Natalia Gadzheva earned a degree in “Wine and Spirits Technology” from the Higher Institute of Food and Flavour Industries. She has been working in Bulgaria’s wine industry since 1993, at wineries such as Vetren, Brestnik, and Zagrei. . She and her husband Konstantin Stoev, as well as their friend Valeri Mektupchiyan, have been the driving force behind the Dragomir Winery Estate since 2007.
Natalia was the chairman of the Bulgarian Union of Oenologists from 2003 to 2009. She was part of the tasting committee at the competitions “Winery,” “Wine Index,” and “Wine Grail,” as well as the Regional Vine and Wine Chamber and the wine magazine Bacchus. She is a lecturer in thematic master classes and works in all aspects of winemaking, including winery design, vineyard and wine creation, trade, and marketing. As a consumer, she enjoys experimenting with wines of various varieties and from various countries; her passion is vertical tasting (tasting a single wine produced from various vintages – ed. note). Among the European wineries that inspire her are those in Spain’s Douro Valley and Italy’s Tuscany. She hopes that her two sons, Dimitar and Mihail, will carry on their parents’ legacy. Dimitar is already a member of Dragomir’s team.
What does wine mean to you?
I owe everything I am to the wine and the circumstances that have shaped me as a person. It is the source of my friendships, smiles, pleasures, and travels. It provides me with expectations as well as new opportunities, so that if I make a mistake, I can fix it during the next harvest.
Why wine and not, say, coffee, whiskey, or gin?
Coffee is my other favorite drink, but no matter how much I want it to happen, it can never replace wine. Wine has a long journey ahead of it before it reaches your glass and begins to tell its story. The thought of someone passing through a field and imagining a future beautiful vineyard on it, gathering pieces of land to plant them, the first grape harvest, the first wine, the first satisfied smile from tasting it, and the first sharing of joy. As a result, each year, they tremble in anticipation of the new harvest. Such stories can only be told with a drink like wine, which is why I chose It.
Who found whom: you found the wine, or it found you?
We found each other. I found it first, believing that a curious and interesting life path awaited me, and it later found me, when it realized that I am a devoted and serious promoter. I can make even the most adamant non-wine drinkers fall in love with it and notice it on store shelves and restaurant tables. This is my mission, and I will defend it with a smile, knowledge, and professionalism.
Do you believe there is a double standard in Bulgaria when it comes to wages and opportunities for women?
I don’t know much about this, but I believe there is still selectivity if a man and a woman apply for the same job. For example, if a woman is young and about to become a mother, they would prefer a man. As our company’s manager, I would prefer a woman for certain positions because we are more detailed, precise, and responsible. I would not harm a woman with a lower wage simply because she is female; on the contrary, I would encourage her.
What does this mean for the wine industry?
There are already many well-known female experts in our field. Actually, when I think about it, most of our country’s successful businesses are led by women. This demonstrates that winemaking is not solely a male domain. Yes, some production operations are physically impossible for women, but there are others, such as winetastings, where women have been proven to perform better. There are already many female wine writers, as well as marketing experts – after all, wine is more than just a product.
How was the idea for Dragomir born and where is the winery now in terms of its ideological development? Tell us also about the new cellar, the opening of which coincided with the quarantine. Architecturally ambitious wineries are uncommon in Bulgaria; what makes it unique?
Our new home has been a long-awaited place! The idea was born a long time ago, but it wasn’t until 2006 that we registered the company and began planning for the future. Konstantin, Valeri, and I decided it was time to strike out on our own and create our own wine style. We’d put in a lot of effort, from harvesting to precise vinification and maturation to the wine’s visual appearance. Kosi and I already had fifteen harvests under our belts, as well as knowledge and prestige.
We chose the village of Dragomir because of the soil type and climate conditions. I wandered around the houses in the village for months looking for the owners of the properties we chose for the new winery’s location. We were able to create a suitable terrain and began the design. We knew it would take time, but we were eager to make our own wine (there were plenty of good grapes), so we decided to find a temporary location – so the first two vintages were vinified on an open site in the village of Bratya Daskalovi. Meanwhile, the project had been completed, and we were awaiting funding from European programs in order to begin construction. Unfortunately, it took nearly two years, during which we were already producing our own wine and attempting to market it, for us to realize that we needed to reduce production and focus on what we do best: providing a personal approach to our customers. We focused even more on wine tastings. We needed a place that could help us create a vision for our wines without being too pompous. So we relocated to Plovdiv and vinified ten harvests in sport. This was the time when the name DRAGOMIR became a symbol of high quality and professionalism, and we demonstrated that good wine is made not only in a gleaming chateau.
In 2014, we abandoned (at least for the time being) the construction in Dragomir and began planning our new location in Brestnik. We opened the doors to the old wine cellar with a sense of nostalgia, because Konstantin and I had both worked here as young technologists during several harvests. We designed the new winery on a site that allowed for modern vision and vinification technology, as well as the option of winetastings at various points throughout the production process. We worked in Plovdiv while also building in Brestnik.
And so it went until this year, when we had to hold the grand opening of our new home in May, but the scenario changed. We fell into a state of weightlessness for a while, like the other winemakers, because something so long awaited was on the verge of not happening, and we as a winery are directly affected by the operation of restaurants, hotels, and wine shops, and when they are closed, there is no way we can feel good.
We had reserved winetasting dates in the new winery over a year ago because this is another thing we want to develop: successful presentations, dinners prepared by guest chefs, and culinary meetings between friends. Now we’re looking forward to unleashing our creativity in the way that only we know. Or, as we joked with our friend and label designer Yordan Zhelev when rebranding two of our main wine series, PITOS and SARVA, we closed the circle and put our fingerprint on it. We are now more confident that we have taken the right but slow steps, and all we have to do now is take another step forward with a smile. Because the wine business is one for the patient people.
Our vineyards: 240 decares planted in the village of Svirkovo in 2017 and 130 decares in Belashtitsa, are our other powerful weapon. The predominant Bulgarian grape varieties Rubin and Mavrud, as well as our skillful work with them over the years, make us feel even more at ease on our journey.
Are there any other ladies in the Dragomir team and what are their roles?
Yes, Miroslava Delcheva – our colleague, doctor, francophone, person in charge of wine quality analysis, technological details, and my assistant in winetastings – has been a member of our team for a year. She is intelligent, cheerful, and inquisitive, and she is an excellent follower. I have a lot of faith in her and do everything I can to help her grow so that she will stay with us.
Is it difficult for a woman to work in this field? What are the most significant benefits and drawbacks?
It should be difficult, especially if the woman is also a mother, owing to the irregular working hours (as a young technologist, I had 17-19 hour day/night shifts) and the need to balance family obligations with the needs of grapes and wine, especially during harvest. But because I always had someone to turn to for the kids, I couldn’t wait to get back to work.
And the benefits outweigh the drawbacks: through wine, you meet new people, form friendships, and earn smiles when the person is pleased with what you pour into their glass.
Is wine a reserved area? For whom? What are your thoughts on women’s performance on the Bulgarian wine stage?
Anyone who is interested in wine can reserve it. But this is especially true for those who are patient, curious, and hardworking, and who are willing to follow it as it grows step by step.
Is wine culture prevalent in Bulgaria? Is it difficult for women to pass on their knowledge of wine?
When I first started making wine, it was divided into two categories: white and red. Things appear to have changed. People like me who have made wine a mission have gained followers and expanded their knowledge over the years. This is most noticeable at wine exhibitions, where there are more appropriate questions, even detailed questions about wine research and tasting. There is a knowledge upgrade available. The process is slow, but there is light at the end of the tunnel, and for winemakers, a knowledgeable and demanding customer is far more difficult than an average wine drinker. I am grateful to all of my colleagues who have contributed to this growth, including producers, sommeliers, marketers, traders, and wine writers.
It is difficult for both men and women to pass on their wine knowledge. But there is one very important condition: the individual must be sufficiently prepared and a skilled teacher.
What was the most challenging event in the last ten years?
We went through many ups and downs, drank a lot of wine, and traveled a long distance to show our wine. But it seemed as if I was having the most difficulty when we decided not to carry out our project in the village of Dragomir, because we had created a perfect project. But, as the saying goes, everything happens for a reason. And now, on the eve of our new winery’s opening, I am even more grateful that we relocated and are so close to Plovdiv.
Who is Natalia outside the wine world?
Here I chose to see myself through the eyes of three people:
Miroslava Delcheva – part of the Dragomir team: “She is a unique combination of iron will, unbreakable energy, and elegance. Discoverer and creator of beauty. Unwaveringly striving for perfection in all that surrounds her. A whirlwind of ideas, projects, and dreams. A fighter with a feminine care and sensitivity. A patient instructor and a fascinating interlocutor.”
Dora Genova – a friend, owner of Geslin: “Natalie is a hurricane who, with her incredible energy and desire for perfection, attracts and motivates everyone around her, pushes, drags, and pulls those who can’t keep up, and achieves the perfection for which she strives.”
She is maniacally precise in her profession, and she is constantly evolving, because wine is a lifelong development that infects everyone around it with the desire to consume it not only with pleasure, but also with insight. She never ceases to astound me with her eagerness to invent, to create beautiful things, and to express herself as a singer, an artist in any situation. She radiates positivity and quickly becomes the life of the party. She arranges and transforms the space around her in unexpected ways, decorates every corner and brings change. She could turn even a barn into a cozy retreat.”
Malin Valchinov – partner and owner of Artistico: “The Iron Lady. She is a client who knows exactly what she wants and how to get it. I’m captivated by her impeccable planning and the swing with which she moves. Her strength enables her to be extremely tolerant and to never pass hasty judgment on others. The enthusiasm with which she discusses wine is contagious. She is one of the professionals in this world from whom much can be learned.
Who or what inspires you?
Positive people who smile even when things are difficult, who go through a problem and come out stronger. My sons’ successes, as well as my meetings with friends, inspire me. Traveling recharges me greatly, as do colors and flowers (I am known to have made my first steps when Dad came home with a bouquet for Mom, and I proceeded to catch it). I am inspired by nature; I adore clouds, sunrises, and sunsets… If you see me pull over, it’s probably because I’m staring at a cloud or a flower.
The phrase “this can’t happen” always throws me off balance. My moment has arrived: as a typical Capricorn, I must demonstrate that nothing is impossible. Grumbling and whining people who don’t know what they want irritate me, as does carelessness, dirt, and irresponsibility.
What is your favorite wine that best describes your personality?
When I say PITOS, I don’t think anyone who knows Dragomir will be surprised. This is our very first brand. My younger son Mihail was only a few months old when I was digging through the museum in my hometown of Septemvri for a suitable name for our first wine with Konstantin. This is how the name PITOS came to be – it refers to the Thracian ceramic wine vessel in which our forefathers fermented and stored wine on these lands. Just as this vessel preserves the history of wine, each subsequent vintage brings our wine closer to what I’ve always wanted in my glass: a rich, captivating aroma that spreads with each subsequent rotation of the glass; wine aged long enough to fill your mouth with juiciness, maturity, energy, and joy. It gives the impression of a strict wine master, but it is tamed and open to love.
It is a blend of Rubin, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon – three dominant grape varieties that, when combined properly, are ready to reach their full potential. And so am I: when I find the right people to surround myself with and feel their support, I am ready for anything. I compare myself to this wine in terms of power, energy, but also elegance and warmth.
What wine projects do you plan for 2020?
If things settle down and we get back to normal, our plan is to hold the winery’s official opening – most likely in September – and invite people not only to a glass of wine but also to the grape harvest. We’ll try to organize cooking classes and dinners with friends. To conclude on a positive note, “After every night comes the day, and after every sunset comes the sunrise.” CHEERS, and we hope to see you at our place soon!
Dragomir Rubin Reserva 2012
This is a true Rubin – Dragomir won first place in the DiVino magazine competition for the best wine in Bulgaria with it in 2015.
Wines in small cellars are said to reflect not only the land from which they come, but also the personality of the people who made them. We believe that Dragomir wines are energetic, strong, and straightforward.
In wine, if you manage to combine elegance and power in a harmonious balance, it becomes memorable, intriguing, inspiring, and makes you think about it. Dragomir Rubin Reserva 2012 is a wine of this caliber – deep, noble, and long-lasting.