Wine tour in the valley of Struma
This is a story about a giant barrel, Melnik wine, Handzi Blago from Rozhen and series of exciting wine adventures. It all started with the vine harvest – what better occasion to take a walk to the Struma river valley! In these last nice sunny days of the late summer we chose to visit two wineries in Southwest Bulgaria.
Our first stop was the new winery of “Orbelus”, which opened its doors to visitors in May this year. Surrounded by seven mountains – Belasitsa, Malashevska, Ograzhden, Housing Mountain, Pirin, Ali Boot and Sengelevska, the cellar fits into the landscape with its unusual shape of a giant barrel. Nearby are the vineyards (250 acres), which are scattered in the villages – Kromidovo and Kapatovo. The difference is that all these vineyards are certified according to the Bulgarian and European legislation for the production of organic grapes. And from organic grapes biowine is made. This happens, as our hosts explained by applying specific practices of biowine extraction with a smaller amount of sulfite per millilitre in the beverage and the vines are sprayed with Bio preparation on sulphuric basis.
“Orbelus” produces its own wines from 2009, as till now vinification was carried out in “Damyanitsa” but 2014 vintage will be produced entirely in the new winery. “When we started the project, we decided that we will only make organic wine”, began his narrative manager Blagoj Rusev, who led the tour in a modern and shining clean winery. While gazing longingly at the brand new French barrels of which wear seductive aromas, he explained that the certification process takes between three and five years to ensure the quality of soils, crops and a bunch of other factors that are constantly monitored by the certification authority through annual audits. The certification companies in Bulgaria, which are already at 12, explore the land, vines, leaves, making surprise inspections Blagoj said, adding that just in 2012 the European Commission adopted the Regulation for organic wine. Since then, a special logo in the form of green leaf placed on the bottle proves the biological origin of the product. The new norm entitles wineries that meet the requirements to demonstrate bio origin of the wine from 2011 vintage, which for “Orbelus” is not a problem, since from its creation the winery makes wine only from their own organically grown vineyards. From the hosts we learned also that the red varieties, which are grown are eleven – Bulgarian Early Melnik grape and the French Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, Grenazh, Pinot Noir, Petit Verdot, Marselan, Mourvèdre, Syrah and the aromatic Californian Zinfandel. And whites are Chardonnay, Sandanski Muscat, Pinot Gris and Viognier.
Selection, which was prepared for us, included four great wines: Orbelus Orelek 2013 (blend of Chardonnay and Viognier, with fine fruit and flowery scent), Rose Paril 2013 (made from must of Syrah, Grenache and Melnik 55, with extensive experience as fragrance that combines fruity and grassy nuances) Orbelus Hrumki(whim) 2012 (blend of Mourvèdre, Marselan, Melnik 55 and Syrah) and finally the “KING“ of the tasting – Orbelus Getika – the result of a combination of classic Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot enriched by the unique Bulgarian Early Melnik grape variety, as the Syrah and Petit Verdot contribute to the completion of the selected blend. We broke hard with the incredible view, which reveals from the tasting room, and with the interesting story of our hosts. On Departure they revealed the symbolism of the Orbelus logo, the work of the daughter and the daughter in law of Blagoj Rusev, the one a lawyer and the other architect who choose to model traditional folk ornament of Bulgarian national costumes – belt buckles, and enter them in a modern way in the label of Orbelus. According to the authors, besides being memorised as the wines of the winery, stylized buckles are mathematical symbol for infinity.
Rozhen – Handzhi Blago and the Rozhen monastery
Inspired by the enigma of this infinity and already decently hungry we headed to Rozhen village. Our goal was clear in advance – Rozhen Khan, where the Handzhi Blago prepares the sweetest dishes, the most delicious soups and knead most fragrant bread. Not by accident it is said that it is a real crime to be in the area and not try the home Aubergine or fried rabbit of Handzhi Blago.
After a delicious lunch the exotic beauty of the surrounding nature brings us to the Rozhen Monastery. Northeast stand out the strange shapes of Melnik sandstone cliffs. And behind them rise Pirin Mountain massif. The monastery is the largest one in the Pirin region. According to records kept in Athos (Chalkidiki, Greece), it was created in 890. There supposedly lived St. Ivan Rilski, before he dwelt in the Rila desert. 200 meters east of the monastery is the grave of Yane Sandanski, who is buried near the church “St. St. Cyril and Methodius”. After bowing in front of the miraculous icon of St. Mary, we continue to Melnik. The exclusive view challenges us to open Google to remember the origin of the unique landforms. We learn that as a result of very strong erosion, Melnik River and its confluents have carved about 100 meters in the hills. Places where the rocks crumble and form slee, wore Slavic names Mela Melzha, Melove, from where it is assumed that the name Melnik originates and from there – the name of Melnik Pyramids.
We’re already in Melnik. Picturesque houses with tiled roofs, narrow streets and stone paths fit naturally into the landscape of steep slopes cut by slee. However, we did not manage to visit Kordopulova house that in 19 hours is already closed to visitors. Despite the little misfortune, the rest of the evening was great. First we found interesting new wine museum in the center of town, walked along the main street with numerous wineries and returned to the hotel “Melnik”, where the service was excellent. And the wines which EnjoyWine had prepared for the evening were as a final chord of delicate and fascinating symphony.
The next day our goal was recently renewed wine cellar “Medi Valley”. It is located in the village Smochevo (south-west Bulgaria) at the foot of the southwestern Rila Mountains, 630 meters above sea level in the heart of the valley of the Struma River, on the picturesque road to the Rila Monastery. The complex consists of a modern winery and 370 acres of vineyards planted with Chardonnay, Traminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Under the control of the winery and vineyard is 250 acres in the region of Vidin (north-west Bulgaria), which was chosen because of the specificity of the terroir – the climate there is humid continental with influence of Danube River. Varieties grown in the winery region are Chardonnay, Viognier, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Rondo. The winery was established in 2007, but in 2010 the concept changes and begin to make terroir wines specific to the region. Its name comes from the valley of the Medes, an ancient Thracian tribe that lived here, known for their cult to wine explained our hosts.
In “Medi Valley” modern technology is being user to produce high quality wines. The complex consists of administrative building with presentation room and fully closed wine cellar on two levels. On the main level is located the primary production section and the underground part has a cellar for aging the wine in oak barrels and also bottled wines before their realization. The barrels are made from French oak, as for the Incanto wine series only new barrels are used, allowing the wine to develop its own style. Series of wines “Medi Valley” are A Good Year, which is in the average price range and includes white Traminer, Chardonnay, Chardonnay & Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc. Red series are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah Cuvee (Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot & Syrah & Rubin) Mavroud & Cabernet Sauvignon. From Higher-class еXcentric series, the first wines of it are eXcentric Incanto Viognier and eXcentric Incanto Mavrud that we had the pleasure to try. In the category of premium wines fall series Incanto, represented by Incanto Chardonnay Barrel Fermented, Incanto Merlot, Incanto Syrah and Incanto Rosé.
After having firstly tasted directly from the barrel, we went to the tasting room (big wine bar, where winery wines are displayed and the earned medals), where the hosts had prepared a selection of five wines. Will not describe them in detail – you can see them in the picture. I will only say that it was a real pleasure. Not accidentally we left with bags full of jangling bottles. As expected, another tour with EnjoyWine that was exciting adventure which we will remember for its beautiful landscapes, fine wines and friendly atmosphere. To the next tour!