In the search of the Bulgarian Wine Identity
Do you ever get the feeling you have an idea on the tip of your tongue, but you can’t quite find the words to express it? Maybe your expectations are too high, and you are in fact trying to describe the indescribable!
This is how I feel when my international friends ask me: What is typical for Bulgarian wine? I know Bulgarian wine, I know the grapes, the producers, and the regions, but in that moment I fail to synthesize all that information and come up with those one or two sentences that will perfectly answer their question. However, one thing I’m sure in the moment – we deserve more than being seen as inconsequential behind the renowned wine producing countries.
It is when I feel like I am unable to express myself in the moment, that I feel that writing it down may help.
Bulgarian wine it is not as one generic whole, it has distinct regions. It deserves to be understood not simply by its country of origin. In the following, please don’t expect statistical research on soil analysis, grape genetics, horizontal or vertical tastings, rather I want to write about my experiences of what Bulgarian wine is, and can be.
In the wine business, countries that are at the forefront are those that show something to the world, both in story, and in flavor. Customers can be certain of a product, and also, for those who are more curious they can explore the market more deeply. A classic example of this is New Zealand, and Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Contrary to a specialist in 1976 deeming the region unsuitable for serious grape growing, it has served as a pioneer for the New Zealand wine industry, putting it on the map, and generating continuous interest in wines from the region, and the country as a whole. This takes me back a couple years when I was living in Berlin.
Master Sommelier Hendrik Toma once told me: Marin, as sommeliers, we are story tellers and I see that in you. Tell your stories well.
So here it goes, I’m going to tell you my version of the story that brought me to the state of mind, allowing me to see more clear what Bulgarian wine can be …
Berlin, circa 2013-4, it played, and still plays a big part in my story and the experiences that I had there taught me about myself, and wine, more than any other place till now.
I was sitting at a table and in front of me was a Master of Wine, Alastair Maling, wine maker at Villa Maria at that time. This made me a little uneasy. I knew in my head that the Southern Hemisphere was moving beyond the zingy Sauvignon Blanc when choosing wine.
Like any other product Sauvignon Blanc wines have their ups and downs, and after taking the world like a storm, it seemed the time was arriving where consumer palettes were a bit over the citrusy grassy stuff, and perhaps looking for something else. I did not share these thoughts with Alistair, out of respect to his title, work, and personality. There were other people on the table, and in the world of wine, misunderstanding, or difference in opinion can easily lead to offence.
Alistair jumped into the role of a wine merchant, he explained about the wine regions of New Zealand, and regional differences in the grapes that are used, and what the blending of grapes from different regions adds to the final product. I found it interesting and yet somehow confronting to see a Master of Wine also working as a wine rep/salesman.
When the opportunity arose, I told him how much his work, and the story of Sauvignon Blanc in the global market had influenced both the marketing, but also wine making methods in my home country of Bulgaria. In the first years of the twenty-first century things were not looking good for Bulgaria. Wine lists were not exciting, with wines listed on the back of the restaurants’ food menu together with local distillate Rakia. Wines were produced by few big groups and any chance of finding a unique wine from a micro winery was impossible. White wines were flat with muted acidity, regardless of where the grapes had been grown, leaving an unpleasant feeling with or without food. Then Villa Maria showed a style of wine that was totally on the other side, a wine that was fresh and crispy with lively aromas and inviting taste. Even though the product was twice as expensive as the local whites, people loved it and Villa Maria is still in the hearts of many Bulgarians.
Alistair started listened to my thoughts interestedly, saying that the information would be very useful, as he would be travelling to Bulgaria after Germany.
That encouraged me to share a little bit more of my thoughts. Alistair and I spoke about the market bouncing back and fourth and the ABC effect. I tasted some very interesting Sauvignon Blancs that had spent more time on the lees. These wines impressed me with their layers, showing different character after every minute spent in glass.
We spent a little more time chatting about the Berlin market and how difficult it was. In Berlin you can sell anything just by having the right approach, personality, and style. Being different works there.
On the table that day was Willemijn de Kleijn – ambassador for Europe for Villa Maria. I met her again last year in Bulgaria.
She came on the eleventh of May visiting me in The Sea Terrace – the restaurant where I work. We did a tasting together, presenting the products of Villa Maria combined with a tasting menu. Something like this would have been impossible, even in my wildest dreams, 10 years ago when I was working just 200 meters away in another restaurant trying to explain to people that Traminer is not a native Bulgarian grape and acidity is not a bad thing. My experiences and interactions with Villa Maria ensure that it will always have a place in my heart, and on my wine list.
Maybe in the search for the Bulgarian wine Identity, the way to find a place in people’s hearts, and lists, as villa Maria has in mine, our goal to work towards in the future should be to embrace our geographic origins, whilst adopting innovative, and bold approaches and maintaining an emphasis on self-improvement whilst growing our knowledge.
(Georgi Vankov spend three months this year in NZ doing campaign with Villa Maria. He claim the Pirin mountain in Bulgaria wearing the Villa Maria t-shirt.)
The people that stand out, not only in the present, but in our hearts and memories are those with character, personality, and goals.
People and wine are not so different.
In To be continued … soon.
Like it, leave it, or grow to like it, this is just My Wine of View.