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Posted: Tuesday, September 18 2007. 1:00 PM

Wine Feature: Bulgarian Wines at a glance

Communist government nationalized wine production:

With the advent of the Communist government in 1944 the vineyards and wine production units were nationalised. The small plots of land, which characterized the wine industry before the World War II, were nationalized and incorporated into large, co-operatively managed vineyards. The process of collectivisation led to incorporation of a large number of plots and the vineyards belonging to individuals were reduced from 84 000 ha in 1939 to just 2 200 ha in 1959.

Indigenous grape varieties such as Mavrud, Melnik, Pamid and Gamza increasingly gave way to 'international' varieties, such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay in an attempt to move with the rest of the winemaking world. Parallel with the advances in agriculture, construction of large wineries commenced. The wine industry was heavily export oriented and in the 1980-s exports were in the 160-210 million liters range. Main trading partners were fellow Eastern European countries, but in the second half of that decade Western Europe started to gain in importance and share over the Eastern markets.

New era of Bulgarian wines with modern attitude:

With the political and economic changes starting from November 1989, the alcohol monopolies on production, domestic and international trade in Bulgaria were dismantled to create the grounding for the development of the private sector. The vineyards were returned to their original owners, wineries and the trade were also privatized. Currently the wine industry is 100% privately managed.

The wine industry has gone through very challenging times with fragmentation of vineyards and grape supply problems. On the side of wineries, they had to modernise production, re-define their marketing strategies, secure cash flow and markets. These problems persisted through the 1990s. While the Bulgarian wine industry was heavily criticised by international and local wine professionals for the discrepancy in investment in vineyards and processing units (with the latter attracting the lion's share of private money), things look quite different now.

EU funds and private investment from wineries and agricultural companies have secured more than €100 million for the past four years, which resources were invested in vineyards. Currently there are 149 registered wine producers but the number of wineries is steadily going up with medium-sized and 'boutique' ones being en vogue. Staff training is also a priority and the know-how is sourced both from international consultants (David Wollan from Australia, Michel Roland and Stéphane Derenoncourt from France are few of the names) and local winemakers, which acquire hands-on experience, mainly in New World wineries.

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