AN EXCITING NEW WALK OF LIFE
Whether because it is deemed as an attractive investment or it is just the power of the wine magic but bankers are among the first newcomers in the winemaking which otherwise has always been a typical family business. More than 150 years ago the legendary banker Nathaniel de Rothschild bought one of the Premier Cru wineries in Bordeaux – Chateau Brane Mouton. Renamed later to Chateau Mouton Rothschild, it became one of the most famous French producers of premium wines.
The “banker turning to winemaker” phenomenon did not remain unnoticed even in Hollywood. Not long ago, the film producers paid it a special attention with a classic thematic movie. In A Good Year (2006), the British investment banker Max Skinner quits his successful career in London to start making wine in a chateau in South France which he inherits from his uncle.
And despite the obvious differences between the Bulgarian financial sector and the London City, some of the local bankers are also tempted by the winemaking. While most of them are just partners in the ownership of a couple of well-established Bulgarian wineries, there are also ultimate followers of Max Skinner’s example who traded the world of money for the world of wine. A recent addition to the latter group is the reputed financier Mr. Svetlozar Velchev.
Unlike the typical vintners, Velchev’s childhood did not pass in the company of vineyards and wine barrels. There were no winegrowing traditions in his family whatsoever. As a typical urban child he spent most of his time reading books and in the 1980s graduated the Moscow State University and later on the Economic University in Sofia. He started his professional career at management positions in two state banks consecutively, and after the fall of the communism, in 1991 established his own company specialized in the financial markets.
“The financial business was going well until 2007 when the crisis took its toll on it”, says Svetlozar Velchev. “To be honest, this is a stressful and dynamic business, much more suitable for younger people. That’s why when I turned 40, I started thinking about what else can I do for the rest of my life. And I chose winemaking”, he explains.
So, in 2010 Velchev set about finding the best location for his new project. He travelled across the country and consulted with specialists in terroir analysis until he finally singled out the village of Karabunar near the town of Pazardzhik. He managed to find there the right terrain for construction of his winery – the former village farmyard. Not the least, Karabunar and its neighborhood is one of the traditional winegrowing areas in Bulgaria.
With some professional help, Velchev gradually developed the design of the new winery: not too big (up to 100 tons of grapes) but equipped with all necessary for quality winemaking; and, of course, offering comfort to the visiting winelovers. The construction of the winery was completed in 2013. It was named Villa Terres after the legendary Thracian ruler Terres I who subdued the local Bessi tribe in the 6th century BC and gave rise to the mighty Odrysian Kingdom.
In parallel to the construction of the winery, Svetlozar Velchev acquired 4 ha of old but well-maintained vineyards planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pamid. The winery was ready for operation at the start of the grape harvest campaign in 2013. “We may be small but we have the privilege to take care of each grape bunch, supervise its development, decide exactly when to start the harvest, and, not the least, manage to bring the grapes in the winery and put them in the fermentation vessels early in the morning, so that they are not overheated by the sun”, explains the winery’s philosophy Velchev.
But this diligence does not end at the fermentation stage. “Wine is like a child. It needs a daily care. You have to be gentle and calm when you deal with it in order to obtain a really good end result”, tells the banker-vintner with enthusiasm. Responsible for the entire production process in Villa Terres is the experienced winemaker Ms. Yordanka Keremidchieva. The first vintage includes four wines: white blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc; rosé from Pamid and Cabernet Sauvignon; varietal red Cabernet Sauvignon; and a red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Apart from the excellent terroir, the winery has a very good location. It is situated on the main road to one of the most famous SPA centers in Bulgaria – Velingrad. Therefore, the initial concept of Svetlozar Velchev included also opening of a small hotel with 24 rooms, restaurant and SPA facilities. Those were all completed and put in operation in the spring of 2014.
Velchev is certain that the future of the small wineries in Bulgaria has a lot to do with the wine tourism. “I can see that increasingly more people shun the mass tourism in the big resorts and prefer something alternative such as the wine tourism”, he says. Although he does not expect Villa Terres to reach the Chateau Mouton Rothschild’s popularity any time soon, Svetlozar Velchev is happy with his new occupation. And the road ahead is much easier to walk when you do that with all of your heart and soul.