"To buy, or not to buy: that's not the question. A question is: Which one to buy? It is easy to become a victim of the wine fashion and blindly follow the old-fashioned trends of buying only the wines that are known for centuries. Open your eyes, nose, mouth, and give a chance to Bulgarian wines. These aren't the wines your grandmother used to know and not the wines from the Soviet times. It's the wines from XXI century. But which wine to taste? Which wine to buy? A couple behind Apollowine.com - one of the leading online shops in Bulgaria know it from their own experience. Due to the significant investment of Apollowine into the development of the Bulgarian Wine & Spirits Industry, BulgarianWine.net chose them to be on the "wine list" of the project "The Most Influential People of the Bulgarian Wine Industry". The aim of the project is to discover the people behind wine glasses, behind wine bottles and wine brands. Wine lovers crave the stories and want to know more. A lovely couple behind Apollowine has shared their story: welcome Donka Kosturska-Nikolova (Doni) and Dimitar Nikolov (Mitko).
1. When did your wine journey begin?
Doni: If I say that I was born and raised with wine, it would sound like a cliche. Nevertheless, still true, because I was born and raised in a wine region (Blagoevgrad, Struma Valley, and Melnik subregion). Back then, I didn’t have any interest in wine, just having it around me and being involved in the whole process of making wine (from the vines to the wine). But still I think that the real wine journey began in 2004 -2005 when I and Dimitar were in Chicago, the USA. He was working in one of the biggest hotels and had a chance to taste many of the icon wines. Back then I was pregnant with our daughter and was not working but often visited Dimitar while he was working in the restaurant. He was secretly pouring me interesting wines in a plastic cup (in the States drinking alcohol is prohibited for pregnant). Then in 2011 when living in Moscow as expats we decided to start our own family project: online wine store with initial idea to keep Bulgarians living abroad informed about the newest, the finest and rarerst Bulgarian wines and give them opportunity to enjoy it wherever they are> And so the story keeps going on...with quite an interesting scenario.
Mitko: Since I was born and raised in Gabrovo where no grapes are grown or at least not everywhere in this area and was introduced to wine at the very late stage. I was living and working in Chicago. The hotel I worked had a premium location and filled with premium wines. I thought I knew it all about wine back then. But one day I tasted a red Burgundy. Do not remember the producer and the vintage, but this Pinot Noir was magical. The year was 2004.
2. What has provoked or motivated you to connect your life with wine?
Doni: The act of drinking wine, the stories behind so many bottles, people, terroirs and its impact on the social communication between people. The wine made me read and at the same time travel more, exploring and discovering so many interesting not only wine-y things:) I love traveling ( I am Sagittarius by star sign:) and exploring so wine helps me use the energy I have.
Mitko: The ever-changing world of wine, the vastness of the subject, the myriad of grape varieties, the possibility to navigate the geography of a country by it grape growing regions instead of major cities, the busyness of wine and the privilege of tasting very fine wines, the traveling, the people.
3. What is the most challenging part about being in wine business?
Doni: The most challenging part is a constant need of learning, studying, exploring the wine and its endless world. I found communication within the Bulgarian wine industry quite challenging (Bulgaria is one of the oldest wine producing countries but its wine “culture” is still developing).
Mitko: I love everything about the wine business, the challenges are parts of fun.
4. What do you find the most rewarding about being in wine business?
Doni: Probably is the positive feedback we receive on a daily basis about the complex work we’ve done. With just 3 clicks people are happier and enjoying our selection of Bulgarian wines. Nevertheless, we have a lot work to do...and it’s going to be a very long way but I love traveling!
Mitko: Every day I learn something new.
5. Which one of the wine regions of Bulgaria would you recommend to explore and why?
Doni: I am from a wine region (Struma Valley, Melnik) and Dimitar is from the region where there neither vines are grown nor winemaking traditions are established...so I probably will be subjective but I would recommend the Struma Valley / Melnik region...because it combines everything: nature, people, stories to be discovered and perspectives for a bright wine future. And I think that Melnik will also be Mitko’s recommendation...
Mitko: Well, I do like the Struma Valley, but I believe it still needs a lot of work and time till we will receive the outstanding wines from there. There are sub-regions in the Thracian Valley that impress me. Few of these are Yakata near Pazardjik, Panagurishte and the nearby villages, Harmanly and the nearby villages, old vineyards around Chirpan, Nova Zagora and the vicinity where you can find Korten vineyards and many old vineyards from the other villages. Stara Zagora and the nearby villages with the great wines coming from the wineries. So, broadly speaking it is the Thracian Valley that I am most fond of but the terroir matters in this vast region.
6. If you have to recommend only one Bulgarian winery to visit, which would that be? Why?
Doni: If I have to recommend just one Bulgarian winery I will feel guilty because a recommendation depends on many factors: according to your experience and your need to enrich it. In the small family owned wineries service and personal attitude is the most important. There you can feel like a member of the family. In the big, most innovative wine complexes and with huge investments you can experience different things.
Mitko: I would love to make you a list of wineries you definitely need to visit while in Bulgaria.
7. Favourite combo (place+food+wine+with (person))
Doni: A place where you can be active and relax at the same time. I and Mitko love to run, to do all kinds of sport...so it must be a combination of hilly terroir with a swimming pool, a good restaurant, and our kids. In Bulgaria, Pirin and Rila offer so many places with the perfect combination. Melnik is a great option for all-year-around visits with the diversity of local food, climate, and terroir that offers warm and mild winter, hot in the lowlands and cool in the mountain during the summer. And Blagoevgrad (my home town) perfectly combines everything and every time I am there!
Mitko: We recently have visited one magical place in Bulgaria - Zornitsa Family Estate, near the town of Melnik. It is a luxury resort where the restaurant, the wine list, staff and the entire surrounding ambiance of nature create a perfect balance. It is the place with hot mineral water spring, golf course, and a small number of luxury apartments overlooking the mountains and vineyards.
8. What is your advice for starting wine entrepreneurs?
Doni: Study, learn, educate yourself and keep going...never stop reading and tasting different wines! And be patient, stay focused following your ideas.
Mitko: Educate yourself and use the knowledge to excel in customer service, be innovative in technology, yet remain bound to history, geography, and traditions. Concentrate on your goals and never let obstacles distract you. When talking about wine education, there is a great place to start is www.wsab.bg.
9. What are your wine goals in the next year or two?
Doni: Keep making Apollowine.com the most trusted online shop for Bulgarian wines by improving and implementing new advantages. Visit at least two - three new for me wine regions (I wish on different continents but will see), finally realize a new interesting &, of course, fun wine project (coming soon), continue our mission on being Bulgarian wine ambassadors and make more people drink Bulgarian wine...
Mitko: To stay focused.
10. Describe “Bulgarian wine” in three words / Bulgarian Wine is...
Doni: Powerful, promising, have-to-taste-it.
Mitko: The best wine in the world.
About Doni (Donka Kosturska-Nikolova): Doni was born in Blagoevgrad ( SouthWest Bulgaria) in a big and happy family and had the chance to live and travel all around the world following her love-of-the-life Mitko. They have lived in Chicago where their daughter Kalina was born and in Moscow where was born Apollowine.com. Donka is an energetic, determined, and passionate wine lover with solid knowledge of wine, who is eager to expand it through experience and education. She is also passionate about running, CrossFit, photography, and family!
About Mitko (Dimitar Nikolov): Dimitar has 14 years’ experience in the wine industry as a sommelier, wine buyer, wine judge, wine writer, and educator. Starting his career as a sommelier for a major hotel chain and at a restaurant in Chicago, Nikolov then returned to his native Bulgaria to work for Metro Cash & Carry, firstly as the wine buyer for Bulgaria, and then was promoted to category manager wine for Metro Cash & Carry’s entire Russian Federation operations, which motivated him to move to Russia. After five years with the company, Nikolov was appointed to a top management position at a wine importer specializing in Hungarian wines. Upon returning to Bulgaria, he created apollowine.com - an online wine shop where a fine selection of the best boutique wines from Bulgaria is offered. He holds qualifications from the ISG Chicago, the WSET advanced certificate, and he is currently studying for the WSET diploma. He is the co-founder of Wine and Spirits Academy Bulgaria (WSAB) located in Sofia, Bulgaria where he is teaching WSET courses. The latest role on his wine career saw him in charge of the export for the acclaimed Bessa Valley in Bulgaria and their brand Enira.
Apollowine is a professional, family-owned online wine shop with an extended Bulgarian wine selection. Both the selection and the owners' experience have quickly earned its recognition as a trusted place to shop for wine online. All wines come from small boutique wineries, with limited ranges tasted and carefully judged by the Apollowine Team, both of whom are WSET certified in London. Apollowine discovers and offers the best of Bulgarian wines to those who are eager to explore and have a passion for wine.
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