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03 January 2016

Villa Melnik in the Struma Valley: Wineries of Bulgaria (3 of 7)

Villa Melnik is not just a winery that makes good Bulgarian wines. It is not just another wine bottle that you open, pour in a glass and enjoy. It has something unique that makes every single drop special because behind that bottle is sheer dedication by the winemakers Nikola Zikatanov, his wife Lyubka and daughter Militza in making that wine an excellent expression of the Bulgarian terroir, in the Struma River Valley (Southwest Bulgaria).

Villa Melnik Winery is located in the village of Harsovo, a stone's throw away from the town of Melnik, the smallest town of Bulgaria known for tourism and wine production. Its 30 hectares of vineyards is divided into two separate plots of land in Mindalo, about 4 kilometers from Melnik that is on the hills and along the bank of Melnishka River and Beli Breg, a controlled appellation of origin.

Beginning at 2004, Villa Melnik planted a few international and local varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Early Melnik (Melnik 55) and Mavrud then a few more in 2007 like Rouen, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier. In 2007, they came out with their first vintage aged in Bulgarian oak and carried by the wine label Bergulè.

Upon our Press Group's arrival, we were greeted with crates of newly-harvested Broad-Leafed Melnik (Shiroka Melnishka) that were going through the process of manual sorting before going to the destemmer. These grapes are indigenous to Bulgaria and they especially grown in the southwestern part of the country, just a few kilometers to the border of Greece. Being cultivated in the Struma River Valley wine region, the Mediterranean climate makes it ideal for harvesting them until late October. This grape variety has an affinity with oak and it produces hints of tobacco and leather.

After touring the newly-constructed modern winery and the tunnels for aging the wines, Villa Melnik's oenologist, Stoilova Rumyana opened a door of discovery for us. Eight different kinds of wines from two lines of their wine labels, Bergulè and Aplauz, were opened for tasting.

Villa Melnik produces 4 lines of wine labels.

AplauZ is the top line of Villa Melnik and it has a variety of white, rosè and red wines. They come from selected grapes, dense and flavorful. They are aged for 9 months in oak barrels.

Bergulè is a prestigious line of matured red, rosè and white wines that have distinct body. The whites are barrel fermented while the reds have matured for at least 3 months in oak barrels. They are characterized with fresh aromas and delicate hints of berries and vanilla.

Family Tradition is a line of high quality wines with a variety of white, rosè and red wines. They are aged in oak barrels and they have fresh and pleasant aromas of red and black berries. 

MELENIK is the fourth and most affordable line of the winery. It has red wines of blends and mono-varietal white wines.

The wines we tried were: 

AplauZ Viognier 2014, aged in Bulgarian oak barrel with a golden color, fresh and hints of white flowers and grapefruit.  
Bergulè Rosè 2014, a raspberry-colored fresh and fruity blend of 33% Syrah, 34% Melnik 55 and 33% Bload-Leafed Melnik, had skin contact of 24 hour and fermented in stainless steel vessels for 4 months. 
Garnet-colored Bergulè Ruen 2013 was fermented in stainless steel vessels and is the first vintage of this wine. It has a medium body with notes of mulberry and spices. 
Bergulè Melnik 2013 was fermented in stainless steel vessels then aged in old Bulgarian oak barrels for 12 months. It has a medium body with complex notes of herbs, cherries and oak.

Bergulè Melnik & Pinot Noir 2013, a blend of 52% Broad-Leafed Melnik and 48% Pinot Noir, aged 12 months in Bulgarian oak barrels, ruby-colored with hints of berries. AplauZ Mavrud 2013 was made from carefully hand-selected grapes and aged in Bulgarian oak barrels for 15 months. It has an intense ruby color with notes of spices, pepper and plums.  
AplauZ Syrah 2013, fermented in stainless steel vessels and aged in Bulgarian oak barrels for 18 months. It has ruby color and medium body.  
AplauZ Melnik 55 2013 was made with carefully hand-selected grapes and aged in Bulgarian oak barrels for 15 months.

Coming from a long trip from a 5-hour drive from Chateau Copsa in the Rose Valley, we arrived in the beautiful town of Melnik which is just a few kilometers from the border of Greece. The latter part of the drive was scenic and arriving at the town of Melnik was a pleasant surprise as we maneuvered our way through the small cobble-stoned road.

Lunch was in Alexova Kushta Restaurant where we had an incredible Bulgarian spread of vegetables, meat and wine. One thing I absolutely love about Bulgarian food is how tasty the food is with very little spices (some are not spiced at all) used to complement the natural flavors of the ingredients. This is one of best places to have classic Bulgarian dishes so if you are in town, I totally recommend this place. The food is absolutely delicious.

After lunch, a walk along around Melnik gave us a view of the stores, local products for sale, hotels and other restaurants in the area. It is the smallest town in Bulgaria with a population of only 385. It is an architectural reserve with 96 of its buildings considered as cultural monuments. It is a popular tourist destination especially among the Greeks because of its proximity to the border. The town is also famous for its production of wine since 1346. The Broad-Leafed Melnik variety is grown locally and reportedly, the wine produced from this vine is one of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's favorite, ordering 500 liters a year.

It is a charming little town with so much history and culture. Its first settlers were the Thracian tribe Medi. Afterwards, it had been conquered by other settlers like the ancient Romans. The Roman presence left an ancient bridge over the Melnishka River which is still preserved. 

One of the highlights of the town is the Kordopulov House, a Bulgarian National Revival house that was built in 1754 mainly for wine production. It was the largest of its kind during its period. The wine cellar tunnel that was dug into the rock is in the lower ground. The house was renovated in the 1970s and is currently a private museum.

Melnik is reachable by bus daily from Sofia (182 km.) and Sandanski (12 km.) and back. Another option would be to rent a car or book a trip with a local tour agent to go there. It can be seen in relaxed time in one weekend and to make it more interesting, book wine tastings & tours to the nearby wineries like Villa Melnik Winery and Orbelus Winery (which I will write about in my next article). 

Villa Melnik is a young modern winery with full potential in being one of Bulgaria's best wine producers. Having just produced its first vintages in 2007, it has already won a lot of awards for a number of its wines. One of them is my favorite, the Silver Medal winner AplauZ Melnik 55 2013 Reserve which is pictured above and a bottle that I took home to enjoy. It is made with 100% Melnik 55, a natural hybrid of Broad-Leafed Melnik vine and Valdiguiè. Full of flavors, it is a full-bodied wine that was aged in Bulgarian oak barrels for 15 months. 

Villa Melnik Winery - the new beginning to a century-old tradition. It will enable us to further increase the quality of the wines we offer, and to make it possible for us to welcome visitors on site and to demonstrate the agricultural and technological processes that bring together the grapes and the wine. 

More Wineries to Discover: