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Bordeaux proprietor invests in Bulgarian potential

A Bulgarian vineyard, with substantial backing from one of Bordeaux’s leading proprietors, is making use of the country’s potential to show the wine world Bulgaria’s capabilities.

Enira is a joint project between Karl Hauptmann, former managing director of Merrill Lynch in London, and Count Stephan von Neipperg, owner of six Bordeaux châteaux including La Mondotte and Canon la Gaffelière both in St Émilion.

The winery is nestled in the Bessa Valley in the midst of the Thracian lowlands, an area once known for its winemaking with traditions reaching back to the 5th and 4th centuries B.C.

Hauptmann instigated the project and with Marc Dworkin, former winemaker at Château Bellefont-Belcier, found a suitable site in 1999.

They swiftly convinced von Neipperg of the possibilities and potential of their fledgling vineyard and he came on-board as a major investor and enthusiastically promotes the vineyard on all his travels.

Initial planting began in May 2001 and continued until 2005. Dworkin, now general manager, told the drinks business that due to the poor state of the country’s nurseries and awful quality of the clones and levels of disease, he opted to bring in plants from his native France.

“We didn’t take any risks,” he explained.

For this reason there are no native varieties under vine, the 145 hectares are made up of 55% Merlot, 20% Syrah, 15% Petit Verdot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon.

Although, EU subsidies have given the Bulgarian wine industry a boost and the wine market was once split almost evenly between domestic and foreign domains, following the collapse of the home market last year there has been a greater focus on overseas.

This year Dworkin predicted that roughly 300,000 bottles, from a production of around 450,000, would be exported, chiefly to Asia, Germany, Switzerland and Romania although there is an increased focus on the UK and US.

Enira was previously available at Waitrose but Dworkin lamented the regularity with which buyers changed and moved on limiting the opportunity to build up a real client/buyer relationship.

However, there is no such problem in Asia. Roughly a third of Enira’s exports go to Japan, Hong Kong and China and the expansion has been rapid.

Exports have risen from one or two containers a year when they started in 2005 to a forecasted eight or even 10 this year.

In the US, Dworkin sees room for expansion due to a sizeable Bulgarian expat community.

“The US is the next goal for us. We are expecting to send a container to Baltimore by the end of the month,” he said.

Meanwhile, back in the UK, TXB Fine Wines is championing Enira’s cause seeking listings in both the on- and off-trades.

Clemens Tamegger, UK manager at TXB, believes that the novelty of wine from somewhere largely unknown coupled with good quality is a recipe for success: “Niche products are crisis-resistant in my view,” he said.

“Customers need and want something new. Sure, you can’t expect high sales from the start. You have to educate shop by shop but once you get the wine in the glass and under people’s noses, they love it.”

And Dworkin remains convinced that things will only improve as his vines mature. As for the next vintage, it would appear that a satisfactory 2009 was not restricted to bigger names in the rest of Europe.

Rupert Millar, 24.06.2010

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