Bumping along a narrow country road near Harmanli in southern Bulgaria, I did wonder where we were going. We crossed two single-track railway lines, one of which looked disused, the other bordered by a rather large drop and a seemingly hastily constructed gravel hump, which appeared to now be the road. A little to the right as we squeezed alongside the oncoming vehicle and the minibus would most likely have tipped in. We then continued down a long muddy road, passing an endless row of ’plastic-covered’ greenhouses, harbouring some kind of vegetation, before arriving at our destination, Terra Tantra Winery.
Award-winning Terra Tantra, one of the Superbrands for Bulgaria for 2015/16, can be found on the south-western slopes of the Sakar Mountains, with the Maritsa River flowing nearby. The organic, family-owned estate covers 400 hectares. One of their entry level ranges is clearly stamped with the word organic, although in fact the whole estate is certified organic. The owner’s main business was originally in vegetable growing, hence the greenhouses we had seen on route.
Vines were first planted on the estate 18 years ago, ten hectares up on a nearby hill where the clay and limestone soil is too poor for other vegetables to thrive. Originally, the plan was only to produce some wine for the owner and his family, but when they tasted how good the wine was, it was clear – they would found a winery. Although vines were in fact already cultivated here some 3000 years ago – wine-related artifacts were found up on the hill.
They are currently experimenting with 15 varieties to see how they express the unique terroir and are convinced that they will be able to use seven or eight of them. They are thinking long term – the lifespan of their project is fifty years! They even propogate the plants themselves, as their main business is that of a nursery, obtaining the biological material from INRA in Montpellier and doing the grafting themselves here.
INRA was even able to provide them with Tamianka, an ancient variety cultivated in the area, although plantings had long been destroyed, so they are also reviving this old variety again, but only for the private consumption of the owners. However, we were lucky enough to get to sample it. Tamianka, a clone of Muscat à Petit Grains, is generally used for the production of ’rakia’, the local grape brandy.
As with some other wineries visited on our travels in Turkish and Bulgarian Thrace, the wines here are made with expert consultation from Michel Rolland, the Bordeaux flying winemaker. Nevertheless, they don’t only cultivate international varieties, they also produce wine using local black varieties, such as Rubin, Mavrud and Melnik.