Thu 29 Oct 2015

Borovitza: Unearthing Gems From Bulgarian Rocks

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‘There is wine here?!’

Not the most encouraging of questions to be asked by your taxi driver as we attempted to locate the turnoff to the Borovitza winery, deep in the north-west of Bulgaria some 5km from the Serbian border.

Morning above the Borovitza winery

He had a point though. Beautiful though this part of the world undoubtedly was, we could see no vines and certainly no winery. I was with The Society’s PR manager, Ewan Murray, ahead of a conference in Plovdiv the next day. We had decided to pop up here a day before to meet the team at this far-flung estate, whose wines are among the best respected in the Balkans, and which The Society has been stocking for a couple of years now.

Here are five things I learned from this fascinating visit:

1. Borovitza takes the definition of ‘remote’ to new levels.
After seeking directions and pulling up the small track in the shadow of the great Belogradchik Rocks (whose pine rock – ‘pine’ means bor in Bulgarian – gives Borovitza its name), we learned that were not alone in having difficulty finding the place.

The ‘New 7 Wonders of Nature’-nominated Belogradchik Rocks

The ‘New 7 Wonders of Nature’-nominated Belogradchik Rocks

‘At no point did we have any idea there was a winery here,’ said winemaker Dr Ognyan ‘Ogi’ Tzvetanov. ‘We used to pass through here all the time and have lunch in that clearing over there,’ pointing out a scenic spot on the road we’d just come from. ‘My friend told me one day that it existed and that it was up for sale at a ridiculously low price because it was derelict. We have him to thank for Borovitza.’

Ogi Tzetanov and Adriana Srebrinova

Adriana Srebrinova and Ogi Tzvetanov

2. Theirs is a range of wines that would send covetous shivers down the trendiest of sommeliers’ spines.
To microbiologist Ogi, a veteran of Bulgaria’s wine industry but tiring of the sharper commercial end of his duties, Borovitza offered a new and altogether more satisfying challenge.

Here he and his partner in wine, Adriana Srebrinova, make a portfolio of terroir-driven wines that is as artisanal in its production as it is dazzlingly eclectic.

‘I always say that making these wines is more a philosophy and a way of life than a business,’ he said, beaming.

This is a team that is not afraid to take risks or have fun with the wines they are making, proven in some style by the range tasting we were treated to. Chardonnays, gamays and Bordeaux blends rubbed shoulders with indigenous Bulgarian grapes and crossings, a pinot noir aged in a barrel containing a meteorite (!) and even an extended-skin-contact sparkling orange wine which they are now considering bottling commercially.

There are plenty of vines in this part of Bulgaria but Borovitza is the only winery. As such they are able to vinify nearby growers’ wines (often in miniscule quantities – one lot we were shown totalled less than a single barrel, but the smallest lot he has ever made is 6.5 bottles!) and work their magic with fruit purchased from market too.

3. Visit their vineyards at your peril.
Ogi and Adriana have two vineyards here as well, but the bad news was that we would not, apparently, be able to see either. ‘There was too much rain last night – even with our ex-military vehicle I don’t think it will be safe for us,’ explained our host. At this point a colleague became animated and a short but loud exchange ensued. ‘Ok,’ conceded Ogi. ‘We will have a go. This man has years of experience driving ambulances in Sofia – we will do our best.’

‘If you say so…’

Vineyard visit Borovitza

I do not quite know how my lumbar vertebrae came through the next hour unscathed, but it was a vineyard trip I will never forget. Nor has buyer Sebastian Payne MW, who had taken the same trip a few years before when The Society first started to list Borovitza’s wines, and told us to watch out.

We survived, and were treated to some spectacular scenery and an insight into their unique terroir: the 7.5 hectares of vines at their nearest vineyard is planted on 240-million-year-old red sandstone, just down the slope from the Belogradchik Rocks.

Borovitza vineyard

Benefiting from Ogi's enthusiasm and knowledge

Benefiting from Ogi’s enthusiasm and knowledge

4. The entire project is driven by enthusiasm for and love of wine
As the initial amazement of this beautiful setting died down – and the shock as we blundered around it at gradients that no vehicle should be able to negotiate – I became just as taken with Ogi and Adriana’s infectious enthusiasm.

Their experience and boundless energy (‘I go to bed about 3am,’ said Ogi with a mischievous twinkle in his eye, ‘There is too much to be done here!’) make the team as skilled in winemaking as they are popular and respected among their peers, in the Balkans and beyond.

5. Borovitza has earned its plaudits for a reason
Which brings me to my last point: for its remoteness and the team’s risk-taking, tiny-production approach to their craft, this is no novelty act, but a fiercely passionate enterprise making high-quality wines that we feel deserve members’ attention.

There is perhaps a cynical cliché in parts of the wine world that wines from more unusual regions are given something of a free pass on quality – unusual trinkets rather than wines to be assessed on merit. I would counter-argue that had Borovitza’s ‘The Guardians’ MRV hailed from the Rhône and was available at its £14.95 price, people would be buying it by the truckload. It is a full-bodied, creamy, complex and delightfully balanced food white, and at its price it is a fantastic buy.

So too is the red Gamza Black Pack: a succulent, cru-Beaujolais-like wine with an added richness and constitution from this grape that Ogi makes so well.

Do give them a go – thanks to Sebastian’s efforts, the wines at least are now easy to find…

Borovitza: at a glance
• Established 2004 and situated in north-west Bulgaria near the Serbian border.
• The only winery in this part of Vidin province.
• The winery is in the shadow of the ‘New 7 Wonders of Nature’-nominated Belogradchik Rocks.
• Makes a large range of often tiny-production terroir-focused wines from French and indigenous grapes.
• The Society currently stocks two wines: The Guardians MRV (white, £14.95) and Gamza Black Pack (red, £10.95).

Martin Brown
Digital Copywriter

Categories : Other Europe

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