In the heat of harvest I’m heading to Wine Cellar Zlaten Rozhen. I can’t even begin to imagine how enriching this visit to the Struma Valley will be and how my perceptions of the region will change. The occasion is the new white wine White Sand which recently made an impression on me and I’m heading over for my meeting with the cellar consultant –Federico Ricci armed with a thousand questions.
I get settled into my accommodation in the boutique hotel “Zlaten Rozhen” in the village of Rozhen and I take off to Kapatovo village where the production is situated. If you don’t have the chance to visit the cellar you can also do a tasting session in the spectacular tasting salon in the hotel.
Wine tour before harvest
I arrive at the cellar at a key moment. Frederico and the main technologist Dimitar Petkov are just making a decision regarding the beginning of the harvest picking following the latest analysis of the grapes.
Zlaten Rozhen owns 800 decares of vineyards arranged in two massifs. In the region of Kapatovo village are grown the following sorts: Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Rubin, Melnik 55, Shiroka Melnik vine.
On the hills around Levunovo village grow the following sorts: Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese, Shiroka Melnik vine and once more Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
The harvest will begin with Merlot on Monday and in backing of this decision Frederico quotes something in Italian which he then translates to
“ On Thursday and Friday you don’t head out onto the road, you don’t get married and you don’t start any work”.
Frederico has contagious energy and humor but once you start speaking to him about more serious topics you can tell straight away that the ease with which he works actually stems from years of education and experience.
Frederico Ricci is one of the best specialists on the topic of soil. Zlaten Rozen’s choice to work with a specialist of this rank demonstrates foresight and desire to produce wines of excellent character, in harmony with the region’s natural resources.
And I’m incredibly lucky to visit the cellar just as he’s there and to convince him to take me around the vineyards. The next morning, we head to Levunovo village, while the scorching Melnik sun is still low in sky.
Wine travel between Melnik sands
During the journey Frederico is telling me about how the Struma river has cut through the valley, creating different kinds of turf. He tells me about how the soils brought from the tributaries in the Pirin mountain enrich the sands coming from the pyramids and how this mix of granite, quartz, limestone and sand is in different proportions in terrains that are 50 meters away from each other
He often exclaims “Wonderful, Fantastic”, the topic of soil really is a deep passion of his.
We pull over by the side of the road so that he can show me the subtle difference between the soils in different places. He detects the smallest of differences in the color of the sand, tells me about their density, the permeability, how soft or dense they are, what pebbles are in them.
I’ve been dreaming of this, for someone to show me the Melnik region this way. I have visited so many times, but I have gone no further than simply tasting different wines and looking at amazing landscapes. Now I have a completely different view on it and not just the patriotic and romantic attitude that this is an exceptional region, but the feeling that the potential is indeed enormous and still deeply hidden for many.
We reach the vineyards near Levunovo village. Federico will take a few bunches of Merlot and Sira so to compare the difference from yesterday. We try them, as well as the Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and the Cabernet Franc, which all need a little more time and warmth. The view here is amazing, so calm and beautiful that I won’t even attempt to describe it in words.
How to measure sugars?
We go back to Kapatovo with the samples and I’ll have another opportunity to learn some tricks of the trade. Along with the main technologist Dimitar and each with their technology, the two enologists measure the sugar levels in the freshly picked grapes. I haven’t witnessed this stage before so I found it very interesting and the grape juice – very tasty.
After this educational trip with Frederico (see more here) I met Marussia – one of the owners of Zlaten Rozhen who is entirely focused on the management of the cellar and the hotel. She tells me about how she and her husband Theodore Osikovskigot their first vineyard in the area almost as a joke in 2009, without suspecting that slowly but surely the region will become not only a place for serious investment but also their second home.
The modern winery in Kapatovo village was built in 2014 and in 2018 a new stylish tasting room with a wine shop and a bar to go with it.
Zlaten Rozhen white wines
There’s definitely something to learn about local varieties here. Zlaten Rozhen is the first in the region to pay attention to the local Sandanski Misket and give it a new read in 2012.
White wine from red grapes
They decide that they want to add another white winein their portfolio and they address the matter seriously as they know very well that the region is not particularly suitable for many of the white varieties. That’s when Theodore comes up with the provocative idea of making white wine from the red Shiroka Melnik vine variety.
And so is born the White Sand in 2017 – fresh, playful white wine with interesting flavors such as white pepper and avocado, pronounced minerality and juicy finish. Part of the same series is the red blend from Sangiovese and Syrah 2017 SANSI. They call these wines ‘welcome wines’. Wines that welcome people and make someone feel good as if they’re in the comfort of their own home.
The idea is achieved through a rich fruity aroma with a slight spiciness and taste which invites you to take another sip. The wines are suitable both in combination with light hors d’oeuvres as well as without food, making them the perfect “Welcome drink” and a start to the evening.
In the cellar’s wine shop (and online), and only there can you find the limited series. That is another reason to visit Zlaten Rozhen winery. Needless to say that their cozy hotelmakes the decision to visit all that easier – with its traditional style and location only a kilometer from the Rozhen monastery.
What definitely to try in the restaurant?
I recommend you call in advance and pre-order kachamak for lunch or dinner (it requires longer preparation and so you need to make a special request for it). That was the best kachamak I’ve ever tried.
That wine trip to Zlaten Rozhen confirms ones more time my believe that to make great wines it is needed more than passion. It is needed big knowledge and strives to work in harmony with nature.