by Chen Hang, Marian Draganov
SOFIA, Oct. 3 (Xinhua) -- Wine production is a traditional occupation for people in Bulgaria since the time of the Thracians, some 5,000 years ago.
Encouraged by the ancient traditions, Bulgarian vintners are still among the best in the world, thanks to the perfect climate conditions and the latest technologies that they use.
"Bulgaria is one of the early wine producers in Europe, 1,000 years even before France. Given this history of wine, we should be proud," Petya Angelova, trade director at Villa Yustina boutique winery, said in a recent interview to Xinhua.
In 1978, Bulgaria was the fourth largest winemaker in the world, and the second largest exporter after France.
"According to Homer, the Thracians were the best winegrowers and winemakers in the world. Their wine was the most concentrated and intoxicating," Krassimira Kodukova, a winemaker at the same winery, added.
Kodukova said Thracians lifted the status of wine, and Dionysus, who was the king of wine and merriment, was evidence of this.
She said that since Thracian times, people in the Bulgarian lands had been celebrating on Feb. 14 Tryphon Zarezan, the feast of winegrowers and winemakers.
Unofficially, each winery and each winegrower celebrates the beginning of the grape harvest campaign, the end of the grape harvest campaign, and also the feast of young wine, Kodukova said.
Kazanlak, the center of the Rose Valley, celebrates a feast of rose wine with various tasting events and contests, she added.
Each of these holidays contains specific rituals in addition to lots of dancing, fun, wine, and appetizers. For example, during Tryphon Zarezan, a priest blesses the vineyard for fertility, and vines are pruned and sprinkled with holy water and wine.
As for the celebration of the beginning of the grape harvest, the culmination of the ceremony comes when a young man puts a barefoot girl into a barrel with grapes, and she crushes the fruit inside.
Since ancient times, the fertile soil, temperate continental climate and equitable distribution of rainfall enabled the people in this region to grow dozens of grape varieties. "Among the typically local varieties are Mavrud, Rubin and Gamza," Angelova said.
Kodukova added that local varieties that are grown only in Bulgaria make the wine of this Balkan country somewhat unique and are highly appreciated by foreigners.
"Each wine has its characteristic and what our varieties give is something unknown," Kodukova said. Many are used to traditional European varieties such as Merlot, Cabernet, Syrah and Chardonnay, but only in Bulgaria can one try local varieties, which makes the country attractive to them, she said.
Kodukova showed Xinhua a bottle of wine that was 100 percent Bulgarian, a blend of the two local grape varieties Mavrud and Rubin.
She said that the wine had a unique flavor of red berries, somewhat mint-like, with good tannic structure, with lots of density in the mouth, pleasant sweetness in the taste of vanilla, while aging in oak barrels gives it flavor of chocolate and coffee.
However, Kodukova said that market demand forced Bulgarian winemakers to plant European grape varieties suitable for growing in the country, and use modern European techniques and technologies for the production of grapes and wine.