April 24: H.E. Madam Eleonora Dimitrova, the Ambassador of Bulgaria inaugurated the first wine conference of its kind in India themed ‘The Game Changer’ at the India Wine Summit 2019 at Pullman New Delhi Aerocity last Sunday afternoon when she recommended inclusion of Bulgarian wines in the imported wine portfolio in India, as she shared the history of thousands of years of making high quality wines with unique local grapes and encouraged tourism to her beautiful country, writes Subhash Arora, Chairman of the delWine Summit & Excellence Awards
‘One thing all of us here definitely have in common is our love for good wines. In my country, Bulgaria, we believe wine is never just wine; it comes always hand in hand with joy of life,’ said H.E. Madam Eleonora Dimitrova, the Ambassador of Bulgaria at the India Wine Summit 2019, as she struck a common cord with the thin audience which got bigger as she was speaking.
Conceding that Bulgarian wines might not be on top of the wine lists that come to your mind, she suggested that the situation might be changing. The question was “What will be the game changer?” she said. ‘Wine has been produced in our country for more than 5000 years, making Bulgaria one of the countries with the most ancient traditions of wine production, a tradition going back to the Tracian times when they had been one of the earliest known producers of wine in the world. They even had a God of Wine named Dionysius, and celebrated their festivals with plenty of wine.’
Celebrating Patron and Saint of Vineyards
For many centuries Bulgaria has had traditions of celebrating the patrons protecting their vineyards on February 14 for Saint Trifon Zarezan, the guardian of the vineyards and winemakers. But this day is celebrated nowadays in many countries in the world also as Valentine’s Day – a day of love. Today, a peculiar mixture of the two celebrations occurs in Bulgaria. Every year, from the beginning of February, a hot public dispute opposes the two holidays in Bulgaria. Arguments are in favor of making Bulgarians stick to their roots and traditions, on one hand and justifying the freedom of people to celebrate whichever occasion they want, on the other hand. As a result, February 14th always turns out to be a combination of the two and we Bulgarians celebrate both our love for our better halves and our love for wine. Which just proves that wine and love are a perfect combination, aren’t they’, she questioned.
By the way an interesting legend about Saint Trifon may actually be the missing link between Trifon Zarezan and Valentine’s Day. Once, Saint Trifon went to his vineyard to prune unwanted branches from the vines. He was focused on his work when a beautiful woman passed by. He was so fascinated by her beauty, that he cut his nose with the clippers accidentally. This is how he got his nickname Zarezan which in Bulgarian language means the truncated and the pruned.
As ambassador of Bulgaria, she went on to introduce the wine lovers in the audience to Bulgaria as a hidden treasure for excellent wines. There was a reason why Bulgaria had been a wine Mecca for thousands of years. ‘The location, between Europe and Asia, nestled between Greece, Turkey, Macedonia, Romania and Serbia, has just the right conditions for growing grapes. Our beautiful country is blessed with lovely four seasons throughout the year and fertile soils.’
Once upon a time Bulgaria was one of the top wine producers in the world. Then in the late 1980's, things changed. Wine production dropped after the fall of communism, making Bulgarian wines difficult to find. But eventually, after some hard times restructuring our wine industry in 1990s, Bulgarian wine began to regain its foothold. Starting around 2001 many new vineyards were planted with modern winemaking facilities introduced in both the new and existing wineries.
‘Today Bulgaria is turning out some amazing red, white and rose and sparkling wines. Although Bulgaria currently ranks around #20 in world wine production--well behind the big 3 (France, Italy and Spain), its rise has been meteoric--especially in the last few years. Smaller in size than many of the countries in Europe,‘we have five main wine producing regions and 47 sub-regions, each of them producing plenty of grape varieties and excellent wines. Among them we have the ancient Mavrud grape variety, which grows only in Bulgaria and nowhere else in the world. The red Mavrud wine of Bulgaria is recognized worldwide. Our Pamid, Gumza, Dimyat, Rubin, Cherven Misket, Shiroka Melnishka grape varieties are also unique,’ she said.
‘Today we have more than 220 boutique wineries in our country. Many of them are part of 12 wine tourist routes that you can explore in Bulgaria. They produce wine of exceptional quality and offer exquisite wine tours for the visitors from all over the world, receiving their guests with utmost hospitality. It is interesting to know that blending uniqueness and traditions, Bulgarian wines won more than 200 gold medals worldwide in 2018 alone. At the 23rd edition of the well known world wine competition Concours Mondial de Bruxelles held in Plovdiv (incidentally, I have been judging at this competition for over 10 years and was present at that tasting also-editor), Bulgarian wines won 109 medals: almost half of these were Gold.’
‘It is thus no surprise that more than half of the 110 million liters wine, produced in Bulgaria in 2018, was exported to countries as Poland, Sweden, UK and even long howl markets as Russia, Australia and even China and Japan. I am sure India will be the next destination for the ancient and contemporary Bulgarian wine. The “elixir of Gods”, as Tracian, used to call it, is not something to be missed.
Wine and other Tourism
Tourism and wine industries are going together and tourism industry is one of the priority sectors for the Bulgarian economy. It is situated in the South-Eastern part of Europe, at the Balkan Peninsula with an outlet on the Black Sea and the Danube River. With a population of only 7 million, Bulgaria is probably one third of India’s densely populated cities of Delhi and Mumbai by number of its citizens. But as tiny as it is, Bulgaria yearly attracts many more international tourists arriving than its total population and almost the same number as in India (9-10 million foreign tourists per year).
Bulgaria is already a popular tourist destination for its seaside and winter tourism. With its favorable climate conditions offering not only 4 seasons but a rich natural diversity, Bulgaria offers unique opportunities for development of specialized tourism products like wellness and thermal spa and medical tourism, eco and adventurous tourism, MICE tourism, wine and gourmet tourism, cultural and heritage tourism, golf tourism and many more.
The golfer friends might be surprised to know that the India ace gofer Shiv Kapur has been successfully organizing Shiv Kapur Golf Tournament in Bulgaria for the last 5 years. About 30 famous Indian golf players, including him, will take part in the 5th Anniversary edition of the tournament on 4-9 June 2019 in Bulgaria.
Bollywood has also discovered Bulgaria. The beauty of our country was captured in the famous Bollywood movies Dilwale, Shivaay Bahubali and Brahmastra etc. Bollywood’s biggest stars as Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol and Ajay Devgana already spent a good amount of time filming in Bulgaria. I am very sure they discovered our excellent wines too along with our delicious kitchen and friendly people.
‘The number of Indian tourist has been growing by 25-30% every year and we expect many more to visit Bulgaria. I am confident that youth want to visit Bulgaria and explore the natural beauty of my country and the wonderful Bulgarian wines’, she said, but warning with a light-hearted comment, “You can’t help falling in love with Bulgaria at first sight”!
She concluded with a doubt if her talk would be a game changer but she did give food for thoughts on Wines of Bulgaria. They could be trending and become a worth-try wines for Indian connoisseurs.
While thanking Her Excellency for an excellent talk followed by a short film on Bulgaria, that captures in essence the beauty of Bulgaria in various facets.
For earlier related Articles including the ones connected with the Masterclass I conducted at the Bulgarian Embassy, please visit:
CMB 2016: Bit of Bordeaux in Bessa Bulgaria
Bulgarian Wines and the Evening Impress Delhi
Feature: Look Out for Bulgarian Wines
Wine Feature: Bulgarian Wines at a glance