Nana Sukara is the next participant of our “Bulgarian winemakers around the world” series of interviews. She Started her wine journey 26 years ago in Bulgaria, but she has spent most of it in Republic of North Macedonia. She is passionately dedicated and and she loves her profession. Inspired by Bulgarian symbols and with open heart to the Motherland, she believes that she will end her journey near her roots.
Hello! How are you? Can you please introduce yourself for those who don’t know you?
Hello! Thanks God I’m in good health, but I feel like I’m a bird in a cage in this pandemic period. My name is Nana Sukara, I was born is Elhovo Bulgaria, and I’m 53 years old. I graduated the University of Food Technologies in Plovdiv in 1990 – in “ Time of parting” (epic Bulgarian novel). 26 years of my life “have wine aroma”. I worked for 10 years in “Villa Yambol” Bulgaria and I have been working for 16 years in North Macedonia in “Dudin” and “Popova Kula” wineries. Outside Bulgaria but not exactly….
Where did you make your first steps in winemaking and what inspired you to get involved with wine?
I could not say that at age of 18, when I chose to study in that University and later winemaking specialty, I had the clear idea of “ deep waters” I was stepping into. However my parents „sowed the wine passion seeds in me” – my dad was viticulturist and my mom – a teacher and passionate winelover, a natural talent for wine taster. I disappointed most of my family when I took the decision to follow the wine path. They were expecting to become a successful lawyer but I chose the winemaking. I believed and I still believe that Bulgarian wine, as well as the roses, is a symbol of Bulgaria. I wanted to be part of this symbolism.
From the University i received my extensive interest and curiosity. Only 5-6 from all 21 university colleagues and me started working in the wine field. The enologist path is interesting but not easy at all. And so, graduated in 1990- the year that has passed in modern times, there was no work for young professionals. Four years later I started to work as an enologist in Elhovo, which at that time was part of Vinprom Yambol. The capacity of the winery was 3 million liters and it was designed only for grape processing and fermentation of red wines. I worked there for 6 years and the next 4 years worked in Yambol. I had the honor to know, work and learn from the greats: Hristo Dermendjiev from whom I learned the aristocratism and honest, Vladimir Vlachkov – experimentation and work on the detail and Krasimir Avramov- organization and precision. Those were glorious years – Wonderful grapes from Sakar region, gum boots, spontaneous fermentation and many wine emotions.
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 connected to COVID-19?
I have been working in North Macedonia for 16 years. In 2004 I was invited from the owner of a Macedonian winery “Dudin”. We had to equip the winery and the laboratory, to educate with team who has never been working in a winery ant to make the first wines. I took the challenge for one year. But you may know that when a person makes plans God laughs from above. This is what happened to me –I decided to come for a year but 16 years later I’m still here. I have met my love and I have continued on my way. I was working in “Dudin” winery for 10 years in Negotino village, and since 2015 I work for “Popova Kula” winery in Demir Kapia. It’s a lovely place, a complex of wine cellar with 20 ha, restaurant and a hotel. We have international varieties as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat Ottonel, Temianica, as well as the Balkan ones- Vranets and Zhilavka and the local one- Stanushina.
Vinifying new grape varieties is a big challenge for every winemaker. The Vranets is like a wild stallion, difficult to train but with a noble posture. The Zhilavka is an aromatic, noble and juicy variety. The Stanushina is difficult for vinification, but we make elegant and aerial rose wines.
Our complex is one of the leaders in wine tourism in North Macedonia. The wines from Balkan varieties dominate in our wile list, as well as the Stanushina.
In the current pandemic period the work in the complex is paralyzed. The restaurant and the hotel are not working, but we will restart the tourism from 1st of June. The work in the cellar continues, but in very slow rate of production. The wine consumption is a lux in the period when people are trying to minimize their expenses. But we need to take care of our vineyards and most of our cellar workers are located there. It is a difficult and depressing situation. “It is a curse to live in interesting time”. Unfortunately the “honor” is all ours. I hope everything will return to normal and we can continue on our way.
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?
To make wine is always interesting. The winemaker brings the passion and the desire with himself wherever he works. The difficulties come with the winery facilities. When I came to Macedonia mostly draft wines were made. The equipment and the technologies were very old. But the Macedonians keep family traditions in vine growing. In Tikves region where I currently work and live, the vine growing is a main livelihood. When I came here, there were 5 small wineries, now there are over 30. The quality of the wine has significantly increased as well. However more things should be made in order to modernize the equipment. There is a contradiction between the expectations of the owners of wineries and the facilities of the cellars.
Regarding the challenges- It is more difficult to work in Macedonia. I play one-man show now- I’m the winemaker and the lab technician. When I came here I met different mentality, old wine knowledge and methods, new varieties and new terroir. I paid the price with a lot of trepidation and sleepless nights.
I would say that the wines I make are now recognizable and preferred. Every work is rewarded.
Where is the Bulgarian wine in your life and what memories have you sealed?
Bulgarian wine is like mother’s breast milk with which I’m breastfed. It is irreplaceable. I visit wine exhibitions in Bulgaria every year. I’m amazed by the total number of Bulgarian wineries. I cannot taste the wines of all cellars and I still have some wines left for the next time. More and more people work on the detail into the vineyards, and as the Bulgarian proverb says “From a beautiful girl, beautiful bride become”.
It is noticeable that more and more Bulgarian wineries grow their own grapes and start to make their wine from the vineyards. The wines of many Bulgarian wineries are recognizable and memorable. They have character and artistry.
What is missing in Bulgaria is а wine policy of the state, more aggressive presentation to the world of local varieties – Mavrud, Rubin, Dimyat, Gumza.
Macedonian wineries are more united and stubborn in that. The last few years they organized “Vranets Master classes” during international wine exhibitions. International day of Vranets was proclaimed and celebrated last years. In Bulgaria we still don’t have such a “scream” of local wine variety. Why are we delaying? Don’t we lack wine courage and self-confidence?
It was pleasure for me to create wines in Bulgaria. Now I’m proud to present Bulgarian wine to my Balkan friends, because I know that it will meet and even exceed their expectations. I started and maybe I will finish my wine path in Bulgaria. My Bulgarian roots pull me up to come back home.
Are you aware of what is happening in the Bulgarian wine industry nowadays and how do you do that?
I have already answered this question. I have never stopped to meet and talk with my Bulgarian colleagues.
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?
Very often I meet my friends and colleagues from Serbia, Macedonia, Croatia and Bosnia with a bottle of Bulgarian wine. They express their opinions and comments but the discussion finishes with compliments about the work of my Bulgarian colleagues and sometimes with applause.
The work of Bulgarian winemakers is successful. They work with fines, work on the detail. We have intelligent, passionate and constantly improving winemakers. I’m wandering who needs those foreign consultants? Regarding the variety- I cannot choose only one variety. It is like to say that one of the eyes from a face is more beautiful than the other.
Is it easy to find Bulgarian wines in the country you currently live and work?
Unfortunately, I have never found a Bulgarian wine in Macedonia. All the bottles shared with my friends were brought by me. But you can find Macedonian wines and rakia in Bulgaria, right?
Does the winery you work in welcome wine tourists? If so, what is the rate of sales you do through wine tourism?
Yes, “Popova Kula” welcome tourists all year round. It is visited from Macedonians as well as foreigners. For several years the guests for New Years Eve are only Bulgarians. We sell 20-25% of our wines trough wine tourism.
What advice would you give and what would you wish to your Bulgarian colleagues?
I would not give advices especially when I’m not asked for that personally. The wine is divine and earth personified. Wine is passion, family comfort, the warm palms of the loved one, generosity. It is a culture, evolution of the civilization. Only nice person creates memorable wines.
Be nice and have wine self-confidence, you deserve it.