Episode 29: Villa Melnik in Bulgaria

This podcast comes from the beautiful and exotic Melnik wine region in Bulgaria. We’ve traveled here to visit the preeminent regional winery, Villa Melnik. Nick Zikatanov had a dream to build a world class winery that would bring to prominence the great wines that can be made from the fabled Shiroka Melnik grape. But his ambition went further than that. Nick also wanted to build a project that would lift the entire wine tourism profile of the area. And he also imagined a business that would engage his entire family. He hoped the whole family would bond more tightly around a passion project. As it turned out, it all worked!

Today Nick and his wife Lyubka together with their daughter Militza are hosts to large numbers of wine lovers who come to the Melnik wine region. Please join me to listen in as I speak with the charming Militza Zikatanova about the wines of Villa Melnik. Let’s go together and learn more about this wonderful place.

The Zikatanova family of Villa Melnik in the Melnik wine region
Nikola, Militza and Lyubka

Wine History That Goes Back to the Very Beginning

Wine has been made in the Melnik wine region and the Thracian Lowands for a very very long time. With winemaking going back over 6,000 years this part of Bulgaria has a literally mythical connection with wine. Homer mentions the wines of the Kikones in both the Illiad and The Odyssey. And wines from the Melnik wine region of the Struma valley have been prized in international markets ever since.

At Villa Melnik the Shiroka Melnik grape is particularly honoured. Militza explains that the family loves Shiroka Melnik above all and that the variety thrives in this place. With its balance of acidity, tannin and bright red fruit flavours, it is easy to understand why this grape variety has been so successful over the centuries.

The Wines of Villa Melnik

Militza compares the characteristics of Shiroka Melnik wines to Pinot Noir. To her the lighter colour, lighter alcohol and distinctive elegant flavours compare with the beauty of Pinot Noir. This is the wine that the family loves most and is most passionate about sharing with visitors. This is a truly great find for wine lovers looking for something that is fabulously connected to its own place. However Villa Melnik also uses two modern crosses of the Shiroka Melnik. Melnik 55 is a cross with the relatively little-known French varietal ValdiguiƩ while Melnik Jubilee is a cross with the iconic Georgian grape variety Saperavi. Apparently Melnik 55 was a favourite of Winston Churchill and he ordered 2 barrels every year from the Melnik wine region.

Villa Melnik and the Pirin Mountains – the Melnik wine region of Bulgaria is gorgeous

The Vision for the Winery

Nick was very purposeful as he developed Villa Melnik. As Militza explains, the vision anticipated a future where guests would travel through the winery and follow the path the grapes and the wine take as they make their way from vineyard to crushpad to fermentation to barrel aging. Villa Melnik is a gravity winery built over three levels. The design allows for gentle treatment of the wine as it moves naturally down through the winemaking process.

The caves of Villa Melnik are also impressive. Excavated into the limestone, barrels are aged here at a constant 15 degree temperature so that the wine can age optimally. Militza describes how Villa Melnik uses mostly Bulgarian oak barrels (although French oak is also used extensively as is some American oak). It all depends on the characteristic with winemaker wishes to achieve but Nick and Militza believe the fact that the Bulgarian oak is wild (while the French is from cultivated forests) means that the grain of the wood is tighter and produces a finer influence on the wine.

The impressive caves at Villa Melnik provide for optimal barrel storage

Wine Tourism in the Melnik Wine Region

I hope you enjoy listening to the podcast with Militza and learning more about the wonderful wines from this quite incredible place. If you ever have the chance to visit the town of Melnik you shouldn’t miss the opportunity. It is beautiful, exotic and unique.

There is lots more to do with plentiful wine touring, great local food, hiking and mountain activities year round including skiing at nearby Bansko.

A really wonderful place to stay in Melnik is The Manoleva House Hotel.

The historic town of Melnik from the Manoleva House Hotel

More Information about Villa Melnik

Villa Melnik has an execellent website with lots of information about the winery as well as the region and suggestions for wine tourism. Have a look!

And More Great Content From The Wine Beat!

Deep Wine History in Bulgaria’s Melnik Region – this is a companion piece to the podcast interview at Villa Melnik and provides a romantic view of this ancient and important wine center.

The Thracian Lowlands wine region encompasses the Melnik wine region and beyond. Find more information for your wine touring in Bulgaria in our article here.

A Podcast Interview at Ktima Gerovassiliou – not too far from Melnik is the wonderful city of Thessaloniki and we traveled here for a podcast interview with Argyris Gerovassiliou and Thrass Giantsidis. Ktima Gerovassiliou is one of Greece’s great wineries and the story of the Malagouzia grape starts here!

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