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CMB 2016: Bit of Bordeaux in Bessa Bulgaria

Posted: Tuesday, 21 June 2016 15:50


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CMB 2016: Bit of Bordeaux in Bessa Bulgaria

June 21: In Bulgaria where they use several indigenous grapes, there is one wine cellar that has a distinct Bordeaux touch- Domaine Bessa Valley co-owned by Count Stephan von Neipperg who owns 6 wineries in Bordeaux including Chateau Canon La Gaffelière Grand Cru Classe in St. Emilion and who grows only international grapes, is making excellent Bordeaux-styled red wines, writes Subhash Arora who tasted a couple of them in Bordeaux in 2008 and Delhi in 2013 and was very impressed by the Estate, philosophy and the Enira labelled wines

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When I visited Bordeaux in April 2008 to attend En Primeur 2007, I had the opportunity to visit Count Stephan von Neipperg, owner of several estates including the famous St. Emilion Gran Cru Classé Chateau Canon la Gaffelière at his Estate Apart from wines from his Bordeaux estates; he also showcased international-style wines produced by his new winery in Bulgaria. I don’t remember the labels but I immensely enjoyed the wines made in Bordeaux style. In 2013, I also organised a Bulgarian wine evening with their Embassy in Delhi when I conducted a seminar followed by a tasting of wines from six wineries including Bessa Valley; it had 2 variants of the Bordeaux-style Enira labels which were well appreciated by the guests.

During my visit to Bulgaria to judge at Concours Mondial de Bruxelles in Plovdiv last month I met Stephan and decided to visit his winery Bessa Valley. He seemed very popular and well-respected by the domestic producers and is the international face of the local wine industry as he was asked by the Bulgarian Wine Association to welcome the judges collected at the Imperial Hotel to taste Bulgarian wines after a seminar on the Bulgarian grapes. This was followed by an exhaustive tasting conducted by the wineries of the region, which unfortunately did not include his wines.

I joined the trip to the winery on the last day of the competition (on the earlier day I visited Domaine Peshtera which had also been present in the Embassy Seminar with a group of judges who had congregated in Plovdiv). I was not scheduled to be in the group visiting the winery but convinced the organisers to let me go to Bessa Valley instead. The winery was merely 23 kms away from the city and a 35-40 min ride by coach. We took a tour of the interesting, modern winery which still maintains traditions too and tasted the vast range of wines organised in the barrel room.

The wines impressed me enough to request the Count for an exclusive, undisturbed Chat (which is otherwise impossible because of his popularity.) Fortunately, the traditional Gala Dinner of the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles was to be held later in the evening at Park Hotel Sankt Peterburg where I was staying and he kindly agreed to come there half an hour earlier for an exclusive Chat.

Bulgarian Wines and the Evening Impress Delhi

Feature: Look Out for Bulgarian Wines

Count Not the Count

Click For Large ViewThe 59- year old German Count Stephan Von Neipperg graduated from Paris but later studied ‘Winery and Oenology’ in Montpellier. Currently, he owns La Gaffelière and Ch. Clos de l'Oratoire (Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Classe), Chateau Peyreau (Saint-Emilion Grand Cru), La Mondotte (Saint-Emilion), Chateau d'Aiguilhe (Cotes de Castillon), and Clos Marsalette (Pessac-Leognan). His family has been growing vines and making wines for 800 years in Germany.

But he also clarified to me that he was not a part of that business anymore and it was being run by his brother who being the eldest in the family enjoyed this privilege according to German customs and also enjoyed the title as Count. Only the eldest son can be called Count- other sons should write Count-after the first name. Most people don’t realize that he is not really Count Stephan but Stephan Count von Neipperg, but the minor point is often overlooked, he says and therefore one sees his name as Count Stephan von Neipperg.

Bordeaux to Bulgaria with Love

So how did he decide to come to Bulgaria with so much happening in Bordeaux? It was not only the financial support being given by the European Union to start new wineries in Bulgaria which had joined EU but his good German friend Dr Karl-Heinz Hauptmann a PE investor and a wine loving businessman convinced him to invest together in Bulgaria. In fact, Hauptmann is the main shareholder of Bessa Valley Winery.

Click For Large ViewBessa Valley was frequented by Thracians who were known to have made wine in this region 2500 years ago. In fact, one can see several remains and evidences of this near the winery. But Stephan did not immediately pick out the spot when they decided to enter Bulgaria in 1998. They bought the land in 2000 but went step by step, travelling the country. He sought advice from old winemakers and those with wine experience. ‘We asked the old people who had been in wine business earlier, for their advice and they recommended the current location,’ he says.

Everything is done with the greatest respect for the nature, the people, the vines and its fruit and keeping harmony. He has not only introduced technology into the winemaking but also encourages people to visit Bordeaux for on-site training and this is one of the reasons why he is so respected by the locals. ‘The knowledge of wine is going down’, he says ‘We send people to Bordeaux to train them there’, he adds.

Totally immersed in the Bordeaux culture he also concedes, ‘our objective was to make wines for export. Mavroud and Rubin are interesting indigenous grapes but difficult to export such varietals.     What we produce here are not mere Cabernet and Merlot but the essence of Bordeaux.’ He is also not happy about the Bulgarians’ ever-extraction of the grapes.

Enira Label

Click For Large ViewTheir flagship label Enira is internationally very popular. How did he choose it as a label? ‘Enira was a legendry beautiful princess. I guess to keep the Thracian culture alive and since she was a beautiful princess and since we wanted to make a beautiful wine, this name for the label seemed appropriate. Enira is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah made in an opulent style.  There is also the Reserve range with its red berry fruits and fresh earthiness that reminds one of St-Emilion. This wine appeals to the Bordeaux wine enthusiasts,’ he says.

Stephan von Neipperg is sure of one thing- the wines would not be mass produced table wines like they used to be in Bulgaria in the past.  Any wine connoisseur would tell you that the Reserva and Grande Cuvee are two of the finest wines from Bulgaria. Hugh Johnson might have been a shade uncharitable to Bulgarian wines in general as he is often quoted as saying that these two are the ´only quality (Bulgarian) wines available in the UK.´  

True to his St. Emilion roots, you will find only red wines from Stephan in Bessa Valley, barring a Rose Cuvee the magnums of which were uncorked to welcome us at the winery. The climate here is continental with hot summers and cold winters. The terroir is influenced by the river and the mountain. The total area of around 300 hA has vines of 140 hA- planted with Merlot, Syrah, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon.  90% of production in Bordeaux-centric-he says with 55% being Merlot, and the balance distributed in equal amounts of Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.

Tasting at the Winery

Click For Large ViewProduction at Domaine Bessa Valley is currently around 600,000 bottles (50,000 cases). Only French barriques are used; there are around 2500 of them. Interestingly, they are used for 3 passes only. About 80% of the production is exported. The largest markets for the wine from the Valley are UK followed by Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Canada, USA, and Russia. Recently China, Japan and Hong Kong have opened up. (In fact, they took part in Vinexpo Hong Kong this year).

Earlier, we had tasted several Domaine Bessa Valley wines during the winery visit.

Enira Rose Grande Cuvee 2015 was extremely refreshing, elegant and superior Rose. Enira 2011 with Syrah (50%), Merlot (40%), Petit Verdot (10%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (5%) was very clean, slightly earthy but fruity wine with decent structure and a delicious taste. Enira Reserva 2011 was a beautiful wine with balanced oak as well as ripe tannins, making it age worthy for at least 10 years. Barrel aged for 16 months with a third only in the new barrels, makes the oak very well balanced and not overpowering, making the wine easier when drunk slightly young, like the 2011.

Click For Large ViewSyrah 2011 did not somehow overly impress me except it was adequately fruity, spicy and elegant; perhaps because I was too anxious to taste the Grand Cuvee 2011 whose taste was worth the wait. The top-of-the-range wine made by selecting the best parcels, using four of their signature grapes Merlot, Syrah, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon in equal proportion, had toasty vanilla and mint bouquet. The full bodied wine had a sweet frontal attack with plenty of red fruit in the mouth with the impression persisting and the long after-taste.

There is definitely more than a bit of Bordeaux in the Bessa Valley in Bulgaria. One wonders how long it would take to reach India where Bordeaux lovers will have a whale of a time drinking these wines at relatively decent prices. In the meanwhile one has to visit Bulgaria or one of the importing countries to enjoy Enira.

Meanwhile Count Stephan Von Neipperg has bought stake in Capaia in South Africa in 2015 where he did not invest but took stakes in lieu of technology and winemaking. By this time, there were too many of his fans frowning at me monopolizing and I had to curtail the interview.  However, for more information, visit

Subhash Arora

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