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Bulgary - ancient gods for modern wines
"We harvest around one hundred tonnes of grapes every year “, explains Tanya Avramova, that is 100,000 bottles every year, "and we could do a lot more". You cannot live from a small-scale operation here." That might sound a bit brisk for a vineyard that has been in business for five years and which does not have a large investor behind it. But it is not necessarily incorrect and describes the dichotomy of the situation that so many small winemaking operations have in Bulgaria.
"We still don't bottle everything though. There just isn't the market for it, explains the winemaker. Things are the same for her as they are for many private enterprises in the country. The hurdles attached with profitable marketing are high.
Tanya and her husband took over the vineyard in 2009. Her family has been making wine for generations. They were self-sufficient providers, like the majority in Bulgaria, and who do not come into question as customers as a result. So you see that there is no point in hoping to make a living selling in the region. You have to think a lot bigger. "Even as a small enterprise, explains Avramova, "you don't really have much choice but to look to export."
On the flip side, the growing conditions are good. The soils are made up of sand, clay, quartz and some lime provide promising conditions for cultivating vines, as do the climatic conditions. Bulgaria is roughly on the same latitude as Bordeaux. Rain falls mainly in spring and summer when the vines need it and the thermometer sometimes climbs up to the 40° Celsius mark. The autumn is dry. The days remain hot right into October and the nights are continental cold. But the winters are ice cold due to the influence of the Asian continent.
Besides the mountain regions such as Pirin and Rhodopen, low hills are the most common landscape features. Vines are not only cultivated on the slopes, but also in the river valleys. The sedimentary rock and the calcareous loess offer good bases. Calcareous loess and weathered clay soils are to be found on the slopes, while barren stony soils dominate on the highest lying surfaces.
Like a gleaming crystal in the twilight, Baigorri floats weightlessly in an endless sea of vines. Of course, the effect is calculated, and you go into raptures a little and think of space ships and science fiction films. However, inside the glass cube, the main building of Bodegas Baigorri, gravity plays a leading role. According to all the rules of modern science, the grapes and all subsequent products are moved exclusively with the help of gravity. From the delivery to the top floor to loading the filled bottles, seven floors below.
"The terroir can change dramatically here within just one to two hundred metres“, explains Goblets Dimyat. After his first retirement from sport, the former rugby player looked for a second challenge as a winemaker with his Villa Bassarea. One of his wines is called Bassareus. That is the Thracian name for Dionysus. That seems a bit far-fetched at first glance. A vineyard's history is something that a lot of winemakers in the world use as a decorative accessory in order to conjure up some romance with which to better sell their wines. Many boastfully point to the fact that the Romans and Greeks had already cultivated their wine here. However, it is actually not important for the self-image. In Bulgaria that is different.
The Thracians were the largest ethnic group in the region in ancient Greece and were leaders when it came to metalworking. The intricately decorated goblets and chalices made of gold, which have been found in burial mounds, is proof of this. They developed their wine culture 3,000 years ago in the area stretching from the Balkans to Asia Minor.
They did not write, but they depicted their cults and rituals on vases and paintings. They drank wine, danced and sang. Spartacus and the mystical poet Orpheus are supposed to have come from Thrace, as is the concept of Dionysus. The wine god's intoxication and party cult was one of the most popular in the ancient world and beyond. Even Friedrich Nietzsche saw the principle of human existence in the intoxication idea.
The Greeks, who cultivated a self-image in the ancient world which required little or no improvement, regarded the Thracians as being a bit rough around the edges and hard-drinkers. But even they could not help but be a little impressed by their neighbours. Their weapons and horses, "as fast as strong-blowing winds", were famous and already raved about by even the likes of Homer.
After battle, Greece's most influential poet observed that the warriors drank a heavy wine. And it was wine that they had made themselves.
Thracian wine would later become an export success thanks to the modern cultivation methods employed by the Romans and would be shipped as far as Egypt.
In 681, the Bulgarian state founded itself, and taverns started to be opened in the capital Preslaw. The houses of the ruling classes had well-filled wine cellars, and the many monasteries also produced quality wines.
The 500-years of Ottoman rule, which lasted up to 1878, meant that areas used to produce wines in Bulgaria literally lay idle. Bulgaria never again produced a wine with the reputation of a Tokaji or a Burgundy.
Bulgaria fought alongside the Axis powers during the Second World War. That did not make things any better. After 1945, the socialist monopoly characterised wine production, and they in particular strived for large volumes using industrial methods. Bulgaria rose to become the second largest wine producer in the world, and it supplied wine to the member states of the Warsaw pact in particular. Following the break-up of the military alliance in 1991, when almost everywhere in the world on that latitude good wines were being bottled using modern technology, Bulgaria was left with massive capacities and outdated Soviet machines. The majority of the export markets in the former sister states were weak. On the other hand, a global market opened up on which Bulgaria was pretty much unknown. The exports fell sharply from 85% down to 50%.
The dismantling of the old system saw large areas be divided up into small holdings and given to farmers who often had no interest or possibility of establishing themselves on the export market. A large number of vineyards remained fallow. Even today, investors still need to have a lot of patience, if they want to purchase blocks of land together. The EU agricultural development programme started to help alleviate the situation somewhat from 1999.