Royal Legends from the Elena Balkan

The late tragic days of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom have given birth to a plenty of legends which still persist. One of them tells the story of the beautiful Kera Tamara – the sister of the Bulgarian King Ivan Shishman – who’s been familiarly called by the people Mara. As fate has decreed it hard she was obliged to marry the Turkish Sultan Murad in order to preserve the independence of the Bulgarian Kingdom. On the road to Bursa, where was the throne of Murad, Kera Tamara passed through a small village at the feet of the Stara Planina mountain. There she and her entourage stopped to spend the night in the nearby monastery Transfiguration of Jesus. The princess took her time in the holy place spending in prayers her last hours in the homeland. When the farewell time finally came she gave donations to the monastery and asked the people to change the name of the village to her name so that it could last in the future.

Ever since the pretty small village in the Elena Balkan (part of the Stara Planina mountain) bears the name Maryan after one of the last Bulgarian princesses – Kera Tamara.

 

Most of us would probably say that such beautiful stories are impossible nowadays. The spouses Svetla and Iliya Ivanov however find a source of inspiration and additional stimulus in the old legends from the kingly Elena Balkan for creating their own wine fairy-tale right here in the village of Maryan. Jurists by profession, both of them have enjoyed the good company and the good wines for many years. Svetla’s mother had been born in Maryan and the old parent’s house there lodges each summer the family and their friends. One of them is Stefan Choranov – an agronomist and vintner – who catalyses the idea of making a winery in Maryan. Now that the winery is a fact it carries the name of the village.

“We started with some preparatory work by touring around a decent number of wine cellars – mostly in Europe, while also in Bulgaria”, says Iliya Ivanov. What the couple clearly understood is that they should not aim at large quantities but rather should be producing limited series of quality wines. Thus, their winery now has a capacity of only 50 000 bottles per year. The winemaking equipment is also tailored specifically to the Maryan Winery needs and in compliance with the classical technology for producing red and white wines.

 

The winery does not possess own vineyards and obtains the grapes from a place in South Bulgaria, nearby the town of Nova Zagora. As Svetla Ivanova explains, she and her husband have found an owner of a 16 hectares vineyard who has agreed to follow all of their requirements such as how much should be the harvest, when and how the vines should be cut, when the grape-gathering should begin, and so on.

 

But why they didn’t build their winery closer to the vineyard? Iliya Ivanov answers that it’s all about the climate balance in the Elena Balkan which is very suitable for making of unique wines. He explains that after the Transfiguration celebration day the nights here become colder while the days are still warm which gives a good energy and influences favorably the fermentation. The constant temperatures in the winter and in the spring are providing excellent conditions for ageing of the wine. Iliya tells that the producing of wine had made the living of the wealthier men in the town of Elena during the years of the Bulgarian Renaissance (18th – 19th century).

 

When it comes to the wines both Iliya and Svetla worship the French style. Refracted through the Bulgarian terroir the French connection is clearly evident in the varietal Sauvignon Blanc which is very much similar to the Sauvignons from the Loire Valley, as well as in the other white wine of the cellar made from Chardonnay. The latter has a much more intensive flavor, greater alcohol content, while the 6-month contact with the oak barrels has given it a distinct nobility and finesse.

 

The red wines of Maryan are only blends in which the qualities of each included variety are gently highlighted while keeping the combination well balanced. The wines age from 6 to 12 months in oak barrels and after that are being bottled.

 

“The cherry on the cake” is definitely the rosé which combines Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. This wine won last year the first prestigious prize for the winery at the Balkans International Wine Competition in Sofia – a silver medal.

Taking the best of the traditions and legends, Iliya and Svetla are making use of a “king’s line” for the brands of their wines. Thus, the white wines carry the name of Kera Tamara and are very impressive with their fine taste as well as with their elegant labels. The rosé on its own is named Sense of Tears as a tribute to the sad tears that the princess cried along her way to Bursa. The red blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon carries the name of the aunt of Kera Tamara – the Queen Elena – who got married to the Serbian King Stefan Dušan. Soon a new red blend combining Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc will be launched by the winery under the brand Ivan Alexander after the name of the father of Princess Kera Tamara - the Bulgarian King Ivan-Alexander.

 

The wines of Maryan Winery are in limited series and some of their experiments even don’t reach the market. That’s why the most secure way to taste everything is to visit the winery and its hospitable owners. There the tourists will have the opportunity to try all of the wonderful wines of the cellar as well as the other local pride – the famous dry pork leg of Elena. While the winery does not have yet accommodation facilities, there are plenty of other options to arrange a stay in the village, assert Svetla and Iliya Ivanov.

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