Rossidi Wines. Where New Ideas & Risk Taking Is Changing The Face Of Bulgarian Wine

Co-founder and CEO of Rossidi, Eddie Kourian opens a bottle of 2018 Rossidi Rose of Pinot Noir.

With the ancient city of Plovdiv fading in my rearview, I motor down the back roads through the Thracian Valley. After an hour, I rejoin the highway for thirty minutes and then return to the back roads. Today I will meet Eddie Kourian, the CEO, co-founder and proprietor of Rossidi, a boutique winery outside of Sliven in Bulgaria’s Eastern Thracian Valley.

Because the address is confusing to me and my GPS: Southern Industrial Zone, Sliven, I’m following a Google maps link from Eddie. Following the main road into the Sliven Center, I’m prompted to take a left and make a huge loop around the decrepit ruins of a Soviet-era factory. The decaying concrete and rusted metal fortress strike me as a great set for an apocalyptic Mad Max movie.

Soon I’m following two cement mixer trucks, past a gate, and into a large dirt parking lot. “You have arrived,” my GPS declares. There’s no question I’m in an industrial zone. I look around. Nothing here even hints there is a working winery. I’m lost, I’m sure.

Near where the cement trucks queue up behind several other cement mixers, I find a small office tucked at the end of a long building. Nobody speaks English.

So I try my best, “Rossidi? Eddie?”

The woman repeats me, “Eddie.” She marches out of the office and motions me to follow. About 100 meters at the end of the long building, she pulls a heavy metal door open. I see wine bottles, fermentation tanks.

I guess I have arrived. I’m early, so Eddie is not here. An hour later, after parking my motorcycle and checking into Hotel Park Central in downtown Sliven, I meet Eddie back at the industrial winery.

“You can see it’s no big fancy winery,” he says. Dressed in casual shorts, a tropical-print t-shirt and comfortable slip-on shoes, Eddie Kourian invites me inside the industrial building. “Our vineyards are just ten kilometers toward the highway.” He tells me had I stayed on the highway, I would have seen them. Rossidi’s estate vineyard is about 40 hectares of which they use about one-third for Rossidi wines while selling the rest of the grapes to other wineries.

“I know,” I agree, “this is far from the romantic chateaus and villas we think of wine regions.” He laughs.

“Yeah, we’re next to a concrete plant. It suits us,” he waves his arms around the modest winery packed with tanks, barrels, and a few tables and a tall stool.

“We had a project plan years ago in 2009 to build a winery in the vineyard,” he explains, “We decided we just want to make wine.”

Eddie tells me that Rossidi started as a hobby. Along with his wife and co-founder Rosie, they derived the name of the winery from their first names “Rosie” and “Eddie.” Thinking it would be fun just to make wine for their family and friends.

“I just make the wines,” he points out. “And this didn’t cost $4 million. So, when it gets tight and crowded in here, we can enlarge and go to the back room. If we grow enough in business, perhaps then we can build something.”

For their first vintage in 2008, they produced just 5,000 bottles from vines his father-in-law planted. Planted in 2005, the vineyard is in nearby  Nikolaevo in 2005. The following year, they made 6,000 bottles.

“Everybody starts like this,” he says while reminding me of the story of marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, who started the Italian winery Tenuta San Guido and made Sassicaia, the legendary first Super Tuscan wine.

“They started about 80 years ago, making wine for friends and their family,” speaking about the famed Italian family.

Soon enough, the hobby turned into a business for Eddie and Rosie. In 2011, he tells me, they got serious. So he turned to a friend and fellow winemaker Petar Georgiev and convinced him to help execute and contribute to a shared vision for Rossidi wines. Petar just came back to Plovdiv after stints working at wineries in Austria and New Zealand. By 2018 annual production of Rossidi wines topped more than 70,000 bottles.

Along the way, DiVino, the most respected Bulgarian wine magazine, awarded several vintages of Rossidi wines in the top ten in annual surveys of Bulgaria’s finest and highest rated wines. They awarded the Rossidi 2017 Orange wine made from Gewurztraminer, the number one wine of the year, and the 2013 Rossidi Rubin garnered number three. Notably, Rossidi claims many firsts on the Bulgarian wine scene, including producing the first proper orange wine and the first winery to use concrete egg tanks for production.

The ringing of his phone interrupts our conversation while he handles business. I take the time to snap photos. After his call, he asks about my camera. He also loves photography and uses a Canon DSLR.
It occurs to me as Eddie talks about photography, that he’s a passionate head-strong creative who prefers hands-on to execute his vision than to leave it to someone else. After professional photographers quoted him more than the cost of a good camera to photograph bottles and labels for media and a brochure, instead, he used the money to buy a camera and decided to shoot the photos himself.

He concedes that he didn’t know what he was getting into with the additional costs of softboxes, receivers, other gear, and time.

“It takes so much time to do all of this for just one shot. Too much time. And then you always have to keep up with the software, firmware, and new stuff comes out.”

His phone rings again, I wander around the room, snap more pictures, and notice a large cardboard shipping box on the floor. I recognize the name in big letters on the box, DIAM. They are the famed French cork producer that guarantees taint free cork enclosures thanks to a process it patented that extracts volatile compounds from cork.

When I ask him about his decision to use Diam, he explains that the new vintage will be Rossidi’s first using Diam enclosures.

“I am tired of it,” he shakes his head, referring to opening wines only to discover they are corked. “They tell me only two percent of their corks might be tainted, I think they must send me all two percent.” Eddie confides that almost every time he opens a bottle of Rossidi for a journalist, wine critic, serious collector, or a sommelier, the wine is corked. I can tell I touched on a sore wound. Out of frustration, it forced him to move to Diam.

With nowhere to sit in the front, Eddie guides me past a long row of stacked barrels to a back room that serves as his office, tasting room, and more. Pushed under a window against one wall is his desk, and up against the other wall is a sofa. Lined from top to bottom on the far wall are shelves like a library. There are no books, only consumed bottles of wine, many with labels I recognized, and most all from countries other than Bulgaria. I also noticed boxes of Zalto wine glasses stacked high and a Marshall guitar amp.

“You play,” I ask. “Nice Marshall.”

“Yes, since I was five,” he explains, “That’s my first one, it’s transistor, no tubes. My VOX AC30, the Gibson and my drums. They’re all at home. I have no time.” He tells me that he played in bands with friends, but never performed professionally.

“Nowadays, with family, kids, and a business that closes at 5 AM and not 5 PM, I have no time for playing.” He disappears in another room. A moment later, he returns with a bottle of wine. He sets it on the floor between the desk and sofa.

Behind his desk at Rossidi’s modest winery in Sliven Bulgaria is a library of “dead soldiers” wines with a story and those trigger memories of people and experiences.

Eddie and his wife Rosie founded Rossidi in 2008.

Eddie, Rosie, and Petar’s path to working together, making Rossidi wines, was surreptitious and the result of circumstance. Eddie worked for the Bulgarian government in the tax department for four years. He then changed careers and worked for several companies as a graphic designer, IT specialist, and other office jobs. When his girlfriend in 2005 moved to London to study, he followed her. They got married and after her graduation, moved back to Bulgaria.

“We loved living in London,” he confides. “We always planned to return.” Back in Bulgaria, at about the time of the global economic crisis, in 2008 and 2009, he started his hobby making wine.

“The crisis didn’t hit Bulgaria until a few years later, he explains. So they started getting serious about building the wine business. After a business trip through Europe that ended in London, Eddie recalls getting off the plane and finding more than 20 missed calls on his phone. They were from his wife. Worried about terrorist bombings that stunned London in the last hour, she wondered about Eddie’s whereabouts.

“They were happening all over Europe,” he presents me a bottle of the 2018 Rossidi Rose of Pinot Noir “Paris, Germany, Barcelona, Madrid, and more. So we decided to stay here for the time.”

With such small production that often sells out and operating a winery in such an odd location, Rossidi doesn’t cater to typical wine tourism. “We never advertised,” adds Eddie. “We promote our wines the old-fashioned way: by word-of-mouth. I prefer it this way.” Tastings are by appointment only; that is if you can get in touch.

Eddie (L) and friend and fellow winemaker Petar have a vision for a new face of Bulgarian wines—behind them is the concrete egg used for Rossidi’s egg-fermented Chardonnay.

He pours the rich rose quartz colored wine into two Zalto glasses. I question the decision to plant Pinot Noir here where summer temperatures frequently exceed 100 degrees (~24° C), whereas Pinot Noir prefers a cooler climate. He admits growing Pinot along with Gewurtztraminer is a challenge because of the hot continental climate.

“Our vineyards are on a slight slope looking north and facing the mountains.” He points out that Sliven is notoriously one of the windiest parts of Bulgaria. “It’s always windy in the vineyard, so the air current comes off the mountain straight through the vineyard, ventilating the vineyard and cooling down the grapes.”

The cooling winds make it suitable for Pinot, but he admits the winds can also be problematic. He tells me a story several years ago the wind blew a convoy of 14 or 15 loaded trucks on their side and causing them to roll over. “The “Slivenese winds” are powerful,” he says.

I swirl the rose in the beautifully shaped glass. Until today, I was unaware of Zalto glassware. “It’s Austrian,” Eddie explains, “they are all hand blown from a single piece of glass, no glue.” I look closer, they appear delicate but feel great in my hand.

Making memories and new experiences with Eddie Kourian CEO of Rossidi Winery in Bulgaria—he chose to import the legendary Austrian Zalto stemware into Bulgaria so he could supply his family and friends. “It’s the best glass for tasting wine,” he says.

Eddie now imports the fine Austrian crystal to Bulgaria, mostly so he can get the stemware and offer it to friends. Unlike the most popular and mass-produced quality crystal wine glasses made by Riedel, Zalto makes about 180,000 glasses a year compared to over a million by Riedel.

“A friend introduced me to these glasses about twelve years ago,” he explains as he cradles the glass and holds it up to the light. “the moment I had it in my hand and tried the wine, I knew these were the best glasses for tasting. Look at the angles, the shape.”

I taste the wine, it’s crisp, clean, medium acidity, and fresh. Eddie admits that because of the climate in Bulgaria it could be lower in acidity—especially if they lowered yields to push quality and concentration in the grape. “But if you lower the yield, the grapes will get so sticky and be mature by mid-August. We don’t want that. Here we have just 13% alcohol and 6.5% acidity.”

“It’s lovely,” I tell him. “Light-bodied, with kiwi, melon, and hints of flower and spice on the nose. and on fresh tree fruits with nice savoriness on the palate.” Eddie gets up and grabs the next bottle for our tasting.

The  2017 Rossidi Gewurtztraminer, features a similar modern label design with a different illustration. As he pours me a taste, I learn that Eddie puts his graphic design experience to task for all the Rossidi wine labels—each one is different based on the grape variety.

Two things are interesting about the Rossidi Gewurtztraminer. First, like Pinot Noir, Gewurztraminer is an odd grape variety to grow in the Thracian valley. Second, it’s an odd choice for Bulgaria where the national palate prefers powerful and punchy reds wines, oaky Chardonnays, or cheap and simple New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs.

Call it a “craft wine”, the Rossidi Gurvurtztraminer from Nikolaevo village close to Sliven will change your perception of Gurvurtztraminer.

It wasn’t Eddie’s choice to plant Gewurztraminer. Never afraid to try, experiment, and take risks, he set out to make a Bulgarian-style Gewurztraminer. He also labeled the wine honestly to what it is: Gewurztraminer, at a time where the few others growing it labeled and called it Traminer.

He remembers friends and colleagues calling him crazy for labeling it that way, warning that he will never sell it to Bulgarian consumers who think of Gurwurtztraminer from Alsace and sweet wine.

“This is Bulgaria,” Eddie reminds his colleagues, “we don’t have the acidity of Alsace, we don’t have the climate, and the mountains. It’s hot here, and it’s a shitty grape variety that always ripens and gets high sugars and alcohol and low acidity. I don’t know why we had it, but since we do, we have to make wine.”

He admits, “They were kind of right because anyone that sells it thinks of it as sweet.” But he challenged those who thought Gewurtztraminer is always sweet and perfumey. “How do you know,” Eddie asked them, “if you never try it?”

I swirl and smell the aromas. “Wow,” I’m amazed it lacks the often over-the-top and aggressively aromatic and perfumey notes typical of Alsatian Gurvurtztraminers. It’s got lovely notes of peach, tangerine zest, and citrus. And on the palate, it is clean and fresh.

I sip the wine. Again, it’s not like a Gewurtztraminer I’ve ever tasted, giving me flavors of honey, peach, and a hint of rose petal.

“We wanted to bring out Gurvurtztraminer,” he explains. “If it gets to perfumey and aggressive and low acidity, it gets flabby, which to me, is heavy and boring.”

His voice is soft, but his language is deliberate. Eddie has definite ideas about winemaking and a clear vision for Rossidi. He explains that both the Gewurztraminer and Rose of Pinot Noir are fermented in specially made small 300-liter stainless steel casks. “We don’t use any cultured yeast and let the wine sit on the lees for six months. These grapes do very well with native yeasts, from the vineyard.”

“It’s reductive which I like. We make it so the wine will develop in the bottle, rather than trying to make it ready to drink. Sure, it’s good now. But in time as the wine evolves, that reductiveness will go away. It gives way for the freshness of the wine. This was always our idea for Gewurztraminer in Bulgaria.”

For my palate, he seems to have hit that mark.

Eddie laughs as he looks back when Rossidi was the only winery willing to put the varietal name on the bottle. Today, he says, everyone calls it Gewurztraminer.

“I guess I should be happy someone copies us,” he reflects, referring to the adage that imitation is the best form of flattery, “but it still annoys me.” He also remembers a time when Rossidi wines were the only in Bulgaria that had a different label for each wine.

“I didn’t want to have one line of labels where everything is these are except the varietal name changes,” he explains that each label is different for the different grape because he wants to represent something about the grape on the label. He points out that the  Gurwurtztraminer label incorporates the female body in the drawing of the vine because of the wine’s famine characteristics. He used the pink color to communicate the rose petals and gold for the honey and grainy reductive qualities of the wine. We look at the label for the Pinot Noir—both the rose and the varietal Pinot have the same drawing, only the flowers are a pinkish-yellow and red for the rose, darker on the other.

For the Chardonnay, his design features a slight abstract of a grapevine in an egg. This is because the wine is fermented in a concrete egg. Rossidi is the first and still the only winery using one in Bulgaria. Even in the wording, he gets whimsical, calling the Chardonnay “egg-fermented.”

The Rossidi Chardonnay is the only egg-fermented wine in all of Bulgaria. Rossidi’s Eddie Kourian and Peter Georgiev make a pure expression of Chardonnay using a concrete egg. Try it!

“I can’t believe this,” he says, frustrated. “I am here in the winery, and I cannot find a corkscrew.” He rummages through his desk. “Every time I’m at an airport, security finds a corkscrew in my luggage. I always forget. But here, where’s the corkscrew.” A few moments later he finds one.

Eddie twists the corkscrew into the bottle of Chardonnay while explaining that they planted the varietal late, so 2011 was the first vintage of Rossidi Chardonnay. “We don’t want to make the next oaky Chardonnay on the shelf,” Eddie confides, referring the pro ponderous amount of Chardonnays boasting barrel fermented, double barrel fermented, chips, staves, or other wood.

At first, he thought the only option would be to make a stainless steel, un-oaked Chardonnay. But as he researched, he stumbled on an article about Michel Chapoutier, the legendary Northern Rhone French producer. In 2001, Chapoutier saw possibilities for making wine in egg-shaped concrete vessels. And while using concrete vessels or vats to ferment and age wine is hardly new, using egg-shaped vessels shaped was—sort of.  Using such a shape was both an innovative idea and yet a classic approach. Back in ancient times, the Romans made wine in clay Amphoras, or Kvevris as they’re called in Georgia.

Chapoutier refined the egg shape because instead of merely using it to allow sediment to collect at the bottom of the amphora or egg, he reasoned that during alcoholic fermentation as the CO2 bubbles rise to the surface, they create a constant natural batonnage and continues to circulate the wine. Eddie says this enriches the wine while reducing its exposure to oxygen.

“I don’t have to batonnage by hand,” he says, “the vessel should stay closed while the wine is circulating. This is how the egg helps the wine develop character and richness.”

He pours me a taste of the 2017 Rossidi Egg Fermented Chardonnay. Like all the wines I’ve tasted so far, it has a crisp and clean freshness. “When you taste and compare Chardonnays made with stainless steel, they are more mineral, steely, and straightforward. But with concrete, you get a richer mouthfeel and more body.”

“Here you have our Chardonnay with no touch of oak. It has a mouthfeel you only get when the wine remains in contact and circulates with the lees in a natural batonnage.” As the only winery using an egg in Bulgaria, Eddie explains it was hard to find one. The only producer of these egg fermenters told Rossidi they would have to wait two or three years due to strong demand.

Eddie didn’t want to wait. After weeks of looking and researching, he stumbled upon a producer in Champagne in France who tried using one to make sparkling wine but didn’t like the results. Eddie snapped it up, and from the beginning, all bottling of Rossidi Chardonnay have been egg-fermented.

We sip the wine. It’s so easy drinking; we talk and tell stories about other wine experiences rather than about the Chardonnay. This distraction is as refreshing as the wine we’re tasting. When we bring our focus back to Chardonnay, Eddie talks about the changing and maturing wine consumers in Bulgaria.

“Here’s a pure Chardonnay, a wine that gives you the pleasure of tasting what Chardonnay truly tastes like,” he swirls his glass and takes another sip. I follow suit. “Instead of oak, vanilla, coconut, and toast, you taste the wine and not the barrel.” He shares that before Rossidi experimented with this style of Chardonnay, another Bulgarian producer made an un-oaked and well-balanced, pure Chardonnay, but he stopped making it.

Today more and more wineries try to experiment with varying levels of oak, with some making pure Chardonnays. “The Bulgarian consumer is just now understanding that when drinking a heavily oaked wine, whether it’s Chardonnay or something else, they all taste similar and take on the same flavors. And the naked grape? It doesn’t matter what it is?”

Today, Eddie says, “everyone in Bulgaria knows this Chardonnay is the one from the egg.” I nod while sipping the glass.”

“It’s that word-of-mouth,” I agree. “Good work.”

“I find it funny,” he reflects while pointing at the “egg fermented” words on the bottle, “People used to ask me if I put eggs in the wine.”

When it comes time to taste the Rossidi red wines, Eddie gives me a choice. “Do you prefer to taste vintage out of the bottle, or from the barrels?” I hesitate but for a minute., then suggest we barrel taste some and try one bottle for comparison.

We take our glasses back to the Rossidi barrel room where Eddie grabs a thief, the nickname for the long and oversized glass straw that winemakers use to draw liquid from wine barrels and tanks. Though I can’t tell how they stack the wine barrels with some reason and organization. Some barrels are on the floor, others are stacked three high.

Eddie jumps on top of the one barrel and thrusts his thief into one of the second level barrels. He motions me to bring my glass and lets some wine escape into my glass. Jumping up and down and around to other barrels, each time he adds more wine to my glass—pulling samples from different barrels. All the while describing the method to his mayhem and the Rossidi vision and approach to winemaking.

“We use only 300-liter and 500-liter French oak barrels, and only ten to fifteen percent are new.” He points to some of the older ones. “We use oak as a base to support the wine—never to overwhelm it. Excessive oak will conceal the aromas. I want delicacy of the flavors.”

Rossidi co-founder and CEO climbs all over his barrel room sniffing out samples of wines while performing live and ad-hoc barrel blends of Rossidi’s Mavrud, Syrah, and Rubin for me to taste. Rossidi uses just 10-15% new oak for its red wines.

I’ve got an ad hoc cellar blend of Rossidi Pinot Noir from four different barrels—each a different age. “This is close to what the final blend will be,” he insists, telling me that there’s about fifteen percent new oak in my glass.

 

The wine is aromatic, showing fruits of sour and Ranier cherry, mild berry notes, and a touch of spice and pepper. If I tasted this blind, I would never peg it as a Bulgarian Pinot Noir. I laugh because this is just the second 100% Pinot Noir from Bulgaria I’ve tasted so far.

He recounts a story from a few years ago when legendary British wine critic Stephen Spurrier tasted the Rossidi Pinot. “Spurrier admitted that if he tasted it blind, because of the wine’s strength and muscle, he might say it’s very close to a Volnay or Pommard. “I’m really proud of that, I love it,” admits Eddie. To be sure, Eddie is quick to point out that he’s not trying to make French Burgundy. “I cannot make it like Pommard,” I hand him my glass so he can taste his cellar blend. “I want to make Pinot from Bulgaria, from this region.”

For most of its reds, like this Pinot Noir, Rossidi uses 100% single varietals, 100% natural yeast, and submits the wine entirely to spontaneous fermentation. The wine packs those sour cherry flavors, bright red fruit, strawberry, and a bit of spice on the finish, which Eddie feels comes from the new oak.

“Part of the problem with the Bulgarian wine consumer is most want their wines powerful, with toasty oak—even Pinot Noir,” says Eddie. “It’s not supposed to be a powerful thing,” he says. Some customers who prefer this punchy style ask him, ask him, “Where is the oak?”

“I tell them you have it. The oak is there. You need not feel or taste it. It’s got finesse, fruit, and elegance.” He suggests that Bulgaria still has yet to develop a wine culture that appreciates Pinot Noir. He says for many years, and to a degree even today, many Bulgarian wineries made overripe Pinot Noirs with dark fruit, black cherry, and overripe flavors. “They were all so big that after one glass, you could hardly have another.”

He jumps down. “They need to be educated; they need to educate themselves.”

I can see Eddie as a wine educator as he delves into different philosophies of winemaking. It turns out Eddie is the co-founder of the Wine & Spirits Academy, Bulgaria. He is a professional wine educator.

In 2015, Eddie founded the organization Aleksander Skorchev, the sommelier from Zornitza Estate and Dimitar Nikolov, a veteran wine buyer and importer and Decanter Magazine judge. The organization, sanctioned by and is an approved program provider for the global Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET),  provides professional, accredited wine education services to wine and culinary professionals and others interested in increasing their knowledge and appreciation of wine.

For the next twenty minutes, Eddie jumps around the barrels making more ad hoc cellar blends of Syrah, Rubin, and Mavrud, the latter two varietals unique to Bulgaria.

At Rossidi, Eddie points out, we want to make wines that are not so complex that customers have a hard time explaining them. “I want the customer to appreciate the wine and understand it for himself, and to enjoy the glass—or the bottle. Not a simple wine, but a wine with an elegance that you can enjoy.”

Eddie is a natural educator. So it’s no wonder he co-founded the Wine & Spirits Academy, Bulgaria along with two other colleagues.

I swirl my glass and take in the aromas. It smells like a cool climate Syrah with sweet spices, meatiness, and dark fruit and dried herbs. Eddie remarks that most fruit for Bulgarian Syrahs comes from a much warmer region closer to the Greek and Turkish border. He says that combined with the bold, tannic, and high alcohol style, winemakers throw a ton of new oak at—so much so it turns into an Aussie Shiraz style.

“I will never do that,” promises Eddie. “I want to give customers a pure Syrah with the dark fruit, but also with a bit of earth, meat, and fattiness.” Like the Pinot Noir, the 100% Syrah goes through spontaneous fermentation using only natural yeast from the vineyard.

On the palate, the Rossidi Syrah has a bright freshness coming from its acidity. He clarified by saying, “it’s still juicy and elegant, but not aggressive nor naughty.”

While he looks to blend a taste of Rubin, climbing, and looking for the proper barrels, I take a few moments to record a few Instagram photos and a video story. Rubin is a grape varietal that unique to Bulgaria created during Soviet times by viticulturists in Pleven at the Institute of Viticulture and Enology by crossing the Italian grape varietal Nebbiolo with the French Syrah.

The Rossidi Rubin grapes come from a different three-hectare plot with older vines, about 40 years old. Because of the age of the vines, they are naturally low yielding, which results in a wine that is more complex and with stronger character. Instead of ripe fruit, refreshing cherry, it is more musky, floral, and perfume. Yet it has the earth, leather, and meat.

“Wow, this is unlike any Rubin I’ve had to date,” I tell him while taking another sip.

“This is a great expression of Bulgarian wine,” he points out, “It’s not too bold, not too heavy.”

Rossidi bottles its natural orange wine in a clay or terracotta bottle. The stunning Rossidi labels are all designed by Eddie.

DiVino Magazine awarded the 2013 Rossidi Rubin as the number three wine in all of Bulgaria. To date, along with many other awards and accolades, and because of its limited production of just 4,000 bottles, the Rossidi Rubin is one of Bulgaria’s most sought after red wines.

I can tell it pains Eddie when he confides that many people expect Bulgarian Mavrud and Rubin to be heavy and bold. “But they are not, and they don’t have to be.”

He talks like an artist illustrating how he will use color and texture on canvas to bring a painting to life. “With Rubin, you have the floral nose coming from the Nebbiolo, and at the same time, we get musky, letter and meat from the Syrah,” I hand him the glass with the freshly blended Rubin. “Then, you have the leather and mushroom all surrounded by  a beautiful brightness from the acidity.”

Our conversation evolves into geek wine speak, discussing how Rubin is prone to high levels of volatile acidity and why they don’t use bacteria to jump-start malolactic fermentation. All things that can backfire and give the wine port or cognac-like flavors and consistency.

My next cellar blend is Rossidi’s expression of the ancient Bulgarian varietal Mavrud. Often brutish, dark, and brooding, most people find the wine needs a couple steaks to tame the tannins and strength. But Rossidi winemaker Petar Georgiev insists it doesn’t–at least with the Rossidi Mavrud.

Like the other reds I’ve tasted from the barrel, the Rossidi Mavrud is a 100% pure single-varietal that undergoes spontaneous fermentation with only naturally occurring yeast from the vineyard.

“We take the approach of making refreshing wines,” Eddie explains I turn the video camera on him while he climbs over more barrels. “We want to make wines you can think about but also enjoy without being bored or weighted down by heavy thinking.”

“With Mavrud, we follow the same concept to make a sophisticated wine and, at the same time, make sure it’s easy to drink and understand—and to have another glass or bottle” — a concept which Petar and Eddie have agreed on.

Barrel tasting with Rossidi CEO Eddie Kourian

The blend Eddie just crafted for me is very aromatic with bright cherries and sour berries jumping out of the glass. Made with only 10% new oak, Eddie wants his Mavrud to show the typicity of the characteristic of the varietal, rather than over ask it with toasty vanilla and chocolate.”

He points out that during and shortly after the break up of the Soviet Union wineries making Mavrud were vinifying it in bulk to sell it cheap or tried to make it powerful by oaking it too much.

“We want to make a fresh, fruity, and flowery wine—something you can enjoy.”

Even though Rossidi crafts its red wines to be elegant and with finesse, after our tasting of four young red wine barrel-blends, Eddie surprises me with a taste of the 2018 Rossidi Orange wine out of the barrel.

The first vintage of this in 2015 was the first Orange wine made in Bulgaria. Two years later, the leading wine publication DiVino named the 2017 Rossidi Orange as the best wine of the year—a move that was controversial and sparked some outrage. Many wineries and winemakers complained number one should not be an orange wine.

Eddie laughs.” Suddenly everyone wanted our orange wine.” he tells me that by the time DiVino published its awards, Rossidi had sold most of its Orange wine to Sweden, the UK, and Belgium. Rossidi produced just 600 bottles in 2015. For 2019 production will be about 4,000.

“Sure, I could sell it in Bulgaria, but that will take time,” he expresses. “I prefer selling my wines to people who understand the wine, not to just anyone who has means and money. Orange wine is trendy and fashionable today. But it gives me more pleasure to sell the wine to someone who appreciates it.”

Made from 100% Gewurztraminer, Eddie calls the Rossidi Orange the wine of five no’s: no cultured yeast added, no temperature control during or after fermentation, no stabilization, no filtration, no sulfites added anytime.

Rossidi Orange Wine — Five NO’s

No cultured yeast added
No temperature control during or after fermentation
No stabilization
No filtration
No sulfites added anytime

The Rossidi Orange goes through an extended maceration period where the wine remains in contact with the skin for one month.

Rossidi bottles its natural orange wine in a clay or terracotta bottle. The stunning Rossidi labels are all designed by Eddie.

He fills my glass from the thief. The wine aromas are so unique that I’m stumped to describe them.

“Well, for me, I get quince chutney,” says Eddie. We laugh. There’s a hint of muted rose oil, apricot, and nuttiness. On the palate, a slight zest, with dried nuts, tree fruits, and spice.

When I ask him about his inspiration for this wine, he doesn’t hesitate. “We wanted to make something that would be an accent to the rest of our wines. Plus, we had this odd Gewurztraminer. You can call it an experiment, trying something different.

And that’s the truth. It started in 2015 as just an experiment. “After the first one, we realized we can make it, and people will like it — and buy it.”

Rossidi bottles its award-winning orange wine in a terra-cotta clay bottle. It inspired Eddie to use the unique bottle after discovering several young and experimenting Austrian winemakers bottling their orange and natural wines in similar bottles.

“But I have to wait to bottle the 2018,” he tells me, pointing to the neutral barrel where he pulled the orange wine for my tasting. “Sweden is our biggest customer, but they insist, for recycling, we must deliver the wine in glass bottles.” He scratches his head. The clay bottles are part of the earth and need not be recycled. glass does. “It makes no sense, but until they tell me how many bottles to ship, I must wait.”

We retreat to his office and spend some twenty minutes browsing his library of “dead soldiers,” or wines consumed in the past, associated with great memories, people, and experiences. From the back corner of his office, he drags a large shipping box into the middle of the room to serve as a table for Zalto glasses and next bottle. It’s another box from Diam, the new taint-free corks he’ll start using next vintage.

“Now, you can try the Rossidi Pinot Noir from the bottle to compare.” We sit down, and he pulls a cork from a new bottle and pours me a glass. I take one whiff and hand the glass back to him. He smells it.

“Shit, you see!” The wine is corked. “You see! This is why I am switching to DIAM corks. I cannot believe this. What did I tell you!”

As we sip Rossidi Pinot Noir from a new bottle, forgetting about the corked bottle incident, I ask Eddie one last question.

Tasting wines on an ad hoc table—a shipping box from Diam, the infamous French cork manufacturer and technology company.

“For such a young winery, you and Peter have inspired many other Bulgarian winemakers and wineries,” he nods while swirling his glass. “Whether it’s going out on a limb by labeling Gewurztraminer for what it is, making orange wine, or maybe even using concrete eggs—for Bulgaria, you guys are an inspiration to experimentation—taking risks and trying something new.” Evidence to this is the fact there are more than a half dozen Bulgarian wineries now producing an orange wine, and a bunch label Gewurztraminer and dozens have unique label designs for different varietals or blends.

“How does it feel to have inspired others to take chances and do their own experiments?”

“I guess it’s good,” he says while fidgeting with the corkscrew. “But it’s copy and paste; they just copy and paste. I guess I would like to see other winemakers come up with their own experiments, try something new.”

He has a point, but there’s no denying that here at Rossidi, this young winery and its passionate crew are prompting change and new thinking about Bulgarian wine—within and outside Bulgaria.

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