Bulgaria has a rich past in viticulture, given its strategic location in the region. Bulgaria, nestled in Southeastern Europe, between Greece and Turkey to the south, Romania to the north, Serbia and Macedonia to the west and the Black Sea to the east, is an emerging wine region with a rich history and a promising future. Known for its diverse terroir, ancient winemaking traditions, and an array of indigenous grape varieties, Bulgaria has been gaining recognition in the global wine landscape.
The Bulgarian wine region benefits from a combination of favourable natural factors. Its varied topography encompasses picturesque valleys, rolling hills, and mountainous ranges, creating diverse microclimates. These microclimates, influenced by the Black Sea to the east, provide unique conditions for grape cultivation. The climate is generally continental, with hot summers and cold winters, but regional variations add complexity and distinctiveness to the wines.
Bulgaria boasts a rich winemaking heritage dating back thousands of years, with evidence of viticulture and wine production during the Thracian and Roman periods. This historical legacy has laid the foundation for the country's modern winemaking practices. Today, a blend of traditional and modern techniques is employed to produce wines that embody Bulgaria's unique identity.
The region showcases an impressive range of indigenous grape varieties. Notable examples include the robust red grape Mavrud, which produces deeply coloured, full-bodied wines with rich fruit flavours and velvety tannins. The white grape variety, Melnik, thrives in the warm, sandy soils of the Melnik region, yielding aromatic and vibrant wines with a distinct mineral character. Other indigenous grapes such as Gamza, Pamid, and Dimyat contribute to the diversity and authenticity of Bulgarian wines.
100 years ago, the country’s bourgeoisie was educated in France. Not surprisingly, some of the most cultivated grape varieties are international ones of French origin, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc, reflecting the region's adaptability and its winemakers' pursuit of excellence.
Bulgaria was one of the most important wine producers 100years ago. Nationalism and communism, in the period of 1944 to 1989, nearly destroyed the wine industry shifting the export focus from Western Europe to the countries in the communist block.
The wine industry in Bulgaria has been steadily rebirthing. The vineyard holdings are very small, but it is fairly common to find vineyards that are 50+ years old. After 1989, 50% of the country’s population emigrated to other countries, comprised primarily of people in their prime working years. As a result, the majority of the villages have been almost completely drained of people and with it the ability to work the vineyards. Many of the vineyards sit abandoned. Machinery is costly to acquire.
The Bulgarian wine industry has undergone significant modernization and quality improvement in recent years. Producers have invested in state-of-the-art technology, cellar practices, and vineyard management techniques to elevate the overall quality of their wines. The focus on quality is evident in the increasing number of award-winning wines and the growing reputation of Bulgarian wines on the international stage.
In 2022, it had 257 wineries, representing a count increase of 4.5% compared to 2021. Much of this increase can be explained by hobby productions. Another interesting fact is that, according to Statista, in 2018 the country had a wine production of 1.1 million hectolitres. The followin years, production volume declined from 78.1 million litres to 66.6million litres, but it is expected to rebound to 73.4 million litres in 2023.
Visiting Bulgaria as a wine enthusiast offers a unique experience. Many wineries welcome visitors with open arms, offering guided tours, tastings, and the chance to explore vineyards set against breathtaking landscapes. Wine tourism is an emerging trend in the region, providing an opportunity to immerse oneself in the cultural and historical aspects of winemaking while savouring the diverse range of wines.
In summary, Bulgaria's wine region presents a compelling blend of history, unique terroir, and passionate winemakers. With a commitment to quality and an abundance of indigenous grape varieties, Bulgaria is carving its niche in the global wine scene, inviting wine lovers to discover the hidden gems of its vineyards and experience the country's distinctive flavours and winemaking heritage.
In Bulgaria, several red and white grape varieties are cultivated, reflecting the country's diverse viticultural landscape. The most planted red and white grape varieties in Bulgaria are as follows:
These are some of the most commonly planted red and white grape varieties in Bulgaria. However, it's worth noting that there are many other indigenous and international grape varieties cultivated in the country, adding to the diversity and richness of Bulgarian wines.
In Bulgaria, you can find wines of surprisingly high quality. Bulgaria produces a diverse range of wines, offering a wide selection of styles and varietals.
Red Wines: Bulgaria is renowned for its red wines, which often display rich flavors, robust structures, and aging potential. Some popular red wine types include:
White Wines: Bulgarian white wines showcase a range of styles, from crisp and refreshing to aromatic and complex. Some popular white wine types include:
Rosé Wines: Rosé wines have been gaining popularity in Bulgaria, offering a delightful range of styles from dry and crisp to slightly off-dry. Rosé wines are produced from various red grape varieties, including Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and local varieties like Mavrud and Gamza.
Sparkling Wines: Bulgaria also produces sparkling wines, including traditional method sparkling wines (similar to Champagne) and Charmat method sparkling wines. These sparkling wines are made from various grape varieties, including Chardonnay, Muscat, and local varieties.
Dessert Wines: Bulgaria is known for its sweet and fortified wines, particularly from the region of Melnik. The famous Melnik wines are made from the late-harvested broadleaf Melnik grape variety and offer rich flavors and complexity.
Bulgaria's wine industry has been steadily growing in recent years, but there is still significant room for improvement. Recognizing the need to enhance the value of Bulgarian wine in the international market, the Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Yavor Gechev, introduced a comprehensive project in 2021 aimed at developing Bulgarian viticulture from 2022 to 2027. The project focuses on several aspects related to sustainability in the wine industry:
Through the integration of sustainability measures, the Bulgarian government seeks not only to increase the value of Bulgarian wine in foreign markets but also to demonstrate its commitment to environmental stewardship and responsible agricultural practices. By optimizing energy usage, implementing energy efficiency assessments, promoting water conservation and waste management, and encouraging organic agriculture, Bulgaria's wine industry is poised to become more sustainable, competitive, and attractive to both domestic and international consumers.
The history of viticulture in Bulgaria began even before the formation of the country itself. The first records date back to more than 5000 years ago, when what we know today as Bulgaria was inhabited by Thracian winegrowers considered to be the first great winegrowers in Europe. From them, Bulgaria inherited a great winemaking tradition, which is strongly reflected in its culture. Interesting fact, the oldest gold treasure in the world was discovered in Bulgaria and is housed in the Varna archaeological museum.
Viticulture has developed in different ways throughout the history of Bulgaria, with many ups and downs. For example, one of the strongest moments of viticulture was after the arrival of the Romans to the Peninsula, who brought with them new cultivation techniques and grape varieties. However, after the fall of the Roman Empire, viticulture declined sharply, mainly due to the serious damage suffered by a large part of the vineyards.
Another key historical moment for Bulgarian viticulture was the First Bulgarian Kingdom. There, viticulture gained great popularity and flourished in such a way that Chan Krum, who at that time reigned in Bulgaria, passed a law to destroy the vines in the country.
Later in time, after the fall of the Bulgarian kingdom and under the rule of the Ottoman Empire between the 15th and 19th centuries, viticulture had some development, although not as great as in previous times. To recover part of that wine tradition it was necessary to wait until the 18th century, when a greater demand for quality Bulgarian wines began to emerge.
In 1878 Bulgaria was finally liberated from the Ottoman Empire, thanks to the Treaty of San Stefano. From that moment on, viticulture in Bulgaria rebounded considerably, but only for a short time: in 1884 phylloxera, which had already attacked other countries such as France, reached the Bulgarian vineyards, causing great losses. However, the quick action of the Bulgarian government, by contacting the French expert Pierre Viala, made it possible to mitigate the damage a little. Of course, from that moment on, nothing would be the same as before, since a large part of Bulgaria's traditional vineyards were lost. In their place, American varieties, more resistant to phylloxera, began to be planted in 1906, after the creation of the Pleven Institute in 1902.
To reach the moment of maximum development of the Bulgarian viticulture it was necessary to wait until the 1920s and 1930s, when cooperativism became a fundamental part of the Bulgarian wine industry. Some of the most important cooperatives were Lovech, Suhindol, Melnik, Plovdiv-Pazardjik, Chirpan, Pleven and Sliven.
However, in 1944 the socialist revolution changed the course of Bulgarian wine production again, through nationalization. During the period of the socialist regime in Bulgaria, a large number of international grape varieties were introduced, such as Rkatsiteli, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. However, the commercialization of Bulgarian wines was also limited at the beginning, which was allowed only to the Eastern bloc of the Economic Association Union. Already in the 1960s and 1970s, red grape varietals began to be mass-produced and entered the international market.
The year 1989 brought another big change for Bulgarian viticulture, due to the fall of the socialist regime. This brought, among other things, the privatization of Bulgaria's wineries and a huge increase in demand for the raw material for wine production, which caused prices to skyrocket. However, by the 2000s, Bulgaria joined programs such as SAPARD (Special Accession Program for Agriculture and Rural Development) and PHARE. This encouraged many foreign investors to have their own winery in Bulgaria, which led to the emergence of new, mainly small and medium-sized enterprises in the wine-growing regions.
Today, Bulgaria is recognized as an emerging wine region, offering a diverse range of wines that reflect the country's unique terroir and winemaking heritage. Bulgarian wines have gained international acclaim, winning awards and attracting attention from wine enthusiasts around the world.
The history of Bulgarian wine is a testament to the country's enduring winemaking tradition, the influence of various civilizations, and the resilience and innovation of its winemakers throughout the ages.