We continue to introduce you “Bulgarian winemakers around the world”. Well-known for some but unknown for others they are definitely people we should be proud of.
Hello! How are you? Can you please introduce yourself for those who don’t know you?
A:Hello, my name is Alexander. I graduated in winemaking and viticulture from the oldest wine school in Spain, Escuela de enología y viticultura ‘Félix Jiménez’ in the region of Valencia. I am currently continuing my education at the École Nationale Supérieure des Sciences Agronomiques de Bordeaux Aquitaine, or Bordeaux Sciences Agro for short, Institute of Agricultural Sciences, Bordeaux, France.
I have been making wine for 11 years, and for the last 8 years I have been traveling constantly and so far I have worked for wineries in the following countries and regions: Austria (Wachau), Australia (Tasmania, Riverland, Murray Darling, Mudgee), England (Kent), Germany (Mosel), Spain (Castilla La Mancha, Utiel-Requena), France (Northern Rhone Valley), Hungary (Tokaj), Portugal (Alentejo) and New Zealand (Marlborough). Some of the wineries are leading in the sector. I have gone through all stages of development – from cellar hand to winemaker. The biggest success in my career so far was to process with a team of colleagues 48 000 tons of grapes as a vintage winemaker.
Where did you make your first steps in winemaking and what inspired you to get involved with wine?
A: I first started making wine in 2009 in a very small family winery in Spain. The wines were bio-dynamic – something new and little known then. I participated in all vineyard activities and processes in the cellar. I didn’t understand anything at the time, and it was also in Spanish, which I had to learn on the go. With these first steps I gained more knowledge in viticulture than in winemaking, which was quite basic.
What inspired me? At the time when I was a student of economics in Bulgaria (around 2002) I had to do whatever I could to support myself. One of my works was in a famous metropolitan tavern with a large selection of Bulgarian wines. A colleague who had returned from United States gave me a book to read about California wines. After closing the last page, I was so impressed and full of passion for wine that I said to myself, “This is what I want to do one day!” And so, 18 years later it came to this interview (laughs).
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?
A:I am currently working for Tamar Ridge, Tasmania, Australia. The winery is a pearl in the crown of the Brown Brothers Family Group. They are from the first families who planted vineyards and made wine in Australia since 1889. The first grape harvest I made for them was in 2018 on the position of supervisor receival and presses. During this year’s harvest, my position was assistant winemaker night shift. We processed 2072 tons of grapes. The varieties are Riesling, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. We also have a contract with Treasury Wine Estates, supplying specifically for Penfolds and Wolf Blass in Barrosa.
I can say that the winery is the best in Tasmania and one of the best in Australia. Regarding the vineyard – we work with different clones, pruning styles, yields are limited, and in order to get a clear idea of the quality of the grapes, the price per ton reaches 5000 dollars. Winemaking is no different from viticulture. The main goal is to make high quality wines. We use various methods such as wild (spontaneous) fermentation, extraction of 550-600 l / t, hyperoxidation, cold soaking of the grape for 6 hours in the presses themselves, filled with carbon dioxide, usage of peristaltic pumps, absolutely no wine clarification products, combinations from various oak barrels and cooperages, etc. Leading in the cellar is the organization of many experiments and trials every harvest.
We did not experience any difficulties with Covid-19 during the campaign. Elementary personal hygiene is paramount. The difficulties that will be experienced from now on are mainly on the market. Reduced revenues will affect the reinvestment in the vineyards, materials and technologies of the winery.
Personally, I experienced difficulties with the inability to leave Australia due to lack of flights. Separately, my visa and contract expired. At this point, the winery supported me with a new contract and payment of my rent.
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?
A: Making wine is a challenge in itself. In all these countries where I have worked, I have encountered difficulties such as climate anomalies, disasters, poor soils, lack of skilled labor, technology and machinery, and so on.
What I see is that the young generation of Bulgarian winemakers and those in Australia are very similar in their quest to acquire new knowledge and skills and the few Bulgarian colleagues I have met around the world are not inferior to foreigners. The differences are mainly reduced to excessive ego-centrism at the local level and poor pay in Bulgaria.
Where is the Bulgarian wine in your life and what memories have you sealed?
A: Bulgarian wine was the beginning of my career. I started as a sales representative in 2006. My memories are related to wine training, party and happy companies.
Are you aware of what is happening in the Bulgarian wine industry nowadays and how do you do that?
А: During my rare stays in Bulgaria I try to buy more Bulgarian wines and attend wine events. I also keep in touch with colleagues and friends from whom I receive new information.
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?
А: I would choose varieties that are purely Bulgarian. Interesting for me are Rubin, Mavrud, Tamyanka. I would present the Bulgarian wine as coming from one of the most ancient countries, which started to cultivate vines and make wine.
Is it easy to find Bulgarian wines in the country you currently live and work?
А: In general, Bulgarian wines are not widely known. They are still exotic in the market or commented on with ridicule. But we can’t blame consumers around the world because we have one of the worst marketing in the world.
Does the winery you work in welcome wine tourists? If so, what is the rate of sales you do through wine tourism?
А: The current winery I work for does not offer visits to the winery, but they have the so-called Cellar Door. This is where direct sales take place. More than half of the wine is sold there. Separately only at this place, you can try and buy a bottle from the Research series. These are between 2-4 thousand bottles produced each year, which are experimental, made for a small percentage of consumers to give a new experience to the true wine connoisseurs.
What advice would you give and what would you wish to your Bulgarian colleagues?
А: To travel, to open their minds and hearts, to continue to study, not to be ashamed to get their hands dirty and to be healthy.