A Labor of Love
Fortunate are those that undertake a labor of love. Petar Kirilov, founder and winemaker of Kukeri Wines, is one of the hard-working ones to which this biblical passage applies. Focusing on small lots of quality Napa Cabernets and a few Pinot Noirs from Sonoma County, he suggests, “It’s definitely a labor of love and care.”
During his interview with Napa Valley Life, Petar was preparing to visit Bulgaria, the place where he got his small town winemaking start. Back in the homeland, Petar recalls, each family made wine for personal consumption, and they still do. All-natural, hand-picked, and hand-crushed in time-honored fashion, Petar’s curiosity was piqued by the quality of wines, which significantly differed year to year. By the time he arrived in Napa for an internship at Truchard Vineyards nearly two decades ago, Petar was able to pack his master’s degree in winemaking along with this lifelong curiosity.
Following 10 years of hands-on research, this labor of love bore fruit–literally. The Kukeri brand is described as “Unique wines created through passion, dedication, and long hours.” Under Petar Kirilov’s guidance and care, the result is a small production of high-quality, single-vineyard wines, typically around 2,000 cases annually.
The brand’s Bulgarian origins are in an ancient pagan festival dating to the 5th century BC, a tradition during the extensive period when Thracians inhabited the Balkans. To mark the start of a new year, participants donned ceremonial garb, conducting rituals meant to ward off evil spirits. To this day, respect for mystical symbolism representing the cycle of life, death, and rebirth continues as a festival featuring Dionysus, the Greek god of wine. As a tribute, Kukeri wine labels are illustrated with a fearsome-looking mask sporting horns, the type of animal headdress worn by the Thracians long ago.
Petar Kirilov is humbly proud of the prestigious awards brought home by bottles of Kukeri Wines. Last year, 2017 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon and 2017 Petaluma Gap Lakeville Vineyard Pinot Noir won gold medals from the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. This year, in the over $90 category, 2017 Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon earned gold. Kukeri had four winners at the Press Democrat North Coast Wine Challenge, double gold for 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley and 2019 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley. In June, another gold medal was awarded by the 2021 Sunset International Wine Competition for the 2017 Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon.
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