The village of Ploski is, I imagine, typical of hundreds across Bulgaria. Relatively remote, poor and neglected where many of the younger generation have left for the bright lights of western Europe. The side roads are unpaved. Many properties are abandoned and dilapidated. Both the local school and the small cinema have closed in recent years.
Yet here, in a vacant plot, a pre-fab, non-descript building has just installed some gleaming stainless steel tanks, cooling equipment and air conditioning. This years harvest of grapes, the second for the company, was received just a few days before we arrived. This is the centre of the Wine Makery Club (makery as in bakery).
Just down the road, pass the goats and the odd Trebant, is the equally new guest house. It’s a delightful place with commanding views from the balcony (when you don’t get the thickest fog imaginable, as we received… “very unusual”… “last week was blazing sunshine”…) and a terrace area to enjoy local cuisine alongside the companies wines. Incidentally the nearby town of Sandanski is known as the sunniest town in Bulgaria; except when two Brits arrive. Then it rains. A lot.
The WineMakery Club of Ploski, Bulgaria
This must be the first time I’ve visited a winery so early in its life. So new the bottles of the first trial vintage had yet to be labelled (hence no picture). The elder brother, Georgiev, is the wine maker. In appearance rather intimidating, in an Eastern European bouncer or hitman kind of way. His constant tapping on the mobile was keeping up with a football match (Manchester United or some such), the player stats and so forth, and not arranging the clandestine exchange of military secrets!
He too is experimenting. There was a delightful, deep and broody red made from a mix of local and international varieties. A handful of single varietal wines and some subtle blends plus a very decent ‘orange’ wine which had none of the ‘rotten apple’ or cider edge that puts me off the style usually. This example was fresh, vibrant, complex in aroma and taste and a perfect match to the local charcuterie, traditional grill (Tatarsko Kufte) and fabulous bread (especially the tear-and-share pogacha).
Plans are in hand to create wine tours linking-up with other local producers, cycle routes and wine tasting experiences. The other brother, Todor, speaks great English and was our guide for the weekend. He has plans aplenty for developing the tourism side of the operation “we are easily reached from Thessaloniki or Sofia” he explained as he extracted a sample of Sauvignon Blanc from one of the tanks for us to try. He is thinking of how to entice tourists down to his corner of Bulgaria.
The concept behind the ‘Wine Makery’ is to allow companies and individuals to blend and make their own wines, for retail sale perhaps or as corporate gifts. Their own-label range will be available to buy by the bottle. One of Todor’s business strands is tourist orientated wine blending, as I experienced in Bordeaux and more recently in the Rhone. There will be plenty here to occupy the tourist for a few days; wine tourism is going to be big business in Bulgaria.
European finance has helped establish many a local wine producer (all of those we visited I believe have benefited from European grants or business loans) taking abandoned or neglected vineyards, centrally controlled during the communist years, back into private hands with a much required surge of enthusiasm and optimism. The output from such a ‘new’ industry is yet to see much interest from the UK; none of the producers we visited or the wines enjoyed are yet available in the UK. In time I am sure they will.
Led by their dreams and desire to create something unique for the whole region, the two brothers established Georgiev Bros. WineMakeryClub. They would like to deliver a one-of-a-kind service where their passion and personal attention to all the club members will make them feel special and will guarantee an unforgettable wine-making-and-tasting experience.