harmony, freedom of expression, nature, romance, beauty… This list goes on, but these are the main elements that the wines of Via Verde embody. Everything starts with the name Via Verde – translated from Latin “Green Road”. As we all look for a green path in our lives, Via Verde is looking for the same in its wines.

The idea of ​​Via Verde was born in 2013, not long ago, the first vintage was harvested. The villages Ilindentsi and Levunovo are not only located near the town of Sandanski, and are a home to the vineyards of the Via Verde project – a source of sun, light, nature, and warmth. The warmth, which embodies every single grape berry of Struma River valley.

Grapes from Struma Valley

The Mediterranean climate of the region, the large number of sunshine hours and Ilindentsi’s vineyards altitude of 400 to 600 m contribute to the unique combination of fresh, abundantly ripe fruit, supplemented by a minerality that cannot be missed. In turn, this adds acidity, elegance, structure, and freshness to the overall finish.

The dragonfly – a symbol of Via Verde

The team of Via Verde believes that when you meet a dragonfly, it is a sign that you have to change your life – look at yourself and give freedom to your will. That is why the dragonfly is the blessed symbol of the winery. This transformation, the quest for the new and mysterious, creativity and naturality, stands out in each of the four limited series of wines – Debut, Expressions, Motif, Nomad Spirit. Knowing such harmony and vibrancy can hardly be achieved the first time, Via Verde continues to experiment tirelessly, looking for completeness and sending many messages to the wine lover.

Expressions Sandanski Misket Single Vineyard

I have specifically chosen to review the Expressions wine series. Here again is found the main concept of the winery – a search for a balance between fruit that is left to freely express itself without the influence of oak barrels and feminine freshness, rising from acidity and salineness.The result? The white wine Sandanski Misket made entirely from the local grape variety of the same name, gathered from a single vineyard. Consequently, this wine is a true triumph, a victory of freshness and the feminine elegance that slips into each drop. A Mediterranean breeze of fine grapefruit flavors, citrus fruits, supplemented by light tones of peach and tropical fruit, with a smoothly carved and unobtrusive body. A delight for the palate, both on its own and in the company of fresh salads, seafood, and summer meals, also bringing a sense of lightness.

And after the summer calmness comes the time of awareness. Our attention is drawn by the motive for marriage, expressed in the Early Melnik and Cabernet Franc blend, which is one of the red wine offerings in the Via Verde Expressions series. When a local grape variety such as Early Melnik is combined with a traveler from another land such as Cabernet Franc, still rarely used and mystical to Bulgarian winemaking, everyone is impatiently thirsty waiting for the result. It is a robust nuance of fine spices, red pepper, added by the guest Cabernet Franc, welcomed by the abundant and aromatic red fruit, succulence of ripe cherries, skillfully contributed by the host Early Melnik.And in the end, the two partners leave a mysterious dry finish, firm tannin, inviting the explorer for more and more. The result of this magnificent marriage, featuring an endless feast on the palate, would be perfectly combined with fresh red meats such as lamb, beef, duck, cooked medium rare to maintain juice and seasoned with pepper sauce or slightly sweet coulis.

Maria and Veronika, part of the Via Verde team

By tasting these pleasant surprises described above, it is inevitably to ask: “Who is behind this project? Who is the culprit to have this grace? “

The answer is the tireless, extremely hard work of three ladies, a small family – Mariana, Veronica, and Maria. Mother, daughter, and niece, who do not accept the grayness of everyday life but seek the magic of grace and uniqueness in the wine, sometimes wandering between the challenges the wine business often forces them face. But their thirst for harmony and completeness drives them towards more experiments and many new wine adventures. 

And the first successful results are in our hands.

Author Pavlin Ivanov