Dragomir’s wines are well-known throughout Bulgaria. Those who drank them, on the other hand, are few and far between. Even fewer people are aware of anything other than the most well-known label, Karizma. Restaurants with ambitious wine lists are an exception, as are a few bottles on the shelves of wine boutiques.
One reason for this is that the winery only produces sixty thousand bottles per year. (By comparison, Santa Sara produces 300,000, and Edoardo Miroglio produces one million and two hundred thousand.) Each wine’s series is limited to one thousand five hundred and forty-seven, with a maximum of eight thousand bottles from a single vintage.
Another explanation can be found in the intentions and strategies behind the winery’s website’s inscription of the brand Pitos: “The wine is only intended for restaurants and collectors.”
Dragomir Winery Estate, according to Ivan Manahilov, a buyer for the specialized chain of wine shops Casavino, differs significantly from other new wineries because it “is not the main business of the owners and this allows them to work “non-market” – in the sense that they work on their own style and are a little more artistic than others who are business-oriented.” In other words, the winery is in the fortunate position of focusing on art rather than money. The owners would add some details to such a conclusion, but it accurately describes their position among the other cellars.
However, this is not the only distinction between Dragomir and the others. When the idea of making classy wines with recognizable brands began to spread among Bulgarian winemakers seven or eight years ago, they quickly ran into a universal and critical problem: a lack of grapes of consistent quality. Then, nearly 90% of them decided to start their own vineyards. Dragomir Winery Estate, founded in 2006, did the exact opposite. It decided not to plant.
The idea of its owners, Natalia Gadzheva and Konstantin Stoev, is to create a product that represents the “new face of Bulgarian wine.” As a result, they rule out the possibility of establishing vineyards for the cellar – without hesitation at the time, and without regret now. They concentrate on an alternative solution, which they believe is more appropriate for their plans to create a boutique cellar. They signed a contract with the owner of 1500 decares of vineyards in Gorno Belevo, near Chirpan, and the cultivation of grapes there takes place with their participation from the first to the last annual process. This gives them control over the raw material as well as the freedom to select only the portion of it that appears to be appropriate for their wines. “Right now, we consider our position to be more profitable because we do not have to process 100% of the grapes we produce,” Konstantin Stoev says.
Some of the best Bulgarian wines, such as many of Domain Boyar’s high-end wines, are made in a similar manner, using the best grapes obtained from external producers by technologists. However, one of the factors that allows them to do so is their scale, or their position as a large buyer. Natalia Gadzheva and Konstantin Stoev’s choice is not only a simple solution for a micro-winery like Dragomir, but it is also the only one tailored to their boutique intentions.
Currently, the entire winery is located on “Kuklensko Shosse,” one of Plovdiv’s old semi-industrial, semi-administrative areas: an elegant hall for winetastings, meetings, and even dinners (extremely successful, according to Natalia Gadzheva), a larger vinification room, two smaller ones for barrel maturation, and a refrigeration system that changes its functions in accordance with the production cycle: from cooling the grapes before fermentation to acting as a fermentation fridge for the white barrels and the rosè.
The idea of expansion, of owning one’s own vineyard, exists in the future. But, until that time comes, the winery’s current formula will have brought it success and recognition. As a result, the new cellar will not be a risky investment, and, more importantly for connoisseurs, it will not become a reason for quality compromises. . The capacity will be slightly higher than the current one, but with “a lot of space for everyone,” and the plan has been in place since the establishment of the winery, which is named after the village of Dragomir where the mansion will be built – in case any doubts arise about some improvised plans inspired by rapid success.
The more one looks at Natalia Gadzheva and Konstantin Stoev’s work, the more one notices that it flows like a monolithic thought. As if it were a pre-drawn plan. “These are two people who are clear about what they want and where they want to go. And they will certainly get there because they work hard,” says Georgi Tashev, owner of the Plovdiv-based restaurant Hebros.
Natalia and Konstantin may not have seen things the same way. They, like everyone else, must have been hesitating and searching. However, they appear to have made consistent decisions, as both of their career paths appear to have been directed towards the same, common goal since time immemorial. Natalia worked at Vetren, Brestnik, and Zagrey before starting their own winery. In turn, Konstantin worked at Perushtitsa, Brestnik, Menada, Sakar, and Katarzhina. They have already had experience with various varieties and volumes by the time they begin their project. They have already had experience with various varieties and volumes by the time they begin their project. They have gained professionalism, which, according to Enoteka Uno’s oenologist Ventsislav Lyubenov, is why they “have not reached the point of friction between owners who want a quick profit and technologists trying to do their job but being under constant pressure to give fast results.” They both clearly understand two things: how much attention and effort good quality requires, and that you can’t be a mass producer and consistently maintain good quality.
“We chose the massif after we had already experimented with it, growing different varieties,” Konstantin Stoev explains. With the series’ exceptional limitations, microvinification allows for a great deal of attention to detail. In the case of grapes, it means that the cellar separates the branches of the varieties and uses them for the various wines. It pairs well with the internationally popular Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Tempranillo, as well as the Bulgarian Rubin and Mavrud and Chardonnay for white wines.
Technologically, the entire manufacturing process is made up of small, precise operations. “We know from the harvest what we will use the specific amount of grapes for and what treatment scheme it will be subjected to,” Konstantin Stoev explains. The first selection is made in the vineyard, and the grapes are delivered to the cellar by a refrigerator truck. The grapes for Rosè are harvested 15 days before the expected date of the main harvest, to ensure better quality of the raw material for this type of wine. The main harvest date is determined by the vintage, with the Mavrud being harvested the latest (at the end of November) for dessert wine.
Outlining and presenting the image of new Bulgarian wine is a lofty and difficult goal. According to Natalia Gadzeva, three styles are currently recognized. According to Natalia Gadzeva, three styles are currently recognized. “One is more massive and unpretentious – wine that everyone would drink without being impressed, but also without making any comments.” The other approach is to seek a manifestation of terroir characteristics through Bulgarian varieties – from a broad Melnik vine, from Rubin, and, in the case of some new wineries, from Mavrud. The third goal is to make wines with character – not so much terroir as much as an appearance that lasts with each vintage.
Despite the fact that the Dragomir team’s main goal is to always work for connoisseurs, it believes that they create wines in all three directions. The guiding principle is always to preserve the majority of the character of the grapes in the wine. “We try to make the fruit accents in the aroma clearly distinguishable, and the oak to be an additional helper for the wine’s complexity, which should reflect well on the structure.” The goal is always to produce fruit wine with a grape character and a balanced taste.”On its way to this goal, the winery, on the one hand, makes “commercial”, “for consumers”, wines, as described by Konstantin Stoev, which both partners hope to reduce at the expense of more complex and valuable, with more identity – “for people who understand”.
Amritta is the winery’s young wine; the 2010 vintage is a blend of Merlot, Rubin, Syrah, and Tempranillo, and represents one of Dragomir’s four types of red wines.
Next come the lighter, fruitier wines, that have matured in barrels for 9 to 12 months: Sarva and All in One. They are both b lends. Red Sarva, vintage 2008, is an excellent example of the winery’s talent – with a middle-class wine price (BGN 16.70) and a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah, it has the restrained elegance that one would expect from a good Bordeaux wine of the same class. According to Ventsislav Lyubenov, Sarva Rosè is “one of the best on the Bulgarian market. .” He also describes the style of All in One, particularly the white one, as “elegant and progressive”.
Natalia Gadzheva and Konstantin Stoev distinguish perhaps the winery’s most popular wine, Karizma, and Pitos as the next group. Between 80 and 100 percent of the wine has been aged in oak barrels. They are also blends, with a focus on the local Rubin variety.
The Special Reserve is the highest class. It is made up of 1500 bottles of Cabernet and Merlot that have been aged for 18 months in new oak barrels and matured in bottles for a year (for BGN 45 in the cellar and the specialised shops).
Except for Amritta, which is meant to be consumed young, all of Dragomir’s wines are aged in bottles for a year. To achieve a complete match of quality in the batches, the red blends are mixed only when they are determined and ready for bottling, which is done on the same day.
The policy for all brands is for the blends – both their varieties and proportions – to vary so that the wine’s style is maintained.
And, while the winery’s work thus far has emphasized the character of the wine, the terroir has also piqued their interest. A varietal wine, Rubin from old vines, aged in barrels for 18 months and is expected to hit the market in a year, is in the works.
At the moment, the late harvest Mavrud – a digestive in which the winery strives to highlight a preserved fruitiness, a sense of maturity – is the most recent product.
The variety of memorable wines, supported by extremely elegant labels, the serious work behind each brand that reflects professionalism and taste, the limited batches and the higher prices thereof – whatever you choose, Dragomir Winery Estate is in practice already working primarily for connoisseurs in practice. “People who buy their wines are the ones who are familiar with them and know something about them,” says Ivan Manahilov of Casavino. After several harvests, he claims, we can already talk about “stability, continuity, and recognizability of the Dragomir brand.”. According to him, the high prices prevent a significant increase in the number of customers, but these are not wines for everyday consumption; they are “nice, interesting, serious,” “Sunday” wines “for special occasions,” he concludes. The kind of wines that every winemaker who is serious about the arts aspires to produce.