Bulgaria lies at the crossroads of Europe and Asia and thus, it has attracted both settlers and visitors from other nations. The result, however, is a rich blend of influences and the fortuitous introduction of the vine.
Excavations of Thracian settlements show grape seeds and berries dating back to 6000 years BC. Thus, the grape has always been an integrated feature in the culture of Bulgaria. As a result, numerous festivals centred around the vine are celebrated throughout the year. The most important is the pagan Trifon Zarezan, Vine Grower's Day, celebrated on 14-th February when the villagers go to the vineyards to pour wine on the roots of the vines to encourage a bountiful vintage.
The Bulgarian wine industry was structured in its present form at the turn of the century with the nationalization of the co-operatives after the Second World War and the majority of the investment being injected during the late 1960's - early 1970's. However, the fall of communism in 1989, represented the moment of great changes for the Bulgarian wine industry. The process of privatization began in earnest. Over the next few years many wineries were privatized and investment in new equipment and the use of new American and French oak barriques, as well as the traditional Bulgarian oak barrels have contributed immensely to emerging styles of high quality wines.
The success of Bulgarian Cabernet Sauvignon, and of its other international grape varieties, which were widely planted in the 60`s - such as Merlot - has tended to obscure Bulgaria's indigenous varieties. Of this the most overlooked are: Gamza - planted mainly in the warm soils of the Danubian plain in the North of the country; Melnik - found only around the town of that name close to the Greek border and Mavrud.
Often a country's most planted variety is its workhorse, and Bulgaria's Pamid is no exception. More promising is Rubin, a crossing of Nebbiolo and Syrah developed in 1962 in Perushtitza. It is planted in patches north and south of the Balkan range which divides the country, but seems most at home in the south, in Perushtitza and Sliven.
Bulgaria's white varieties are less well-known than their dark skinned counter-parts, partly because until fairly recently many of them were put to use producing brandies and other spirits for mass consumption in the ex. Soviet Union. Bulgaria's most widely planted fair skinned grape variety is Dimiat, planted around Chirpan and Haskovo in the south and Varna and Shumen in the east. Another variety popular is Misket. A variety found not just in Bulgaria, but all over Eastern Europe, is the Rkatsiteli. Bulgaria's international fair skinned varieties revote around Chardonnay. The aromatic varieties, such as Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Traminer and Muscat (Ottonel), often seem to play supporting roles - as 10 to 20 % of a blend - rather than appearing as bottlings on their own.
The production and trade of wine, alcohol and alcoholic beverages in Bulgaria, as well as the control, are currently regulated by a number of laws and regulations. The most important of them are the new Law on Wine and Spirits (State Gazette, 86/October 1999), which was implemented with the assistance of the French government and the Bulgarian Association of Wine Producers and Merchants, and the recently issued practical application of the Wine Law (State Gazette, 31 April 2000).
The new law, as well as the sixteen regulations issued in addition are aimed to approximate Bulgarian legislation on wine production to the standards and provisions of the EU legislation.
In accordance with the 1996 contract between the Bulgarian government and the UNDP the country is divided into five viticultural regions:
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