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A Wine Time!

Quest Bulgaria member, David Barker, relates his own 'quest' to find fine wines in Bulgaria, and his eventual visit to Bessa Valley Vineyard. "Ever since we bought our holiday home, ‘Kozle’, in the village of Dospei, Borovets region, I have been in search of a good vineyard to visit. Decades of holidaying in France prior to buying our place, meant I’d become accustomed to ensuring that there was a vineyard or two to stop at during our October half term family holiday.

My research on the net had thrown up the Melnik wine area in the southwest, but this region is hardly on our doorstep.

Nearer to home in the southeastern area beyond Samokov is the Tordorov winery, 10 kms southwest of Plovdiv, which produces a very good Mavrud, according to Quest’s Managing Director, Chris. Even nearer to home is the Bessa Valley Vineyard just beyond Pazardik, a mere one and a half hour’s drive from our beloved Borovets chalet.

Their website suggests that you make contact to arrange a visit and tour. To this end I e-mailed some three weeks in advance but had no reply, so I decided to chance it. While on holiday in July we phoned up a recently emigrated English friend, Steve, and arranged the outing.
The road to Pazardik is an easy route, taking you past Borovets, Raduil, Dolna Banya and the rather industrial town of Kostenets. If you like shopping then it is well worth taking the detour to the shopping area in Pazardik, where prices are up to 40% less than in Sofia or Plovdiv.
A few kilometres after Pazardik, while on the Plovdiv road, you’ll see a sign for Ognianovo on your right. From there it should be virtually a straight road through the village, where you will pick up signs for the vineyard. Unfortunately, the bridge that you need to use to get to the village was defunct, and a bit of map work was necessary. The effort, however, is well worth it.

What a wonderful sight it was! It comprised around 130 hectares of vineyard that had been around for thousands of years, but found itself abandoned for many of them. Wine extraordinaires, Count Stephan von Neipperg and Dr. Karl-Heinz Hauptmann, soon came to the rescue and acquired the land at the start of this millennium. Planting of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mavrud and Syrah grapes commenced and resulted in a small scale production of world class wine. Before long, a harvest of 420 tonnes of grapes produced some 400,000 bottles of wine under the brand Enira and Enira Reserve. Output for 2007 is seen at 600 tonnes of grapes and 600,000 bottles of wine. Each grape variety is allowed to ferment naturally - there’s no mincing or crushing here. After the fermentation the grapes are stored in brand new French oak casks. Great skill is drawn on to create the two distinct blends of wine.

On the day that we arrived we drove up to the smart, wrought iron gates and made ourselves and our intentions known to the gate keeper. A short while later the gates were opened and we proceeded along a gravelled driveway through the vines towards the magnificent winery, which was made from local sandstone. We were met by a couple of officials and a lovely lady who asked if she could be of any help. I explained that we were hoping for a tour and a wine tasting and that I had e-mailed to request this, but had heard nothing in return. It turns out there had been a problem with their website and the ‘spam’ filter rejected our AOL emails.

Regardless of the fact that we had, in effect, arrived without permission or prior warning, we were duly treated to the full works. The full history was explained as we walked by the vineyards, which stretched majestically into the distance, row upon row. Then, our tour reached the concrete silos, which act as the fermentation vessels, and then on to the vast blending tanks, through to the filling plant that borders them.
Eventually, we came to a door, which upon opening, was one of the most stunning sights I have seen - the temperature controlled wine cellar containing hundreds of barrels of single variety wines maturing slowly until ready for blending. The abundant rows of these 600 barrels sweeping into the dimly lit distance was a most arresting, atmospheric sight.

Our host then asked if we would like to try any of the wines; I didn’t need to be asked twice! As we sampled the Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, the Syrah (Shiraz) and finally the Mavrud, I was amazed at how the flavours and fragrances came to mind; the likes of which wine gurus, Oz Clarke and Jilly Goulden would trot out ... chocolate, vanilla, plums, but thankfully no tarmac! I’m no wine expert, I just enjoy what I like, and I truly enjoyed these powerful, aromatic flavours. What’s more, a selection of these wines can even be found in a few Waitrose stores, at £9.00 a bottle.
After our supping, we were shown through to the main foyer. Here we were introduced to some of the people that make up the Bessa Valley Wine Company, and our host apologised again for the inconvenience caused to us due to the e-mailing problem. We were informed that ordinarily, we would have been met in a proper manner and food would have been laid on if required. She said that they were very embarrassed that they were not ‘ready’ for us and hoped that the tour was not a disappointment. They usually charge 12 euros per person for a proper tour but under the circumstances we were to be her guest, even though we did our best to offer payment for what had been the equal or beyond anything that I had experienced in France.
Steve, Sue and I left with a few treasured cases of Enira and a couple of their experimental and superb rosé wines. I would highly recommend making the effort to visit this splendid vineyard - you will not be disappointed. I want to extend thanks to our hosts; I hope that the fine people at Bessa Valley Wine Company get to read this as my way of repaying their incredible generosity.
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