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When we talk about the terroir of Northern Bulgaria and local varieties, we cannot miss the Gamza grape variety. And if it would be Gamza – let’s be Vidinska, if it would be Vidinska – best be Novoselska.The pride of the locals from Northwestern Bulgaria, or more precisely, Vidin and, in particular, the area of ​​Novo Selo village that the Gamza variety originated from here is not by chance. It comes from many legends, but one of them says that groups of crusaders on their way back from the holy lands, settled down in Vidin and brought the Gamza variety with them from the south. An older legend says that wine of the Gamza variety was drunk at the time when Khan Kubrat’s sons carried it to our lands from Volga Bulgaria. The wine was thought to have secret magical properties, and when warriors drank it before a battle, they got charged with unprecedented power, and nothing could break them in a fight. When the mysterious story was spread to the local population and consumption increased rapidly, the first cases of drunkenness and domestic crime were not too late.A famous boyar with an iron hand, who owned the lands in the region of present-day Vidin, ordered that all the vines in his possessions be uprooted. According to another legend, this decision was influenced by his meeting with captured Avar soldiers who say that drunkenness was the leading cause of their high for centuries state’s decline.The boyar also had an unusual guard – a lion who was released at night to go freely around the palace. No one was able to get around, but many of the soldiers who were on the sentinel were killed. One night a boy appeared who not only survived but also beat the lion. The next day, the ruler was surprised and personally met with the hero to find out the secret of his success. The young soldier told him that his family hid a vine from Gamza, and they did not uproot it, and the boy drank wine from it for power and courage.Then the ruler allowed the cultivation of the vine, the wine of which gave the courage and invincibility of his wars and named it one of his three daughters – Gamza, which in ancient Arabic means – “capricious.” And although a similar legend is told about the Mavrud variety, the fact is that Gamza has been preserved and is still grown today.

Two of the people behind the revival of the variety today are the brothers Petko and Miko Mikovi and their father Georgi – the founders of the Vidinska Gamza winery, located in a village from Novo Selo, Vidin region. The time before 1989 is a boom for wine-growing in the area. Thousands of decares are grown with the Gamza (about 17,000), and the wines were exported mainly to the USSR and England. Since the beginning of the transition, the entire northwest region has been declining economically to become the poorest and deprived in the whole European Union today.

During this challenging time, the Mikovi brothers undertook the task of preserving the symbolic 40-year-old vineyards cultivated by the former Novo Selo Wine Cooperative. In 2004 and 2005, they began buying parcels of the varieties Gamza (250 decares), Rkatsiteli (150 decares), Merlot (80 decares), and Cabernet Sauvignon (50 decares). The vineyards are located at 80 meters above sea level, on well-aerated south-facing hillsides, along the Danube River. Their initial idea was to preserve the vines and subsequently decided to start producing wine from them.In 2006 Mikovs brothers started the Vidinska Gamza winery. It should be noted that they patented the name of the variety as “Novoselska Gamza,” to extinguish it from the other Gumza varieties grown in the regions of Vidin, Pleven, Pavlikeni, and Suhindol. We can describe it as the original, the mother, the first Gamza, which is thought to have been brought and planted in the area of ​​Novo Selo village in 1711. Scientists at the Pleven winemaking institute modified the Gamza grape variety cultivated in Central Northern Bulgaria, and more full-bodied wines are produced from it. The Gamza from Novo Selo is much more elegant, whimsical, fresh, challenging to grow because of its thin skin and late ripening. A mistress who endows with a lot of loving caresses and tenderness, but left alone in the cold autumn rain, loses her charm and beauty. Rain during the grape harvest leads to puncturing of the skin and molding of the grapes, or in other words, destruction of the crop. Successful cultivation and vinification require mastery or, as the old Bulgarian people like to say, skill. Zlatko Petkov, the winery technologist and a real veteran soldier when it comes to the vinification of the Gamza, entrusted with this mission. One of the people in Bulgaria who has been working for the longest time with the variety. As we know in Burgundy, an inherited property is operated by the same vineyard manager and winemaker for 30-40 years to preserve the tradition, but also to study the characteristics of the individual plots, to establish a connection with the motherland. The case with Zlatko Petkov is the same – he has been vinifying grapes from the vineyards ever since they were part of the Novo Selo’s wine cooperative.

Gamza, Pamid and Rkatsitelli varieties are fermented with wild yeast by the winemaker to emphasize the varietal and terroir characteristics. As we all know, wines similar in style to Pinot Noir are produced from Novoselska Gamza – with an abundance of red fruit – cherry, strawberry and raspberry, high acids, light, and transparent color. Therefore, with the advent of spring, they become more and more relevant. The fact is that the cooling and serving of the Gamza to 12-13 ° C enhances its taste and makes it suitable for consumption even in summer. In other words, this elegant lady is perfect for a classic adventure with no food or a lighter and less casual one. The more experienced in this part are well aware that, as with anything, if you overdo the amount, the sorceress can inadvertently and affectionately intoxicate you, and the next day you may wake up with headache instead of joyful.

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Any local person in the area, directly or indirectly involved in the cultivation of the Novoselska Gamza, and in its consumption afterward, can tell dozens of stories about it. One is that, over 100 years ago, the winegrowers built stone tubes in the vineyards, so as today grapes do not travel too long before fermentation, and that the process is carried out directly on-site and as quickly as possible. And nowadays, are we talking about modern viticulture? Here, the ancients knew a lot of secrets without reading books and textbooks. They took the information from the source – the connection with mother nature. The Vidin region is characterized by a continental climate and is known for its cold and snowy winters. So then it was easy for winter to catch you unprepared in the vineyards and with a late-ripening variety like the Gamza. Usually, it is normal for grape growers in October to encounter low temperatures. And so they came up with a solution – they froze the grape must in the stone wells and carried it to the winery for a later stage of fermentation.

The locals are firmly convinced that although every red wine contains antioxidants, Gamza has the most. If you try to disprove this theory, they will immediately translate into support the memories of the recent past that army units received rations of the wine of Novoselska Gamza. It included specifically submarine personnel, and wine from Gamza also traveled to the Chernobyl headquarters. Apparently, to support workers in a radioactive environment. Intense wine makes a strong army.

If, in the past, the old Gamza vines were planted low to the ground, following the cup-shaped formation and the vineyard had a high-density planting, with plants close to each other, today there is another formula for new plantings. Due to the machining, it is necessary to lift them 1.20 m from the ground in regular, high formations. These features changed the result. Zlatko Petkov says that the last vintage with a 25% sugar level was in 2013, and the most recent ones are all with 20-22%.  To be able to harvest the grapes without the risk of losses, the picking date was also moved around September 20. Therefore, the grapes do not reach full biological maturity, but are technologically advanced and retain a higher and balanced acidity and freshness. It distinguishes the modern Novoselska Gamza.

Vidinska Gamza produces two main styles of Novoselska Gamza. One is in the Tradition series and has no oak maturation. About 15 000 bottles have been made from the 2017 and 2018 vintages. The grapes come entirely from their vineyards. This series is characterized by exceptional freshness, an abundance of fruit and varietal appearance. The Special Selection series matures for six months in second filling French oak and, although also fresh and elegant, is proof that wines from the Novoselska Gamza variety can also show an intriguing development to some extent.Since the 2013 harvest, only 1,200 bottles have been produced, each with a specific label number. It almost can not be found on the market due to the depletion of quantities, and the cellar is waiting to bottle its Special Selection 2015 vintage. In February 2020, at the Winery in Plovdiv, Gamza Special Selection 2013 won the Best Label Design Award, and Tradition 2017 won the “Best Product of the User” competition.

The only one single varietal rose of Gamza in Bulgaria is also a product of Vidinska Gamza. The series is called Darzalas on behalf of the Thracian fertility god Dersalas.

Apart from Novoselska Gamza, the other great pride of the winery is the Storgozia grape variety, which was selected in 1976 at the Wine and Viticulture Institute in Pleven and is a cross between Bouquet and Vilar Blanc. Bouquet, in turn, is a cross between Pinot Noir and Mavrud, created back in 1951. Storgozia is the name of a district of Pleven these days, but its exact origin is from the ancient Roman fortress of Storgozia in the area of ​​the city of Pleven.The affair of Vidinska Gamza with the described grape variety Storgozia began in 2011 when the winery planted 20 decares of it. After buying another 12 acres from another cellar in Vidin in 2020, they become the only wine producer of Storgozia in Bulgaria. Another variety characterized by rich red fruit, sophistication such as Pinot Noir and freshness. The first bottled crop of it is 2018, and in 2019 it goes on the market. In February 2020, at Vinaria in Plovdiv won the Best New Product Award on the market. Two thousand five hundred bottles have been produced from vintage 2018.

The Vidinska Gamza cellar relies mainly on local varieties, and its next project in this direction is the Tradition Pamid 2019 vintage, which will be released in a series of 5000 bottles.

The primary production of Vidin Gamza is of Bulgarian varieties, but an exciting offer is their Muscat Otonel from old vineyards. They are starting to buy grapes for him from 2019 from trusted local producers. The result is different than many other wines on the market made of Muscat Ottonel. In addition to the typical aromas of flowers, tones of exotic fruits are felt, and the color is full. The Muscat Ottonel challenge is not over, and in 2018 the winery also vinified icewine with an impressive 275 g / l sugar content in a series of 1500 bottles of it. It makes them the only ones in Bulgaria to produce this style of wine from Muscat Ottonell.

Today Vidinska Gamza Wine Cellar owns more than 600 decares of its vineyards, a company wine shop in Vidin, and employs 15 full-time employees. Another 40-50 seasonal workers are hired for the harvest. Bottling and labeling are done manually. Finding workers in an increasingly depopulated region is becoming very difficult. The team is optimistic about the situation with COVID 19. The local population does not leave the moment without its proverbial humor. Everyone in Vidin is convinced that the low number of infected there is due to the regular consumption of Gamza wine.

Vidinska Gamza understands that wine is not a necessity, but they are happy to show increased interest in the Storgozia variety. Their faith in the importance of the mission they embarked on is leading them forward. Their participation in the Balkan Wine Exhibition in June 2019, the Burgas Wine Festival that same summer, Divino Taste in November, and Vinaria in Plovdiv in February this year are also considered auspicious.They believe that the Gamza variety is gradually returning its position and popularizing it, will be successful in the future.  Maria Petrova, the newest member of the Vidinska Gamza sales team, feels the same. Working with wine for her is turning her hobby into a profession, and its magic is the hope that Bulgarian wine and local varieties will see a bright future.

Author 

Pavlin Ivanov