Bulgarian Tradition Meets California Grapes
In the small Bulgarian town where Petar Kirilov was born and raised, every household made 30 to 50 gallons of wine for drinking through the winter—and generally, like Petar’s father, they still do. Of course, the grapes were picked by hand and crushed by hand. There were no additives; everything was all-natural, and yet, Petar noticed some years the wine was better than others. He wondered why.
This observation sparked curiosity in Petar that led him to University of Food Technologies in his home country, on to gain a master’s in winemaking, and an internship that brought him to Truchard Vineyards in Napa Valley 17 years ago. He pursued his craft through ten additional years of research and development, and winemaking. In 2013, Petar decided to launch his own brand, Kukeri Wines, focusing on small lots of quality Napa Cabernets and a few Pinot Noirs from Sonoma County. He freely admits, “It’s a labor of love and care.”
Petar Kirilov is partial to mountain appellations. “There’s a concentration in the small berry fruit that’s tighter, more intense, and concentrated on flavors. As soon as you crush the grapes, you can see the color oozing out; it’s almost black. You taste the tannins in the juice right away.” He adds, “Mount Veeder vines must pull harder, go deeper and deeper, hungry for water, which makes the Cabernets so big and bold, that will need two to three years to mature and prepared for bottling. Also, Petar noted, he feels such wines age better. “They will reach their prime in 10 to 15 years.”
For his brand, Kukeri pays tribute to an ancient Bulgarian pagan festival, dating back some 8,000 years to the ancient Thracians. Held shortly after the start of the new year, to this day the event is known for elegant costumes and traditional rituals intended to scare off evil spirits. Among the celebratory festival characters is Dionysus the Greek god of wine.
Petar said he was attracted to the Kukeri festival and its name for his wines because “I wanted something tied to where I come from and who I am.”
The focus is on very small production, just 2,000 cases a year, which are available in a handful of places including Sonoma Wine & Cheese, and in San Francisco, at Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant, Boulibar Restaurant, and Mission Bay Wine & Cheese. “The next step,” he said, “is to find a place for a small tasting room, maybe in the city.”
It will be a much-anticipated development noting that the 2017 Kukeri Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon and 2017 Kukeri Petaluma Gap Lakeville Vineyard Pinot Noir won gold medals from the 2020 San Francisco International Wine Competition. The recognition was not a fluke—the hard work has paid off, and Petar Kirilov has built up quite an impressive collection of gold and double gold wins in a few short years.
“We bring the history and culture from my small town in Bulgaria to California, where we work with quality grapes to make Kukeri the very best small-lot wine we can,” Petar Kirilov said.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Kukeri Wines // 1446 Industrial Ave., Sebastopol, CA 95407 // 707-490-2067 // Kukeriwines.com
Article By: Laurie Jo Miller Farr