Wine Hippies – the revolution of Bulgarian wine

Wine Hippies – the revolution of Bulgarian wine

The revolution is the most terrifying, but also the most desired event in
human history. It changes the established order, overthrows states and
empires, destroys the old and unnecessary, paves the way to what’s new,
promotes modern ideas and gives rise to whole new eras.
I’m not sure if this is precisely the case with the Wine Hippies project,
but I’m sure it’s a rebellious expression of the charm and potential
behind the concept of Bulgarian wine. Wine hippies bring a desire to
change the stereotypes built over decades, a path to truth, a return to
identity and nature and whole new perception of what the new face of
Bulgarian wine could be.
In every revolution, there are main actors. In the case of the Wine
Hippies project these are the wine legionnaires Dimitar Nikolov (Mitko)
and Atanas Balev (Nasko). What characterises many of the rebels? That
they have gained a wealth of experience before expressing their position
and vision, or in other words, before breaking the shackles. It is also the
case with the two comrades in the project. Their long wine backgrounds
speak eloquently enough about the experience gained over the years in
the wine world.

Let’s start with the story of Mitko Nikolov. Back in 2004, he left for the
United States, where he worked as a Sommelier, becoming part of the
International Sommelier’s Guild. In 2007 he returned to his native
Bulgaria and spent a year as a Sommelier in Bansko, a ski resort. In
2008 he opened a new wine page, starting work as a wine buyer for
Metro Bulgaria. He spent three years in this position and the desire for
further development took him to Moscow, where until 2014 he was a
wine buyer for Metro Russia.
He has been a representative for Bulgaria in the juries of international
competitions such as Decanter and Mundus Vini for ten years. His thirst
for knowledge also led him to WSET London. He graduated from
Advanced Level 3 and studied for Diploma Level 4. Returning to
Bulgaria, he founded the Bulgarian Academy of Wine and Spirits
(WSAB) together with Eddie Kurian from Rossidi and Alexander
Skorchev, sommelier of Zornitsa Estate.
The Apollowine project is of crucial importance for Mitko and his
partner Donny. The family started one of the first online wine shops in
Bulgaria in 2014. The idea appeared while they were still in Moscow,
where they began their preparations, but the real impetus was given in
2015. Тheir most remarkable business progress begins in 2017.
Apollowine inspires them to create a private series of wines. This is how
their first two wines were born: a blend with Shiroka Melnishka Loza
(SHML) 2017, made in Villa Melnik, and Chardonnay Barrel fermented
2015, made together with Zelanos, a winery that Mitko consults. Both
wines have been accepted by the market with great success, with the first
one practically over.

Mitko and his Wine Hippies comrade Nasko Balev’s love for the Melnik
region, with its irresistibly beautiful nature and the Shiroka Melnishka
Loza variety, does not end. For the Nikolovi family and many of
Apollowine’s customers the region is emblematic. Nasko, for his part,
cannot hide that SHML is his weak spot, but he still admits that his real
favourite is Melnik 55.
It is time to tell you about Atanas Balev. For as long as he can remember,
he’s been involved in restaurants. His first was at the tender age of 14. In
time, he discovered that this was his true passion and it continues to
ignite him from within to this day. For him, the restaurant business has
never been just a job, but on the contrary – a mission, self-expression,
and hard work in the name of seeing your dreams come true. Although
he graduated in economics at the age of 19, he is determined to dedicate
his life to the restaurant business.
At the age of 21 he became the manager of restaurant Amsterdam in
Plovdiv. For the last four years he’s been making quite the sensation as
the manager of restaurant Cosmos in Sofia. It’s a space revolution or
pleasure on a plate derived from the celebration of traditional local
Bulgarian products, cooked using the most modern techniques. This has
always been a guiding principle in Nasko’s overall philosophy of life and
all his quests – combining what earth and nature have bestowed upon us
with a new, modern approach and an impeccable attention to every
single detail.
It was not long before he realised that this should be the same approach
to wine. For Nasko, wine is not just one of the basic necessities in any
restaurant, but another inexhaustible source of creativity. He is
confronted also with the generally accepted opinion that Bulgarian wine
is of low quality and will never reach the big stage. Well yes, but actually
no. Nasko decided to be an innovator and create his series of wines,
which would be available only at Cosmos. Not just random blends, but
wines which exude his personal feeling of what he perceives as a wellmade wine that he would drink with pleasure. Today these wines can be
found on the wine list of Cosmos.
They say that children do not have brakes. And even as an adult, once
you have awoken the child inside you, he will continue dreaming for a
Well, the time has come for the historic meeting of Mitko and Nasko and
the birth of the wine hippies. From the very beginning of their
acquaintance, they discovered that they share not only the same wine
views, but also life views. What better way to express them, if not in
something different from the established norms, boldly but also
responsibly? It is the concept that unites them in Wine Hippies –
expressing freedom and creativity refracted through the prism of
knowledge and their many years of wine experience.

Each of them brings a specific view, which is successfully woven into the
overall concept. Both are convinced that certain Bulgarian wineries cope
exceptionally well with specific varieties because they have acquired the
most suitable terroirs for planting these varieties. However, other
varieties from the same cellar may not always bring the same success.
They arrived at that conclusion after many years of tastings, trips and
research of Bulgarian wineries and wines. Then what is the solution? A
selection of individual terroirs, which are emblematic of specific wineries
and varieties that correspond to the idea of honest and at the same time
unusual wines.
Wine Hippies is a profound life project, bringing a hurricane of universal
reflections that will shake the conservative Bulgarian wine world, cure it
of egocentrism and introduce it to a new and modern dimension of
intuition, inner sense of beauty and connection with the roots and
nature. There is a clash between the old – the traditions and values with
which we are brought up, and the new – the trends dictated by the
modern world and the possibility of adaptation and upgrading.
The expression most successfully describing the concept of Wine Hippies
is ‘out of the box’. Being in synch with our souls is what keeps us alive,
and Mitko and Nasko believe that this inevitably applies to the world of
wine. Wines made with love and emotion are different from others.
Through the Wine Hippies project, the two tell their own story of rebels
who don’t accept the conventional when it comes to wine.

Their first wine together is Sauvignon Blanc with cellar
Zelanos, vintage 2019. The label, which has a skull, reveals the idea in
itself – bone dry, dry, with high acids, or in other words different from
other Sauvignons. Mitko and Nasko insist on sharing that the wine is a
blend of the two most successful varieties of Zelanos winery – 85%
Sauvignon Blanc and 15% Pinot Gris. They acted according to the law,
which allows them not to mention the second grape on the label, but also
following market preferences. The trained palate of a wine specialist
cannot miss the character of Pinot Gris in the wine – minerality,
complexity, spiciness; that is why it is on the other hand essential to
reveal its presence. Production is of a line of 1,000 bottles.

The Wine Traveller is a blend of Syrah with Merlot, vintage
2018. Stoycho Stoev, the winemaker of Medi Valley winery, has long
been known for his mastery when it comes to the Syrah variety. This
didn’t go unnoticed, so Mitko and Nasko managed to use some of his
best barrels for their blend. Fruity, youthful and expressive, and without
too much depth and heaviness. The Syrah comes from different French
oak barrels, a combination of first and second use. The Merlot does not
mature in oak: its role in the blend is to tame the lush, structured Syrah
and soften its tannin.
The ratio between the two varieties in the blend is 70/30, and production
is of 1,300 bottles. The symbol that immediately comes to mind is that of
a traveller discovering new wine destinations guided by the free spirit.
The motorcyclist on the label is masculine, devoted to the surprises on
the road and the mission to search for his true self.

Mavrud Faceoff 2018 from Manastira winery symbolises the
removal of the established notion in the wine society that this
variety is capable of producing only heavy, dense wines with
scary tannins. The illusionist on the label is missing a face: instead, he
surprises with a variety of faces shown together. That’s exactly the face of
Mavrud’s Faceoff 2018. It is made from clone 1, which results in a lighter
body wines with a distinctive taste of juicy, red cherry. On average the
wine has aged about six months in French oak barrels of first and second
filling. This is the wine in the highest amount – 1,900 bottles.

The Spaceman, a.k.a. Cosmonaut is a blend of Shiroka
Melnishka Loza (SML) and Melnik 55, produced by Orbelia
winery. According to Mitko, the 2018 harvest was magical and unusual,
as SML managed to reach phenolic ripeness which is a rare moment of
luck. He was amazed by this coincidence and was determined to buy the
entire harvest of Orbelia’s SML. In reality, it turned out that the wines
were ready and Mitko and Nasko blended the two varieties in a ratio of
60/40 in favour of Shiroka Melnishka Loza. The separate batches are
aged for an average of nine months in French oak barrels of second and
third filling.
The two pioneers believe that they have suppressed the wild nature of
Shiroka Melnishka Loza and have increased the visibility of the fruity,
juicy and pleasant-on-the-palate Melnik 55. The flying cosmonaut is
produced in a line of 1,500 bottles.

The royal face of Wine Hippies’ Deer Gentleman is the Bordeaux blend of their 2018 vintage, made with Bessa Valley. A real mosaic of 25% Syrah, 25% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and, ah what a surprise – as much as 30% Petit Verdot, the real backbone, and according to Mitko – the padding of the blend. Besa Valley’s wines are famous for their proverbial ageing until the moment when the winemaker says they are ready to be revealed. The result is softness, pronounced fruity character and integrated ripe tannins. Typical for the Wine Hippies blend is the elegance lined with pillars of depth. If we consider that Syrah and Merlot dominate the character of Bessa Valley, then Mitko and Nasko shocked the winemakers with the decision to increase the percentage of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon (as well as to launch vintage 2018 next to Enira’s 2015). They got an exceptional depth of nuances, structure, complexity, multi-layered expression of the varieties. According to them, this is a difficult combination for wine produced in a Bulgarian winery. On the label, a Deer Gentleman combines the nobility of the deer – its royal nature in the wild, with a clock motif – time ticking relentlessly. The message to all of us is not to take ourselves too seriously. Lightness and professionalism are the right recipes for success, while egocentrism doesn’t lead to a fitting end. The line is of 1.500 bottles.

Wine Hippies and the future of Bulgarian wine.
Mitko and Nasko define the future of Bulgarian wine as bright, a sign for
which is the apparent progress and ever higher quality in certain
wineries. They can’t help but mention the pitfalls and the challenges
ahead. Namely, there is a need for greater foresight in business
management, warmer hospitality and better developed wine tourism. As
one solution, they suggest not to put things in a framework outlined by
market demand, but to adopt an approach with an experimental flair,
freedom of expression of one’s views. Winemaking should be intuitive
and enjoyable for both the producer and the end-user.
COVID 19 and Wine Hippies. The pandemic stops the two dreamers
from starting the project the way they imagined, but it also gives them
time to complete all blends. Wines are intended to be a successful
product in restaurants. Sales suffer immensely in the current situation,
but for Mitko and Nasko hearing kind words about their wines is a real
recognition. For example, the teams of restaurants Mediterraneo,
Hamachi and Botega are impressed by the final result; and it is the first
time for Botega to list Bulgarian wine next to their imported Italian
wines. The young and energetic employees of the aforementioned
restaurants fully reflect the main idea behind Wine Hippies wines – stay
positioned in a small number of retail outlets, but to the benefit of those
with a personal attitude to the product.
According to Nasko, COVID 19 is a red light intended to remind us to
stop accepting the world the old way, humble ourselves, slow down and
look around. The universe encourages us to be conscious: not to lose
self-control, but to work hard for our dreams. Although the symbol of the
project is the vastness of space, Nasko admits that sometimes he and
Mitko need to land. In the context of wine, this translates as a good value
for money benefiting the customer. Mitko and Nasko have already
carefully considered this aspect of their work. What’s left? There is only
one direction – moving forward with the same enthusiasm as before.

Author : Pavlin Ivanov

The Seewines Project – The Wine Meeting of Yin and Yang

The Seewines Project – The Wine Meeting of Yin and Yang

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.

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.


Pavlin Ivanov

Uva Nestum – the wine jewel of the Mesta River Valley

Uva Nestum – the wine jewel of the Mesta River Valley

What is wine tourism, and is there soil for it in our country? And if we are bolder and dream about spa and wine tourism all in one? Well, dreams come true sometimes – the Bulgarian wine & SPA pearl is called Uva Nestum. And no, let’s not be fooled by the pearls of heading to the Black Sea. Uva Nestum is a hotel spa complex with 33 rooms and suites and also a boutique wine cellar only one km away from the town of Gotse Delchev.

And if the wine was first served in our lands by the Thracians, then the tradition of mineral baths dates back to Roman times. Latin is the thread that binds ancient cultures into one. From it comes Uva – grapes, and Nestum is the equivalent of Mesta – the river in which the complex is located. The name is a meeting of civilizations and succession on the way to the new face of Bulgarian tourism. The project certainly is impressive looked from outside, but also when you have the chance to experience each of its elements. From the moment you enter the small boutique winery to the walkthrough every part of the building of the complex, the view of the vineyards only a few meters from the of the hotel building, the own bird farm, the two ponds and the meeting with the friendly and smiling staff. The seventeen years spent making dreams come true and reflecting on each of these small but essential details are truly worth it.

The word boutique is fundamental to the Uva Nestum concept. This definition is met by a winery with a capacity of 10,000 bottles a year. Such was the original idea – to be small and without the possibility of expansion. Besides producing only 10,000 bottles a year, Uva Nestum’s wines will not be found commercially, but only on the territory of the complex. The choice is entirely up to the guest – whether to try SPA treatments with a glass of wine, buy a few bottles at home or combine dinner with limited wines. There is only one guarantee – the pleasure of the senses and the warm and personal attitude of each of the staff that has not been seen so far. Uva Nestum is the only wine cellar in Bulgaria that can be considered of closed-type in terms of the commercial realization of the production. A bold decision that also requires its victims – the 2014 harvest leaves growers almost without grapes due to severe weather conditions.  The team takes over the defeat and still manages to assemble a rose from Syrah. Due to the challenging year, the best quality of grapes was selected by the winemakers, and at the 2015 Balkan Festival the 100% Syrah rosé was awarded a trophy, this being the first cellar participation in the Balkan competition until then.

Uva Nestum‘s wine novel begins with the planting of Rubin’s first vineyards in 2005, which has so far received special attention from the team as the only local red variety in the complex. How did they decide to be the flagship of the cellar? The owner Ivan Bilarev wanted to have a locally distinctive variety. Because of the cooler climate and the inability to grow grapes from Melnik region, Rubin remains the only option. Well, the Bulgarian red jewel found its home along the Mesta River valley and adapted to the local climate. Step by step, all 22 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Syrah also appear. In 2017, the winery added the last five decares of plantings, but the first with white varieties of Tamyanka and Muscat Ottonel. By the end of 2020 or the beginning of 2021, the first vintage of white wine is expected.

Today, the boutique winery produces limited batches of 1000 to 1600 bottles of blended wines. The one exception is the latest vintage rose, which will provide 2,500 bottles for the customers. Katia Iontcheva, one of the publishers of the Kata Bulgarian Wine Catalog, manages to distinguish the rose of Uva Nestum from every vintage and defines the style as recognizable as a quality, attached to its terror and expressive. Everything that has its own handwriting is memorable. So are the other wines of Uva Nestum – they remain a clear imprint in the minds of all who try them, from amateur to professional. The results are not too late – they annually bring gold, silver and bronze medals from the Balkan Fest, and the red blend from Rubin and Merlot receives three times five stars in the KATA Bulgarian Wine catalogue.

Let’s continue on the vineyards and the climate. Uva Nestum is the only winery in the Mesta River Valley, but due to the lack of clear zoning, it is presented as part of the wine region of the Struma River Valley. The climatic differences between the two areas are significant. Four mountains surround the Paradise corner of the Valley of Mesta river where the winery is located, and there is an incredible Mediterranean influence.  The natural air currents between the river and the mountains lead to high-temperature amplitudes and prolong the ripening season by two to three weeks, compared to Melnik. Spring and autumn colds are also observed here, which put viticulture at risk, and sometimes even the entire crop, as in 2014. Where to without positives, the negative ion content in the air makes the area similar in some respects to that of Sandanski, and it turns it especially suitable for therapeutic prophylaxis.

But back to the wine. The red blends of Uva Nestum are presented in four series. Two are in the upper class and bear the name of the cellar. The ratio in all the blends changes with each vintage depending on the quality of the grapes. One thing is clear – the Uva Nestum team has made a firm decision. A compromise on quality cannot and should not be made. If the year is challenging, the wine will not be produced. The wines in the Uva Nestum series are blends from Rubin and Merlot and also Cabernet Sauvignon / Fran and Merlot. The first listed varieties dominate, with a percentage ratio of 80/20. They spend 12 to 14 months in first use French barrels from the Silven cooperage. When many perfectionists are gathered in one place, everything is thought of, and in the way of exclusion, everything is left in the past inoperative. Over the years, barrels of different origins, including Bulgarian ones, have been tried to stop Silven, who has precisely the same attitude to oak as Uva Nestum has to wine. Scales are in balance – no more, no less.

Viva la libre! This is the story behind the mid-range Uva Libre wine. At one of the annual holiday dinners where the company says thank you to their loyal customers, the people of the Uva Nestum team witness the free performance of the song by the guest group Akaga “Cuba Libre “. From Cuba Libre did not take that long to Uva Libre. Let there be freedom! This mid-range wine shows more freshness as it has aged for six months in a second filling French barrel. In addition to the usual suspects of Cabernet Sauvignon and Rubin, the ethereal and elegant Syrah plays a significant role in the blend.

The entry-level wine is named after Shirtò, a local traditional dance from the area. The last two vintages were rested for a month or two in old French barrel, and afterwards, the wine shows lush, lively, playful and youthful or just like the Shirtò “horo”.

Uva Nestum is a family project. At first glance at the luxurious and modern building with its glossy cleanliness and well maintained green spaces, one would think that this is impossible. The other question you would ask yourself is: “Am I really in the Balkans or Bulgaria?” We owe all the magic to the agronomist Ivan Bilarev and his family. And yes, it takes 17 years to build the complex and get its present appearance. It is no accident that the architect Lilo Popov, who designs the boutique wine complex, defines it as the project of his life, in absolute harmony with the plan of the life of his friend and investor Ivan Bilarev. This mission is fulfilled with the support of the entire Bilarevi family, who to this day may be spotted welcoming dear guests or helping with the work of the complex. Each of the members performs a different task according to their passion and abilities. The younger daughter Tsvetelina is the manager of the complex, prepared to do so by graduating Management in France. Her husband, Zhivko, works as a Food and Beverage manager. Atanas Bilarev’s father is an agronomist-grower and gardener and takes care of the vineyards and gardens in the mansion. Sister Magdalena, along with her best friend Rossi Georgieva, stands by their ideas and skills behind winemaking. There are two other ladies who, although not part of the family, are quickly adapting to the values ​​embodied in the concept and the noble cause of each to do her best in the name of the Uva Nestum project.

On the picture from left to the right: Dimka Medareva, Rositza Georgieva, Ivan Bilarev, Atanas Bilarev and Magdalena Bilareva

One is Dimka Medareva – winemaker in the winery since 2017. She graduated from the Institute of Chemical Technology in the field of Technology of Microbiological and Fermentation Products. After finishing her education, she worked as a technologist in the tobacco industry, but her valid baptism was wine and the Uva Nestum project. Love from the first bunch of grapes to the last drop of wine. It is the exact description of her time spent in the small boutique cellar, which becomes even more welcoming upon her arrival. The harmony and perfection of wine are what she strives for in her daily work. And when Dimka is not in the cellar, she gladly hosts wine tastings and enchants her listeners at the events. And time flies imperceptibly – from one hour to two and three hours, and the local wine lovers happily conquer new wine horizons in her company.

The other lady on a mission “Wine tourism “at Uva Nestum is Ekaterina Hristova, brand manager of the project. Her adventure with the Mesta River Valley began in 2012. Ivan Bilarev’s vision is to create a product that competes globally but also maintains its identity, charm and uniqueness. It is where Ekaterina comes into play. She and the team of 200 people working at Uva Nestum and the second complex in Ognyanovo, Therma Vitae, believe in the most ancient word-of-mouth advertising so they can recreate the divine world they have already touched in their guest’s souls. They strive to convey the genuine emotion of this magical place so that their guests can feel the same inseparable connection with nature and the inspiration from it. For this reason, they do not use intermediaries, such as the Booking reservation system. They participate in tourist exchanges such as” Vacation and SPA” in Sofia and ‘Philoxenia’ in Thessaloniki, where they seek direct contact with future guests.

Visiting Uva Nestum is like entering a paradise garden. Peace of mind, biodiversity and natural harmony reign on the territory of the complex. The gardens grow their eco-friendly fruits and vegetables. Beehives and a farm for pheasants, geese, turkeys, ducks, roosters and chickens complete the idyll. And to make the animal kingdom even more complete, there are rabbits and two ponds with their fish – catfish and carp. More deer and hind with decorative function are a delight for the children.

It is normal to forget about the time when you are immersed in this realm of nature, but if you still decide to travel around the region, the opportunities are many. One real trip in time is the visit to one of the four architectural reserves – Kovachevitsa, Leshten, Dolen and Delchevo. The warmth that the locals welcome in these places is something that has not changed for centuries.

Ekaterina Hristova shares that family traditions are especially important in the region, and every year hundreds of people come back from distant lands in order not to miss the annual family gatherings. She does not remember seeing a longer “horo “in her life than those at fairs in the area. The cleanliness and the ease of the locals are carried in their work, and Ekaterina brags that she does not need to train the staff, composed of residents of the surrounding settlements, on hospitality. Smiles and kind words are sometimes difficult to find in the busy everyday life of big cities, but here they are appreciated and the day goes by without them. Her quest is in other directions – she brings in wine experts, renowned chefs and regularly partners with Dimka Medareva to provide the staff of the complex with knowledge of food and wine. Ivan Bilarev and the team believe in the concept of terroir and strive to use mainly local products to prepare the restaurant’s menu. The wine list consists mostly of Bulgarian wines. Listings from the Greek region of Drama, which is culturally adjacent and close to theirs, are also not missed.

For SPA treatments, they use Pinotage based wine products imported from South Africa by TheraVine. The Wine Therapy package includes immersion in unique tubs that resemble wine barrels. Other applications of the divine drink have been discovered.

From 2018 Ekaterina Hristova’s mission turns from regional to national. The platform, created in partnership with wine-oriented tourism organizations from Drama, Greece and Calabria, Italy becomes a wine ambassador for the three regions, but not only. In addition to the valley of the Mesta River, Ekaterina also includes the twelve wine and culinary destinations of Bulgaria, specially tailored wine routes in Plovdiv, Melnik, the Northeast region and Sofia. Everything that can be experienced in the Bulgarian wine world has been covered so far. Still, the ambitious Ekaterina knows that she will continue to follow everything that happens on the wine scene and will keep the information on the site up to date.

3-4 km from Uva Nestum is the remains of the Roman fortress Nikopolis Ad Nestum, built by Emperor Traian in honour of the victory over the Dacians. Once he has succeeded, Uva Nestum also believes that they will fight together for the success of their project, the promotion of the area and Bulgarian wine tourism. A region is a sacred place from ancient times. It reveals the legend of the Ognianovo Mineral Baths, which St. Pavel has illuminated himself. Since then, it is believed that mineral springs have healing properties. The indirect evidence, according to historians, is that the Episcopal Baptistery Center in Nikopolis Ad Nestum is directing a visit from one of the Apostles.

United, we stand strong. Ekaterina remembers with laughter and joy the conflict resolution training she had with the staff at the complex. Then all the workers sat down together and shared their stories about a difficult situation with the guests of the hotel. Ekaterina is initially cautious and suggests that she can evoke negative emotions, but is surprised by the humour with which everyone recounts past stressful events, realizing the valuable experience they gathered. The team has left more cohesive than ever. Even two female colleagues hugged each other after rethinking a dispute that has split the two best friends for months before.

COVID 19 and Uva Nestum. Undoubtedly, the pandemic has a severe impact on the Bulgarian hospitality industry and the entire tourism industry. Ekaterina Hristova, with enviable optimism, believes that the current situation will contribute to the development of domestic tourism, and this will partly save the industry. We will witness the natural filtering of the quality of our experiences and the search for high-quality proposals. She hopes state institutions will pay attention to internal tourism and support successful initiatives. For her, an excellent example to follow is the encouragement by the German government of visits to local family hotels, which focuses on the power of the owners on the quality of the product offered. Interesting to watch are the so-called social nomads who work from home and travel and live in different countries around the world. Ekaterina discovers that for them, Bulgaria is becoming an increasingly attractive place to visit. She thinks that we will meet more of them in the future. And people around the world are unlikely to stop travelling, but will already be looking for quality experiences such as meeting Bulgarian wine and the people who produce it.


Pavlin Ivanov

Tsarev Brod – in the kingdom of the white grape varieties

Tsarev Brod – in the kingdom of the white grape varieties

Before Easter, we head to north-eastern Bulgaria, but this time the harvest will not be wheat but grape. 10 km away from the first Bulgarian capital Pliska and at the same distance from the Madara Rider, part of the UNESCO International Cultural Heritage, is the village of Tsarev Brod. The only winery in it bears his name. This part of Bulgaria has long been known as the cradle and home of white grape varieties. It is not at all wrong to also use the definition of “Kingdom of the white varieties” given the variety of styles and the quality of the wines produced. 

They say that nothing is lost in nature, but only changes its shape and condition. The story is repeated once again, and where greatness prevailed centuries ago, today it has come back in the form of wine splendour.

It all began not so gloriously in 2001. Ivan Ivanov, an agronomist and farmer, along with his wife and colleague by profession, decided to plant the first 125 acres of vineyards to the village – 100 decares each with Sauvignon Blanc and 25 decares Traminer. And if today it is fashionable to drink Sauvignon Blanc and it is found everywhere, then at that time the variety is entirely unknown in Bulgaria. Together with Vinprom Targovishte are the first courageous owners of vineyards of the French variety. It attracts the attention of the Santa Sarah Winery, which buys the young company’s first-ever fruit.

Nothing is accidental in this life. The business relations between Ivan Ivanov and Santa Sarah Cellar became the occasion for the acquaintance of the innovator agronomist with the young winemaker Nikolay Krastev at that time. Luck is said to be a preparation meeting with opportunity. And if today Nikolay Krastev can rightfully be called one of the new faces of Bulgarian wine, he walks long but eventful life and professional path to get here. One thing is for sure. This is the person with a mission – it proves that top quality white wines can be produced in Bulgaria and their ascent and world recognition are yet to come. He believes that winemaking is not just a job, but a way of life, a daily adventure of a curious nature on the path of cultivation, a source of new ideas and divine inspiration.

His personal life story starts from Lom – a small and beautiful town on the banks of the Danube river. He is best known for his brewery Lomsko Pivo or Almus. Niki Krastev was born into a family of brewers – his father and his uncle, and their apartment block was glued to the beer factory. The young dreamer spends every summer in it, and from a young age is nursed with technological secrets. The same year 2001, when the Tsarev Brod project started, for Nicky was the first year of his brewing training in Plovdiv. A series of moments follow that change the direction of his life.

In the first year of his studies, he began an internship for Santa Sarah, which became a 13-year service as a winemaker. The project is on wheels, and if in 2003 it is in Nova Zagora, in 2006 it is in Stara Zagora and 2012 – in Burgas. The owner of Santa Sarah buys vineyards near Sunny Beach, where Nicky spends three years with his family. The accumulated experience improves him not only as a person but also as a winemaker with a vision and longing to conquer new horizons unknown in the Bulgarian winemaking. After meeting with Ivan Ivanov in Tsarev Brod, Niki Krastev discovers that both are like-minded in the same struggle and have similar views on vineyards and winemaking.

In 2015, the Tsarev Brod winery was born, and Niki Krastev began a new chapter in his wine career as head winemaker, as well as one in his personal life. In each of the three cities he has been to, he has one child, and his family jokes that they will no longer change their address.

From 2001 to 2015 Ivan Ivanov gradually expanded the vineyards. In 2007, he added 50 acres of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Riesling, and in 2011 planted the first vineyards with Gergana. No one suspects that the then-unknown variety will be sold out only a few months after its release, and all this only after seven years. Like many of their other projects, this one is fueled by a dose of curiosity and research flair.

The white Gergana variety was created in 1972 and is a cross between Dimyat and Muscat Otonel. The idea for this comes from the need to develop an earlier-ripening alternative to Dimyat, who would typically be picked in mid-October. Dimyat’s varietal characteristics are not neglected and their preservation, combined with earlier ripening conditioned by Muscat Otonel, gives the perfect result – the fresh and fragrant Gergana variety. Initially, during the years of the planned holding, the variety was grown in vineyards, part of the former cooperative cellars. 


It is exceptionally fertile, juicy, with a large cluster and large berries and quickly reaches 2000 kg yields when not regulated. Niki finds other uses of it – consumption as a dessert grape, suitable for sweet wines, as well as for the eternal Bulgarian drink – brandy. Ivan Ivanov had several vines in his yard planted under vine arbour formation and spread them throughout the village. In 2008, the vines gave birth to several crates of grapes, and Ivan found significant potential for wine production. He decides to plant it, but since it has almost disappeared, he has been taking buds from other viticulture enthusiasts in the village of Tsarev Brod. From this moment to fruition, it takes seven years, and the first vintage of 1500 bottles arrives in 2015. 

Enchanted by the results, together with Niki Krastev, they add more vines to the holdings of it every year and today have 20 decares of Gergana. The number of bottles produced is also being increased to reach 10,000 for the last harvest of 2019. In current conditions, yields are regulated to 800 kg per decare by green harvesting, and the girl Gergana gets more and more attractive every year and reveals her splendour. In terms of the ageing potential of the variety, Nicky likens it to Riesling, but the fragrance of Gergana imparted by Muscat Ottonel is distinctive. The high acidity refreshes and preserves the fruit flavours and opening the 2015 harvest today, Niki Krastev is impressed with its development. The only thing he regrets about is that there is no larger quantity available to track her change over the years. All these features of Gergana encourage the winemaker to embark on another project of its kind in Bulgaria boldly. For the 2019 harvest, natural sparkling wine has been laid out using the classic method, which will mature for a while and is expected to hit the market in two to three years.

Niki Krastev and Ivan Ivanov entirely rely on the slogan: “Think globally, act locally.” The wines they make are modern, some of them altogether revolutionary for the Bulgarian market. What leads them along this thorny and steep path is that they have built with great thought their impregnable fortress – the vineyards. They have carefully selected their varieties. They have planted some that are proven to suit the local terroir and can show good results right here in Tsarev Brod. On this stable basis, together with Mariela Petkova, a visionary and stylist for the whole vision, design and marketing, as well as the entire cellar team, build on their successes and would not risk trying locally unsuitable varieties just to be modern.

The local climate is one of the critical points for the success of white varieties. The high daily range of temperatures (warm days and cold nights), the gust of winds caused by the distance to the coast (about 80 km), the lower number of hours of sunshine (about 3500 hours per year, compared to Melnik – 4500 hours), and an altitude of 250 m determines the success of fresh and fragrant white and early ripening red varieties. The soils in the area are one of the challenges for the winegrowers since the top layer is composed of 60 cm of extremely fertile chernozem. And as we know, the most complex wines come from the most infertile soils. Niki Krastev and Ivan Ivanov have found a solution to this case. Through proven practices, they encourage the roots of the vines to penetrate deeper and feed on the lower poor loess layer. It is no coincidence that Nicky says that it takes seven years for the varieties to plant from fruit to fruit, which is satisfying in quality.

The Tsarev Brod mission is a project that is sure to outlive its creators. Another reason to call Niki Krastev and Ivan Ivanov modern faces are that their plan goes decades ahead. Niki has long thought that the maximum age of a vineyard is 40-45 years, and even if it lives to 70, he wants to always have a vineyard with an average age of 20 years. In 2017, this led to the planting of new 150 decares with repetitive varieties already grown for renewal and preparation for the future. 


When the cellar was furnished in 2015, the first year of its existence, Nicky and Ivan produce their first wine – cepage (direct blending of grapes of different varieties before fermentation) from Chardonnay (60%), Sauvignon Blanc (20%), Traminer (10%) and Riesling (10%). This first work is a symbol of the awakening of the adventure spirit of Niki, who will follow him in the future in the evolution of the cepage in each successive vintage. The idea for the style of the first wine has come from Niki since the time in Santa Sarah when he notes that if the varieties start their life together from the very beginning, the result is inevitably harmony and perfection.

Yes, the cepage with the first vintage is a huge step – it falls into Divino’s Top 50. And Niki identifies this complexly arranged puzzle is suitable for a wide variety of dishes, as well as a real mathematical challenge for wine connoisseurs. Each of them initially finds a different dominant grape that stands out from the background.

The route leads through unpaved paths and quick solutions for Nicky in the production of the cepage in the coming years. Mother Nature tested it for each of 2016, 2017 and 2018 vintages. In 2017, hailstorms destroyed the Chardonnay grapes to such an extent that he managed to include only 10% of it in the blend. He was not afraid but compensated by an increased percentage of Traminer, which completely changed the style of the final wine and brought a different balance. For Nicky, the father of three, wine is the magic of juggling and stability, just like family.

It takes a lot of hard work, but the process itself doesn’t stop paying him with new ideas and inspirations as long as he wants to follow them. Or as they say – the road is where there is no road. The success of 2018 is not over, too – this time the wine is in Divino’s Top 20. The ratio is Sauvignon Blanc (60%), Chardonnay (20%) and Traminer (20%). Nicky likes to say that wine is a way of life, something that you immerse yourself in and keep a spark for you for life. Just like in love. The wine industry has many experiences in many areas – from the vineyard to winemaking and sales. It’s an intricate craft, but just like good wine – once you try, you want more.

Tsarev Brod Winery mainly sells their wines on the local market, but about 10-15% of them go to England, Belgium, Finland, Czech Republic, Germany, USA and Norway. The winery team makes their products with a lot of love and individual care for each grape. It is also the attitude of the traders who present their wines abroad – educated Bulgarian importers with a passion for their native beverage and striving to promote it in other parts of the world.

When describing Tsarev Brod’s wines, we should note the three different colours of the labels that distinguish the styles – white, yellow and black. The white indicates fresh, fruity wines, the yellow indicates 12-month ageing without preservative, and the black is synonymous with their reserve – or several years of wine ageing before bottling.

Another weakness of Niki Krastev and, of course, the entire wine world, is King Riesling. Due to its freshness, but also its complexity, its almost endless maturation potential, the dizzying development in the bottle, and the sheer variety of culinary combinations it suits, the grape is no coincidence presented in four different styles by the Tsarev Brod winery. In addition to these four, Nicky’s head is spinning ideas for a dozen more.

The white label is associated with early harvest (around the 20th of September), retaining high acidity and freshness, and the result is suitable for daily wine consumption. His current vintage is currently 2016, and 3000 bottles have been produced in the series.

The yellow label is a symbol of a serious gentleman who has been thinking about living for 12 months while settling on his fermentation sludge. During this time, so-called “batonnage” or stirring of the lees in the stainless steel vessel is carried out to enrich the wine. For the yellow label Riesling or “Amber Harvest”, the grapes were picked in early November, or we are talking about late-harvest grapes. Two thousand bottles are produced of it.

It is time to turn our attention to Pet-Nat Riesling or sparkling wine produced by the most ancient method known in the world – Petillant Naturell. The technology originates in France but is also practised in many other countries around the globe. It is associated with the completion of fermentation in a bottle, and the resulting style is sweeter and in some flavours such as cider, yeast and green apple, resembles craft beer. Tsarev Brod has bottled the 2019 vintage with 12 g / l sugar and 9 g / l acidity. The wine is unfiltered. Only partial disgorging is performed. The bottle is turned down, and the area with accumulated coarse sediment is frozen, and yeast is removed. The filling is done with liquid from another bottle. But where did Niki’s idea come from for such an experiment, which ranks him the first in Bulgaria to produce Pet Nat by Riesling?

? Together with their colleagues and former students Radostin Milkov and Petar Georgiev in 2017 set up a consulting firm that helps many wineries to find the right winemaking technologies for them. They ask themselves the question: “Why not produce sparkling wine according to the Pet -Nat method from the Bulgarian local variety?” After an extensive tasting of Pet- Nats mainly from Austria, but also France, for inspiration, Milkov and Georgiev registered in the textbooks a distinctive style and the first for Bulgaria Pet-Nat Funky Mavrud. Niki’s plan worked, but not in its original form. Mother Nature repeated her hard word – hail killed 70% of what was initially chosen for Pet Nat Gergana. 


“After the worst comes the best.” said the Bulgarian people. Niki is not embarrassed and throws a real bomb on the market – the first vintage Pet- Nat Riesling. Trying out 2017 today, he is pleased to find that his prediction for bottle development is coming true and the experiment has turned into a charming magic fluid. Production continues for the next two years, and the last vintage of 2019 has been increased to 3,000 bottles. 

The cherry on the cake is Niki’s fourth Riesling offering – dessert icewine. The production of dessert wine is an extremely complex, labour-intensive and nature dependent process. It occurs in areas with a continental climate, ice-cold winters and the presence of a long series of days with consistently low freezing temperatures. For this reason, icewine is not produced every year, only when natural conditions permit.

The grapes should be left on the vine until late fall, winter, and squeezed still frozen in the vineyard to release concentrated and dense, sugar-rich nectar. In Tsarev Brod, this usually happens in December. Still, with the global warming and the increasing frequency of the seasons, the lack of a clear winter, during this vintage 2019, the team is surprised and harvests the grapes at the end of November. No one hides that they are forced to freeze the material and ferment it at a later stage. How ungrateful and time-consuming the process is, showing the ratio of 100 kg of frozen grapes / 10 l of juice obtained. It did not stop enthusiasts from producing about 3 to 4 barrels a year of the divine drink, starting in 2015.

The other white wines of Tsarev Brod are Sauvignon Blanc white label and Chardonnay yellow label. 10% of the latter is fermented in new oak barrels and 90% in stainless-steel vessels. Matures for 12 months in stainless-steel containers before bottling. For the production of Sauvignon Blanc black label was used again, an innovative and unfamiliar approach to Bulgaria. First of all, I must mention that stainless-steel micro-vessels with the shape of oak barrels were used for fermentation.

Also new here is the addition of 15% pressed by hand whole berries, which move continuously in the container and puncture their skin. During the process, entire grains add a dose of tannin and increase the complexity of the wine, and at the end of the fermentation, they are placed at the bottom of the vessel together with the deposit. Sauvignon Blanc black label is life and preserved wine that continues to develop in a bottle. From the 2018 harvest, 2000 bottles have been produced and will be released soon.

As mentioned earlier, Tsarev Brod works mainly with early-ripening red varieties. These are Pinot Noir and Evmolpia.

Pinot Noir is available in three series with different colours on the label – white, yellow and black. For white, 12 months of ageing in stainless-steel vessel is applied, spontaneous malolactic fermentation is carried out for about nine months, which contributes to the naturalness and perfect variety expression.

An exciting and patient approach is to make yellow etiquette. The wine is aged for 12 months together with the sludge and without preservatives in oak barrels at the ratio old/new – 80/20. It was then transferred for a further 12 months of maturation, but this time without sediment for harmonization and completion. The current harvest of it is 2015, and the bottles produced are 3000. 

The black label is a true medallist. It takes a total of four years to work with it before being bottled. The first stage is one-year ageing in stainless steel containers, followed by two years in recycled barrels. They are borrowed from the technology of producing some of the best cognacs in the world. The wooden board of the barrel, 27 mm, is scraped to reach the core and baked, which imparts specific and distinct flavours. For the last four years before bottling, the wine was returned to stainless-steel containers. In the words of Niki Krastev – “To reach the final style.” The current vintage on the market is 2015 and from it is produced 3000 bottles.

Niki Krastev’s latest passion is called Eumolpia. Although the variety is a cross between Mavrud and Merlot and suggests, late-ripening Evmolpia is an early-ripening variety. This makes it adaptable to the weather conditions in Tsarev Brod.

The winery produces two rosé wines – from Pinot Noir and Evmolpia. Pinot Noir pursues a gentle and elegant style that is achieved without cold maceration. In the first vinified 2019 vintage rose, Evmolpia is at the other pole. The vineyard was planted just three years ago, and Niki is especially careful about his approach to it. It macerates grape juice on the skins between 6 and 12 hours before fermentation and does not filter the finished product to give a well-deserved compliment to the wine’s charm – juicy fruit and enormous potential. 

If today the wineries that work with the variety are counted on their fingers – Tsarev Brod, Borovitsa and Oprev, in 10 years Niki expects an absolute boom of Evmolpia and full disclosure of its possibilities. Therefore, he has prudently placed red wine on it and is eagerly waiting to mature enough to show it on the market.


COVID 19 and Niki Krastev. According to him, the pandemic is undoubtedly a difficult period for all of us, but it also offers many opportunities. We can use the time of isolation to pause for a moment, to sort our thoughts, to set our priorities and to do all those little things that we still don’t have time for in a busy day. When we are desperate, we cannot seem to see the light in the tunnel and feel that we are sinking more and more. According to Niki Krastev, when we seek to overcome something, a mysterious magical power comes from somewhere and helps and guides us. Let us trust him and be positive. Let us give a chance to Bulgarian wine on the eve of the bright Christian holiday – Easter.


Pavlin Ivanov

Vidinska Gamza – the rebirth of a legend

Vidinska Gamza – the rebirth of a legend

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.

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.


Pavlin Ivanov

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



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.


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. (

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. (

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


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.


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 (( 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 (, 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 (, she meets with personalities such as Alexander Skorchev, Eduard Kuriyan ( and Dimitar Nikolov ( /) 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 (

Haralambievi ( 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 (

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 (


Pavlin Ivanov