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One of the new and exciting names, when we talk about wine in Bulgaria, is Seewines. The project was founded in 2014 and is the successor of the viticultural knowledge of several generations with over 80 years of experience in artisanal wine production. The story dates back to before the Second World War when the predecessors of today’s company produced and exported Sungurlarski Misket to Western Europe. After WWII, the lands were nationalized, but there was still room for small family production. The revival of this tradition was marked by the purchase and planting in 2014 of the first 100 decares of vineyards near Kavarna, just a few kilometres from the Black Sea coast and the picturesque cape Kaliakra. In 2015 another opportunity appeared. This time at the opposite end of Bulgaria, near the border with Greece – and so 350 decares of vineyards near the village of Harsovo, Melnik region were added to the portfolio, with which the project gives a serious request for the production of terroir wines coming from two different climatic zones of Bulgaria.

Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier, Petit Manseng and Pinot Noir are planted near Kavarna. Here the Black Sea breezes cool the microclimate and predispose to the production of fresh and elegant wines. In Harsovo there are vineyards with Syrah, Cinsault, Grenache Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Sangiovese. Along with the investment in international varieties (due to their traditional presence on the domestic market) and perhaps because of the memory of the success of the Sungurlarski Misket abroad, Seewines decided that an essential part of their mission as a winemaker would be the revival of Bulgarian indigenous varieties. Probably the incredible Shiroka Melnishka vineyard, which they inherited with the purchase of the vineyards in Harsovo and which, despite its desolate condition, with its first vintage in 2015, shows incredible potential and uniqueness of taste, also contributes to this. Real happiness for the agronomist Miroslav Dimitrov is to have one of the oldest vineyards from Shiroka Melnishka Loza in Bulgaria (over 50 years old), which is saved from uprooting almost at the last moment. The Early Melnik Vine complements the diversity.

For the connoisseurs of Shiroka Melnishka Loza, they vinify from different plots, following some of the latest trends in the world of wine. For Seewines, the pure and unadulterated expression of terroir is a religion that is reflected in the choice of wine. Working with endemic varieties is a priority in the development of the project, and in the future, we can expect surprises with Sandanski Muscat and Keratsuda. The Ayano series is entirely dedicated to the local varieties.

The Seewines team is one of the few in Bulgaria that cultivates its vineyards according to biodynamic practices, although they are not officially certified. The attitude to quality is uncompromising, and if the grapes do not meet the standard, they are not vinified. It is for this reason that no production has been recorded for the 2016 harvest due to extremely unfavourable weather conditions, and tiny quantities of wine have been reported from Shiroka Melnishka Loza for 2017. While the future winery is being built in the village of Harsovo, Seewines is vinifying in Damyanitsa. The capacity of the new winery is expected to be between 200 and 250 thousand bottles, which will position it in the boutique segment.

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Seewines offers three series of wines on the market – Colorito, Ayano and Disegno. Colorito is the fresh series and the wines from it do not mature in oak barrels. At Colorito, experimentation is a leading process, and the winemaker Mariana Galabova likes to surprise her fans with different combinations every year. For example, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are blended for the 2018 vintage, and in the 2019 vintage Sauvignon Blanc appears on its own. Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne offer a classic blend of the Rhone Valley, derived from Bulgarian terroir. Pinot Noir complements the collection with an elegant and fruity style.

The meaning of Disegno from Italian is my style and in this series are planned unique wines that are not produced every year. An exciting performance here is Cabernet Franc, of which there are only 600 bottles for 2017 and only 800 bottles for 2018 vintages. Both wines are aged for 12 months in old French barrels. Another temptation in the Disegno series is the dessert wine by Petit Manseng.

An innovative solution is to attract Julian Reno, who despite his young age has gained knowledge and experience not only in viticulture but also as an oenologist in several wineries around the world. One of them is the world-famous Opus One in Napa, California. He is an expert in biodynamic viticulture and believes in the concept of the minimal intervention of the oenologist in the vinification process. Since 2018 he has held the position of general manager and oenologist in another project of Seewines – vineyards and winery in Tuscany.

The production of Bulgarian wines is still only a small part of the whole concept of Seewines. And it includes the distillery currently under construction near the village of Lisichevo. But the essential item for the business is the import of wines from small, artisanal wineries from around the world and in particular, the fact that the team is one of the first in Bulgaria to rely on online wine trade, seeing the vast potential of this still underdeveloped market. When we talk about the selection of imported wines, we must pay attention to the sommelier Blagoy Kuzmanski, who is behind the brands in the broad portfolio.

He spent almost three years of his life in London and most recently was a sommelier in one of the top wine destinations of the cosmopolitan city – 67 Pall Mall. In 2018 began consulting the selection of imported wines for the Seewines project and soon after decided that it would be an excellent opportunity to return to Bulgaria and take over the functions of Head sommelier. Only a year later he took the responsible position of Director of the company. He studied for Master Sommelier, and last year he became one of only a few Bulgarians who graduated from the WSET Diploma. He also became Sherry Ambassador in 2018, passing the exam in Jerez, Andalusia, and IWA (Italian Wine Ambassador) in Verona, Italy.

Seewines have quite bold initiatives for the underdeveloped wine market, one of which is the Mystery Box wine club/subscription. Each customer who joins it receives three secret bottles each month, which are specially selected by Blagoy Kuzmanski and are entirely different from those in the previous box. The idea was hugely successful in Western Europe and the United States but was initially accepted with considerable scepticism in Bulgaria. It forces the team to reduce the packages from three initially to only one. Today, more and more customers trust this concept of wine shopping and look forward to their monthly shipment. Blagoy believes that the wine club is a fun method to improve the wine culture of consumers, provoke interest and discover new destinations other than usual.

Blagoy Kuzmanski believes in small, artisanal producers, well-established names on the market and biodynamic wine production. Among the wineries in his portfolio can be found Kendall-Jackson, Bruno Paillard, Weingut Wittman, Gravner and many others. The proposals from Georgia, Lebanon and Crete are exciting and bold. The aim is also to look for names and countries other than those known on the market. The concept of collector’s wines or the so-called Fine wines, of which individual bottles can be preserved for decades, is also crucial to the choice. Blagoy finds potential for sales in Bulgaria in this segment as well. It is no coincidence that the collection also includes rare wines and old vintages from Burgundy, Bordeaux, Italy, Champagne.

Blagoy admits that the progress of the project is due to the strong team he builds next to himself. Ambition and thirst for knowledge are leading for each of the people around him. He managed to inspire a large part of the team to prepare for Court of Master Sommeliers and WSET. Frequent tastings lead to a developed palate, the ability to distinguish the qualities of each wine and find their way forward.

COVID 19 and Seewines. Blagoy Kuzmansky does not feel frightened by the situation of a pandemic. On the contrary – he sees an opportunity for growth and development of the wine market in Bulgaria. It is experiencing positive changes for Seewines’ business, in particular, due to the significant increase in online sales. He receives daily evidence that efforts to build an online sales channel have not been in vain, but will still bear fruit. 

Internet commerce is the future, and the sooner this is realized, the better for any business. Blagoy is happy to watch how other stores in the industry are transformed from just physical to online platforms in a matter of days. According to him, the pandemic will be a corrector of quality and price and will automatically sift out the right wines and strengthen their reputation. If the market has been unbalanced so far, it will slowly enter a state of long-awaited equilibrium after the end of the period. Blagoy sees the survival of the wine scene as constant improvement. The direction is only forward, and creativity, adaptability and innovative solutions will be the only companions of the success in the coming months and years. For him, the most important thing remains the love for wine and working with it, which over time makes you an increasingly important professional. When you put your heart and soul into what you do, success inevitably becomes your companion.

Author 

Pavlin Ivanov