Our next guest at “Bulgarian winemakers around the world” is Petar Kirilov who makes wine at Meadowcroft Wines and is also founder and winemaker at Kukeri wines.
Hello! How are you? Can you please introduce yourself for those who don’t know you?
Hello! My name is Petar Kirilov and I was born and raised in Topolovgrad. In 2002 I completed a master’s degree in winemaking at the University of Food Technologies in Plovdiv. In 2005, I had the opportunity to immigrate to the United States, where I live and work as a winemaker in Northern California.
Where did you make your first steps in winemaking and what inspired you to get involved with wine?
In 2003, I had a chance to take a 7-month internship program in Northern California where I worked for the small family winery Truchard Vineyard, located in the famous Napa Valley. I was impressed and fascinated by the way people were doing their job and by their attitude to me, everything was explained to me in details and I had a chance to experience the whole winemaking process. I think that was the moment when I decided to keep making wine and I wished to have the opportunity to come back and do it here.
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?
At the moment I work as a winemaker in Meadowcroft Wines, located in Sebastopol, California. I started here in 2008. In the beginning we used to produce around 3000 cases, and now we make 25000 cs under 3 different brands (Meadowcroft Wines, Thomas Henry and Camino Doro) working mainly Bordeaux varieties, but also Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Petit Syrah, Zinfandel and Pinot Noir and the whites Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, French Colombard, Riesling, Viognier and Roussanne.
We also produce wine for one of the famous IndyCar’s drivers, the legendary pilot A.J. Foyt.
Covid-19 has definitely affected all of us, both professionally and personally. Many small wineries including ours are already experiencing financial difficulties, because many of these wineries sell their wines directly in tasting rooms and restaurants, which are currently closed or working with limited operation due to the pandemic.
Also, everyone in the winery is obliged to work wearing masks and to keep distance.
In the last few months we have seen increase of the online sales and also many wineries have started doing virtual wine tastings using Zoom, YouTube, Facebook live and Instagram. We definitely will be looking for new opportunities to compensate for the financial losses from the current pandemic situation.
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?
Unfortunately, I haven’t had the chance to make wines in Bulgaria, but I definitely think that there are more opportunities here in the US. Just here in California is producing approximately 80% of the wines in United States, and the American wines itself occupies a leading position in winemaking worldwide. I think Californian wine industry brings in about $50 to $60 billions per year, which means more finances are available to be invested back into wineries and vineyards, in innovative technologies, new machineries and specialists.
The other main factor here is the favorable climate for the winemakers and for the entire agricultural sector as well.
Here is a lot more opportunities, but also the market competition is bigger as well, so it is challenging in both countries, but it is different and cannot be compared.
Where is the Bulgarian wine in your life and what memories have you sealed?
Well the Bulgarian wine always will have a place in my life. When I was a kid my dad and I used to make wine and rakia ( a traditional Bulgarian spirit destillate from fermented grapes, similar to the Italian grappa), and it was really interesting for me to observe and experience the whole process of making wines from the vines to the barrels. Perhaps this interest turned out to be the main reason for me to study about wine and devote myself to winemaking.
Are you aware of what is happening in the Bulgarian wine industry nowadays and how do you do that?
Yes, I follow closely what is happening in the wine industry in Bulgaria as I participate in several BG wine groups on Facebook. There was also a TV show WINE ODYSSEY dedicated to Bulgarian wineries, whose stories I was truly interested in. I don’t miss a chance to visit some of these wineries and taste their wines when I am back in Bulgaria.
The great thing I noticed about Bulgaria is that in the past few years more family wineries have been created, which are focusing mainly on the quality of the wines they are producing. And I believe this is the right way to build a better image and future for Bulgarian wines around the world.
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?
In Bulgaria we have many interesting traditional varieties like Rubin, Dimyat, Melnik, but being a Cabernet Sauvignon fan however I would like to focus on the reds like Mavrud, which produces more intense and concentrated wines, and from the whites I think Dimyat, will be interesting to taste with friends and colleagues.
Is it easy to find Bulgarian wines in the country you currently live and work?
In USA there are many companies who import and distribute Bulgarian wines and rakia, but the easiest way is to find and buy them is online from websites that focus on selling Bulgarian wines.
Does the winery you work in welcome wine tourists? If so, what is the rate of sales you do through wine tourism?
Yes, our winery has a tasting room and welcomes tourists in the town of Sonoma, and I would say 50% of our Meadowcroft brand is sold there. Foyt Wines is also selling wines this way, but their wine bar is located in Speedway, Indiana, where the IndyCar race takes place, as they sell about 70% of their production there.
What advice would you give and what would you wish to your Bulgarian colleagues?
First of all, I would like to wish my Bulgarian colleagues to be well and healthy. I wish them to have a great harvest which will start pretty soon. Also, I think they need to be more united and working together they can promote Bulgarian wines around the world better and in Bulgaria as well.
If we missed to ask about something that you want to share with us, please do it.
I would like to share with you, that I have my own brand Kukeri Wines, which I started back in 2013 by bottling 50 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon from the Mount Veeder, located in Napa Valley. My whole production currently is around 2000 cases (24000 bottles) mainly focusing on producing Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux red blends from Napa Valley, also I am making small lots of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay for Sonoma County as well.
On the back of the label I am telling the story of Kukeri, being an ancient festival connected with all the positive things in life, which the New Year will bring tо us – health, blessings and happiness.
The good news is that my 2018 Kukeri Stags Leap Cabernet Sauvignon won Best of Class, Double-Gold medal and 100 points from 2020 Sunset International Wine Competition.
Thank you very much for the interview. I wish you to keep in good health, enjoy life and drink the great wines you produce!