Bulgaria is one of the countries with the oldest winegrowing tradition in Europe. The origins on the territory of the present state, based on archaeological findings and handed down texts, suggest a beginning already 5,000 years ago. Thracian tribes north and south of the Balkan Mountains cultivated wild vines and practiced a strong cult in honour of the wine god Dionysus. The Thracians are credited with the cultivation of the oldest Bulgarian grape varieties or their ancestors such as Mavrud, Pamid, Dimyat, Melnik(Shiroka Melnishka) and Gamza(Kadarka). At the time of the Roman Empire, wine from Thrace was a sought-after export article to Greece, Sicily, Asia Minor (Anatolia, Turkey) and Egypt.
In the Middle Ages, viticulture reached a peak with the monasteries and their extensive vineyards. In 1393 the Bulgarian Empire was conquered by the Turks and remained under Islamic rule for almost 500 years until 1878. Only the production of table grapes was allowed. The ban on alcohol led to a strong threat to viticulture. The importance of viticulture was taken by the state is shown by the fact that immediately after the Ottoman rule in 1879, a wine law was passed before a constitution was passed. However, viticulture was not resumed on a larger scale until after the First World War and was carried out exclusively by small winegrowers with autochthonous varieties.
After the Second World War, during the years of socialism, wine production was gradually industrialised. A collective system was introduced, viticulture schools were founded and European grape varieties were planted. In the 1960s Bulgaria developed into an important wine exporting country. Until the 1960s, the largest quantities of wine were made from traditional varieties. Temperature controlled fermentation tanks were rather the exception. With the export-oriented wine industry, the share of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc varieties then increased. This, together with the introduction of a high rod training and more modern cellar technology, led to the great export successes. In 1970, the areas under vines for wine production covered around 150,000 hectares.
The political turnaround in 1989 led to a rethink. In 1990, the state monopoly on wine growing, VINPROM, was dissolved and most of the companies were privatised. This surprised the new owners, who often had no knowledge of viticulture at all. From 2000 onwards, however, things went uphill. Since then, the focus has been on quality, not quantity. Many family wineries were established. In addition, due to the excellent wine-growing conditions, many foreign investors came to Bulgaria. The accession to the EU in 2007 resulted in good sales prospects on the European market. The simultaneous loss of other markets (Russia, North Africa) reduced the need for lower quality wine.
There are the five wine-growing regions shown in colour on the map, which are divided into sub-regions. The climate and soil conditions offer excellent conditions for viticulture. The country is located in the centre of the Balkan Peninsula at the same latitudes as Tuscany in Italy and Bordeaux in France, between the temperate continental and Mediterranean climate belts. The various mountain formations such as Pirin, Rhodopes and above all the Balkan mountain range running east-west through the whole country protect the country from Aegean and Adriatic climatic influences. The humid Atlantic influences have the greatest role in determining the climate.
Dunavska Ravnina (Danube plain) - north
The gently hilly landscape between the Danube and the Balkan Mountains is crossed by many rivers. The vineyards cover about 15% of the total area. Important red wine varieties are Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Evmolpia, Gamay, Gamza (90% of the area of this variety), Merlot, Pamid, Pinot Noir and Syrah. Important white wine varieties are Aligoté, Chardonnay, Dymiat, Misket Vrachanski, Muscat Ottonel, Riesling, Rkatsiteli, Sauvignon Blanc and Tamianka (Muscat Blanc). Known growing areas are Biala, Dve Mogili, Lyaskovetz, Lom, Magura, Nikopol, Novo Selo, Orjahovo, Pavlikeni, Pleven, Rousse, Suhindol, Svischtov and Vidin. The region is famous for its red, dessert and sparkling wines.
Chernomorski Rayon (Black Sea Region) - East
The region borders the Danube and Romania in the north and the Black Sea coast in the west. The vineyards cover 25% of the total area. Important white wine varieties are Aligoté, Dymiat, Gewürztraminer, Misket Cherven, Muscat Ottonel, Riesling, Rkatsiteli, Sauvignon Blanc, Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano Toscano) and Viognier. Important red wine varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pamid and Pinot Noir. The area includes the geographical units Dobrudja Plain and Ludogorie Hills in the north to Strandja Mountains in the south. Well known growing areas are Burgas, Euxinograd, Kableschkovo, Kavarna, Khan Krum, Novi Pazar, Pomorie, Preslav, Razgrad, Shumen, Silistra, Targovischte and Varn. The best Bulgarian white wines come from here.
Rozova Dolina (Rose Valley or Lower Balkan region) - Center
The region (also the southern flank of the Balkan Mountains) extends in the east on all flat foothills of the Balkan and Sredna Gora Mountains. The most important areas are located around the cities of Karlovo, Karnobat, Nikolaevo, Schivatchevo, Slaviantzi, Sliven Straldja and Sungurlare. The vineyards cover about 15% of the total area. Important red wine varieties are Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mavrud, Merlot and Pinot Noir. Important white wine varieties are Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Misket Rozov, Rkatsiteli, Riesling and Viognier. The region is known for its dessert white wines and grape distillates (Elenovo, Straldja, Karnobat, Sungurlare).
Trakijska Nizina (Thrace Valley) - South
The region stretches along the border with Turkey across the Thracian lowlands, south of the Balkan and low mountain ranges, in the large valleys of the Maritza and Tundsha rivers. In the southeast it is bordered by the foothills of the Sakar Mountains. It has a temperate continental climate. The vineyards cover about 30% of the total area. Well-known wine growing areas are located around the municipalities of Assenovgrad, Brestovitza, Brezovo, Elhovo, Harmanli, Haskovo, Ivaylovgrad, Jambol, Lyubimetz, Nova Zagora, Ognjanovo, Orjahovitza, Parvomay, Pazardjik, Peruschtiza, Peshtera, Plovdiv, Saedinenie, Septemvri, Sliven, Stambolovo, Stara Zagora and Tchirpan.
70% of the red wine varieties are cultivated here, which, in addition to Mavrud, which thrives particularly well here, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, are almost all those listed in the table below. Important white wine varieties are Chardonnay, Dymiat, Gewürztraminer, Muskat-Ottonel, Rkatsiteli, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Tamianka (Muscat Blanc) and Viognier. The region is known for its white and rosé sparkling wines.
Dolinata na Struma (Struma Valley) - Southwest
The region is located in the narrow valley of the Struma River on the border with Greece and Northern Macedonia. It is especially known for its red wines from the Shiroka Melnishka (Melnik) and Ranna Melnishka Loza (early maturing Melnik) varieties. The vineyards cover about 15% of the total area. Known growing areas are Blagoevgrad, Boboschevo, Damjanitza, Gotze Deltchev, Harsovo, Kapatovo, Kresna, Kulata, Levunovo, Melnik, Petrich, Sandanski, Smotchevo and Vinogradi. Here, mainly red wine varieties are cultivated on about 75% of the area. Important ones are Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache Noir, Marselan, Mavrud, Merlot, Mourvèdre (Monastrell), Petit Verdot, Pinot Noir, Roubine, Ruen and Sangiovese. Important white wine varieties are Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Keratsuda (local speciality), Pinot Gris, Tamianka (Muscat Blanc) Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier.
VINE VARIETY INDEX
The vineyards are located on the numerous foothills, in the side valleys and the lowlands of the countless rivers. In 2016, the area under vines was around 60,000 hectares. This is more than half of the 2007 EU accession year with 130,000 hectares.
In August 2009, the EU wine market regulation became valid for all member countries with fundamental changes in wine designations and quality levels. Since 2012, the following new designations and quality levels have been introduced in Bulgaria (see also detailed information under Quality System):
Vino bulg. Вино (formerly the now forbidden term table wine) = wine
PGI (Protected Geographical Indication)
A country wine with a protected geographical indication. The old designation RV (Regionalno Vino) is no longer in use. There are two land wine areas PGI Danube Valley (Northern Bulgaria) and PGI Thrace Valley (Southern Bulgaria).
PDO (Protected Designation of Origin)
A quality wine with a protected designation of origin. The old names GNP (Garantirano Naimenovanie sa Proischod = guaranteed) and GKNP (Garantirano i Kontrolirano Naimenovanie sa Proischod = guaranteed and controlled) are no longer in use. There are about 50 PDO ranges.
The supplementary quality designations provide information on grape ripeness, type of vinification and ripening time. For PGI wines these are Premium, Reserve and Barrique. For PDO wines, these are Premium Barrique (first vintage), Reserve (1 year), Special Reserve (1 grape variety, 2 years), Special Selection (1 grape variety, 3 years), Collection (1 grape variety, 4 years), Liqueur wine (at 15% vol.) and wine from overripe or Botrytis grapes.
Well known producers are Assenovgrad, Belvedere Group (Domaine Katerina, Domaine Menarda Stara Zagora, Sakar, Oriachovitza), Bessa Valley, Black Sea Gold, Domaine Boyar (Blueridge, Korten), Burgas, Damianitza, Haskovo, Magura Winery, Miroglio, Peshtera Group, Pomorie, Rousse, Stork Nest Estates (formerly Svishtov), Stambolovo, Suhindol, Targovishte, Todoroff, Vinex Slavyantzi, Vini Sliven and Yambol.