• Capital: Dragomir’s New Winery

    Back in 2006, Natalia Gadzheva and Konstantin Stoev, a family of talented wine technologists, laid the foundations of a small but very ambitious project – a boutique winery that would produce some of Bulgaria’s highest-quality wines. They named it Dragomir – after the same-named village in Plovdiv region, which was originally intended to be the home of the future winery due to the ideal conditions for wine production there. However, it took more than a decade and several failed attempts before the first sod was turned. And it was done not in the village of Dragomir, but in Brestnik, another wine village in Plovdiv region which, at the whim of fate, happened to be closely linked to the professions of the two technologists.

    Meanwhile, Dragomir became part of the city life in Plovdiv and developed into one of Bulgaria’s most recognizable and uncompromising wineries, while Natalia Gadzheva and Konstantin Stoev solidified their position as two of the country’s most influential wine professionals.

    Their long-awaited new home is now complete – the winery in Brestnik is one of the most modern in Bulgaria, impressing not only with its architecture and design, but also with its concept – to be a place dedicated not only to wine production but also to wine connoiseurs.

    The investment totals BGN 3 million, which was financed primarily through a bank loan.

    More than a winery

    The project in Brestnik belongs to architects Todor Obreshkov and Teodora Aleksandrova from architectural studio Zoom, which was also part of other modern winery investments in Bulgaria. The space incorporates concrete, metal, and glass, and the cool industrial design is softened by beautiful wooden furniture and timber cladding. “Our project is driven by three things: modern architecture, design and technology; open and connected spaces; and the areas for winetasting and developing our guest’s wine knowledge”, Natalia Gadzheva explains. Her attention to detail and passion for beauty complete Dragomir’s comfortable atmosphere: elegant furniture, custom-designed glasses, artful accents, and thematically decorated toilets.

    The building is divided into two levels: the lower level houses the technical rooms, the production area with the vessels, and the barrel aging hall, while the upper level houses the tasting room, the kitchen, and the offices. Glass partitions, resembling a panopticon, allow visibility between areas.

    After years of working in a relatively small urban area, the new winery allows for increased production capacity: from 60 thousand to 90-100 thousand bottles, which is expected to be reached in the coming years.

    Dragomir’s entire team is an active supporter of quality Bulgarian products and prioritizes local partners – for example, the stainless-steel vessels are from Rodina – Haskovo, the bottling machine is from Index 6, a Plovdiv-based company, and the furniture is from the creative company Artistico.

    The Dragomir team, however, wishes is to make the place more than just a winery – a lively location, a center for wine (and other) experiences for connoisseurs, customers, fans, partners, and people with a taste for wine and gourmet culture. “We will organize events, dinners, exhibitions, wine tasting, courses, yoga, golf… The goal is to make the wine а part of a larger experience,” Natalia Gadzheva explains. That is why almost everything in the building is based on this concept.

    The spacious tasting room is outfitted with presentation equipment, making it ideal for corporate events, and wine dinners prepared by guest chefs will also be held here – a tradition Dragomir established in Plovdiv years ago. Natalia Gadzheva believes that “culinary and combining wine and food play a significant role in wine knowledge.” Furthermore, when combined with food, the majority of Dragomir’s matured, deep, and complex wines reveal their full charm. Furthermore, when combined with food, the majority of Dragomir’s matured, deep, and complex wines reveal their full charm. And, depending on the number of guests, their wishes, and needs, winetastings will be available in multiple locations at the same time – for example, in the production area, among the barrels, in a more secluded room, in the shop next to the winery, or even in the grape reception area.

    The Dragomir team hopes to actively develop private and corporate events that can be held both inside the winery and on the expansive outdoor terrace, or beneath the columns of the beautiful facade. And with the upcoming improvement of the adjacent terrains, the opportunities will grow significantly. During the non-harvest season, even the grape reception area will be adapted for the purpose. It is also equipped with a golf simulator for Plovdiv’s sports fans.

    Not an easy start

    The story of Dragomir is complex. The winery’s first two vintages were made literally under the open sky – in the yard of an old winery in the Chirpan region’s village of Bratya Daskalovi. Meanwhile, with the help of Valeri Mektupchiyan, their long-term partner, the couple purchased land in the village of Dragomir and began work on their dream winery with studio Zoom. “We created a spectacular and amazingly beautiful project consisting of guest rooms, a large tasting room, and so on. We were ready in 2010 and applied for EU funding through the Rural Development Program, but things slowed dramatically,” Natalia Gadzheva explains. It took nearly two years for the project to be approved. Meanwhile, Bulgaria was in the grip of a severe economic crisis, prompting Dragomir’s owners to realize that the project was too ambitious for boutique winemakers like them, and they abandoned it.

    Thus, the city became home to Dragomir, and Natalia Gadzheva and Konstantin Stoev created their emblematic wines, welcomed their guests, organized winetastings and wine dinners, and earned the appellation “City Winemakers” on Plovdiv’s Kuklensko Shosse. They also demonstrated that quality wine can be made anywhere, not just in a chateau surrounded by vineyards.

    The third project

    In 2014, Dragomir received an offer to buy the land of an old winery in the nearby village of Brestnik and it was like a gift from fate for them because it was where both Konstantin and Natalia worked for several years as young technologists. “Despite our good intentions, we had some reservations because it was a large industrial building. However, we also liked the location, which was only a short detour from the road to Asenovgrad and Pamporovo and a few minutes from Plovdiv. We realized how important it is for people to be able to come to you easily while we were making wine in the city,” Natalia Gadzheva says.

    So they bought the land, and a new project began in 2015, once again in collaboration with studio Zoom. The initial plan was to renovate the old cellar, but it quickly became clear that this would be too expensive. As a result, the third and final project was born: a plan for a completely new winery on the property, with the old building demolished to make way for a lovely yard. The underground wine cellar, on the other hand, would be preserved and, in the near future, would be linked to the new winery via an underground tunnel.

    The Dragomir team decided to apply for EU funding under the measure for enterprise investments once more. In the meantime, changes have been made to keep wineries largely outside the scope of the program. “I don’t think it’s right for companies that create a product with such high value for the country, like quality wine, to be denied the opportunity to develop with public funds, but that’s the way it is,” Natalia Gadzheva says. The answer is to go to the banks.

    Thus, construction began in May 2018, and Dragomir moved to its new home in February 2020, along with the wine and the entire ten-year history made in Plovdiv. However, while they were re-equipping and refurbishing, a new issue arose: COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown.

    The COVID crisis and the plans for the future

    “We primarily work in the Horeca market, and two months of closed restaurants was very bad news for us.” We were in a fine-tuning phase here, and I was focused on creating beauty, but the alarm went off in my head that it was time for the first payment of the loan, and we had no orders from restaurants,” Natalia Gadzheva says. They did, however, receive support from their private clients, for whom they produce limited quantities of wine. They also quickly renovated their website and launched an online store and promotions. They also received support from their loyal end customers in this manner.

    Their efforts are now focused on opening the winery to visitors (which is already a reality) and increasing on-site sales. In the medium term, in addition to the project’s infrastructure development, Dragomir’s owners consider expanding the team by hiring the right people. The team currently consists of ten people, but in the new home, more people will be needed to assist with events and to welcome guests in the cellar.

    And, even when times are tough, quality projects usually come out stronger than the crises. Dragomir appears to be of this type.

    Bulgarian wine must establish an image

    Is it difficult to produce good wine in Bulgaria?

    It’s difficult because we make a high-end product that requires knowledge We are not aiming for the general public who enjoys homemade wine, beer, or brandy. We are persistent and we have done well for many years, despite the fact that our efforts are often appreciated more by foreigners than by the Bulgarian public. There appears to be widespread cynicism toward Bulgarian production. And a lot of high-quality things are being produced in Bulgaria, and I hope we will begin to value them more and give them a chance to grow.

    What is the state of Bulgarian wine culture and the market?

    Wine culture is definitely improving. On the one hand, many new, modern wineries with good vineyards have been built, and every producer strives for high quality. Bloggers, wine journalists, and trainers all contribute significantly by influencing at least their inner circle. As a result, the audience gained knowledge and developed a mindset toward the development of the so-called gourmet culture. This forces the market to demand higher quality wines while also requiring winemakers to be more precise in their production.

    Are Bulgarian wines already of sufficient quality?

    Certainly, yes. Of course, there are still some things to be desired, particularly in lower-class wines where imports are plentiful and an advantage is gained through a favorable quality/price ratio. But things are changing for the better, and I believe the next generation will be very different. Wineries have been developed over generations in the Old World wine countries for centuries, and we will not be able to achieve this overnight, but it will happen in time.

    But why is it so difficult for good Bulgarian wines to enter foreign markets?

    Because we fail to present Bulgaria as a location capable of producing high-quality goods. Whether it’s Bulgarian tourism or Bulgarian wine, the goal is always a massive and low-paying audience. This has been the policy for decades. When we send a price list abroad, we frequently get reactions of surprise because foreigners are used to seeing Bulgarian wine for euro cents and higher prices are associated with wines from Italy and France, not Bulgaria. However, these countries have earned a high level of respect over the years. It is necessary to work on image and marketing in order to change people’s perceptions of Bulgarian wine. We are currently attempting to reverse this trend, but we cannot do so alone, and there is no government policy in place to do so. The strategy that requires direction, trained personnel, and a concept, simply does not exist.

    About Dragomir Winery Estate

    Dragomir Winery Estate was founded in 2006 by the family of technologists Konstantin Stoev and Natalia Gadzheva, with Valeri Mektupchiyan (majority owner of the courier company Speedy and owner of Omnicar Auto – a Renault, Dacia, and Nissan representative for Bulgaria) as a partner and co-owner.

    The boutique winery produces approximately 60 thousand bottles of wine per year and is positioned in the high-quality segment. Among its wine series are Sarva, Karizma, Pitos, and long-aged reserves of the highest class. Sales are almost entirely concentrated in the Bulgarian market, primarily in Horeca. . The limited production for private customers is also part of the business model.

    Dragomir owns two vineyards: a 130-decare vineyard in the nearby village of Belashtitsa, primarily composed of Mavrud and Rubin, and a 240-decare vineyard in the Sakar village in the Svirkovo region, near Simeonovgrad, which is now in fruiting season.

    The winery declared BGN 4.6 million in assets, BGN 1.16 million in revenues, and BGN 165 thousand in profit for the last fiscal year (2018). Dragomir is thus among the top 50 wineries in Bulgaria in terms of revenue.