Ekaterina Gargova from Wine Bridges meet us with Miro Cholakov, WINEMAKER, VP of production at Trentadue Winery LLC in Sonoma, owner of bulgarianwine.com and a producer of his own wine brad Miro Cellars.
Hello! How are you? Can you please introduce yourself for those who don’t know you?
Hello, my name is Miro Cholakov.
Where did you make your first steps in winemaking and what inspired you to get involved with wine?
It all started back in my early childhood. I grew up in Troyan but my parents and lineage was from Danube Valley – the lower stream of the river Osam. My father is from Tranchovitca. The local cooperative had large plantations with vineyards, fruit trees and vegetables. The half part of my grandfather’s backyards was planted with vines and from my early childhood I knew where the table grapes were, when they started to mature. Later my grandfather gave me a personal wine glass to say cheers to the older people. I think I was 6 or 7 years old. The next thing I remember is the harvest. The cooperative used to distribute certain rows of vines to families and they all picked grapes together at the same time. It was real fun with so many people….., songs, jokes, a lot of food and wine and work as well. The grapes were transported to the house and after that was the unpleasant work for children like us– smashing grapes in donkey’s cart covered with nylon. It was sticky and full of bees and wasps. We fermented in open barrels with a dipped cap down in the basement. We used to pour over the fermenting juice twice a day with buckets…
After high school I wanted to study medicine, but I eventually applied for veterinary medicine, I was accepted for Zoo engineering, but I did not enroll and just in case I signed for agronomy in VSI-Plovdiv /in present – Agriculture University Plovdiv/ – Faculty of Viticulture and Horticulture. As soon as I finished with the barracks and the first year in the university, I wanted to transfer to human medicine again, but after all I stayed in Plovdiv, I obviously liked it there… In the summer of 1990 I came to USA through an Exchange Program with 6 more colleagues and here I am.
Where do you currently make wine and since when? Tell us more about the winery you working for and about the wines you make. Do you have some difficulties with the restrictions due to COVID-19?
I am currently Director of Winemaking / VP of production at Trentadue Winery LLC in Sonoma, California. The winery has about 1000 decares of vineyards. I’ve been here for 20 years and a lot has changed over the years. I make the following wines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Syrah, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, Carignan, Cabernet Franc, Montepulciano, Syrah, Malbec, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, as well as some “Port Wine” wines. We also have sparkling wines.
Much of the business is focused on organized events – weddings, corporate parties etc. It is quite “interesting” these days because the parties are being put off for the near future /hopefully/. Most of the wines 30-40% are sold directly from the winery and the situation made it difficult, but sales from direct delivery to the customer /DTC/ have increased many times. The winery was closed for 40 days having minimal activity, although the wine business and production in general were described as “essential” by the Governor of California. We decided to keep paying the workers to stay at home so they would not take the risk of possible infection.
Where do you think winemaking is more challenging and is there a difference in practicing the profession of winemaker in Bulgaria and the country you currently work in?
Deep at its core winemaking is arguably the same. The difference is the attitude, the level of care to details-from grape growing to winemaking. The wine industry is relatively young business like everything else here-the largest advance happened after the 1960’s and experienced a massive growth after 1990’s. I remember reading a statistics that Bulgaria used to have more Cabernet and Merlot planted in 1980’s than California but those numbers were surpassed many times over now.
California is a massive wine producer right now-over 80% of the US production and I believe it is on the top 4 largest producers in the world with over $50 billion per year. Anyway – in the past 10 years Bulgaria has started to approach the world standards of thinking and quality of wines. As you all know the wine business is difficult and wine quality is only part of the success. Marketing and distribution are major part of it. Winemaking as we say here is the most fun and the easiest part of the business.
I actually have not worked as a regular worker in Bulgaria either during socialism or after. I have a good idea of what it is about, because for many years I consulted and helped a close friend with making, importing and selling Bulgarian wines. During these years I met many key people from the past of wine business and from its future, which is now the present. Even just as observer it was interesting for me to participate mainly in the changes that have taken place from practical and philosophical point of view or to follow the transition from the period of “planned” winemaking with old massive production to the “boutique” model at the moment. How can I say, this can be a subject for a very long discussion – I mean the differences here and there.
Are you aware of what is happening in the Bulgarian wine industry nowadays and how do you do that?
I’m trying to keep in touch in general with the industry there. I used to be the only Bulgarian winemaker in California for several years. I helped few Bulgarian people to get established here or come and work in Exchange programs. Currently there are more of us here but still a minority. I have had visitors from Bulgaria a few times. I go back to Bulgaria almost every year and I make sure to visit few wineries if I have the time. Also talking to colleagues and friends is the usual way to get some info.
If you want to present the modern Bulgarian wine to your friends and colleagues how would you describe it and which varieties would you choose?
The easiest way would be to use international varieties but there are people here who would most likely enjoy some of the indigenous Bulgarian varieties-Mavrud, Broad Leaved Melnik, Misket etc.
Is it easy to find Bulgarian wines in the country you currently live and work?
It’s easier now, there are already a lot of importers. It used to be difficult and especially for small producers. We just bought a tiny website – bulgarianwine.com in mid-April and started selling wines that I buy from importers here. When the world returns to normal, I would like to import wines here, which I would personally choose from smaller producers, something more interesting. There are many Bulgarians here, but in general the price of wines should not be very high – it is difficult to sell expensive Bulgarian wines here. The competition is cruel.
Does the winery you work in welcome wine tourists? If so, what is the rate of sales you do through wine tourism?
I already mentioned it – yes, about 40% of the sales are made in the winery. Napa and Sonoma are some of the most popular wine destinations, it also helps that our closest neighbor is Francis Ford Coppola Winery… We also have a wine club with several thousand members.
What advice would you give and what would you wish to your Bulgarian colleagues?
Make the best wines possible with what you have. Make every vintage count, we do not have too many chances as opposed to beer makers. We only have one chance per year to make the best wine in the world!
If we missed to ask about something that you want to share with us, please do it?
Yes I forgot to mention – I have my own brand-Miro Cellars – mirocellars.com. My first vintage was 2001. I make about 2500 css of wine 30 000 bottles per year.