Bulgaria is one of the countries with the oldest wine-growing tradition in Europe. The origins on the territory of today's state point to a beginning as early as 5,000 years ago, based on archaeological findings and traditional texts. Thracian tribes north and south of the Balkan Mountains cultivated wild grapevines and practiced a distinct cult in honor 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 to Greece, Sicily, Asia Minor (Anatolia, Turkey) and Egypt.
In the Middle Ages, viticulture reached a peak due to the monasteries with 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 prohibition of alcohol led to a strong threat to viticulture. How important viticulture was taken by the state is shown by the fact that immediately after Ottoman rule in 1879 a wine law was passed even before a constitution was adopted. However, viticulture was not resumed on a larger scale until after the First World War and was practised 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 a major wine exporting country. Until the 1960s, the largest quantities of wine were pressed from traditional varieties. Temperable fermentation tanks were rather the exception. Then, with the export-oriented wine economy, the share of the varieties Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc increased. This, together with the introduction of high vine training and modern cellar technology, led to great export successes. In 1970, the vineyards used for wine production covered about 150,000 hectares.
The political change in 1989 led to a rethinking. In 1990, the state wine-growing monopoly VINPROM was dissolved and most of the companies privatised. This took the new owners by surprise, many of whom had no knowledge of viticulture whatsoever. From 2000, however, things started to look up. Since then, the focus has been on quality, not quantity. Many family wineries were founded. In addition, many foreign investors came to Bulgaria because of the excellent wine-growing conditions. 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 demand 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 provide excellent conditions for viticulture. The country is located in the centre of the Balkan Peninsula at the same latitude 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 especially 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 climate-determining role.
Dunavska Ravnina (Danube Plain) - North
The gently rolling landscape between the Danube and the Balkan Mountains is crossed by many rivers. 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, Muskat-Ottonel, Riesling, Rkatsiteli, Sauvignon Blanc and Tamianka (Muscat Blanc). Well-known growing areas are Biala, Dve Mogili, Ljaskovetz, Lom, Magura, Nikopol, Novo Selo, Orjahovo, Pavlikeni, Pleven, Rousse, Suhindol, Svischtov and Vidin. The region is known for its red, dessert and sparkling wines.
Chernomorski Rayon (Black Sea Region) - East
The region borders the Danube and Romania to the north and the Black Sea coast to the west. Vineyards cover 25% of the total area. Important white wine varieties are Aligoté, Dymiat, Gewürztraminer, Misket Cherven, Muskat-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, Kableshkovo, Kavarna, Khan Krum, Novi Pazar, Pomorie, Preslav, Razgrad, Shumen, Silistra, Targovishte and Varn. The best Bulgarian white wines come from here.
Rozova Dolina (Rose Valley or Lower Balkan Region) - Centre
The region (also known as the southern flank of the Balkan Mountains) extends to the east on all the flat foothills of the Balkan and Sredna Gora Mountains. The most important areas are located in the vicinity of the towns of Karlovo, Karnobat, Nikolaevo, Zhivatchevo, Slaviantzi, Sliven Straldja and Sungurlare. 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. To the southeast it is bounded by the foothills of the Sakar Mountains. A temperate continental climate prevails. Vineyards cover about 30% of the total area. Well-known growing areas are located around the municipalities of Assenovgrad, Brestovitza, Brezovo, Elhovo, Harmanli, Haskovo, Ivaylovgrad, Jambol, Ljubimetz, Nova Zagora, Ognjanovo, Orjahovitza, Parvomay, Pazardjik, Perushtiza, Peshtera, Plovdiv, Saedinenie, Septemvri, Sliven, Stambolovo, Stara Zagora and Tchirpan.
Here, 70% of red wine varieties are cultivated, which, in addition to Mavrud, which thrives particularly well here, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, are almost all of those listed in the table below. Important white wine varieties are Chardonnay, Dymiat, Gewürztraminer, Muscat Ottonel, Rkatsiteli, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Tamianka (Muscat Blanc) and Viognier. The region is known for its sparkling wines in white and rosé.
Dolinata na Struma (Struma Valley) - Southwest
The region lies in the narrow valley of the Struma River on the border with Greece and northern Macedonia. It is particularly known for its red wines made from the Shiroka Melnishka (Melnik) and Ranna Melnishka Loza (Early Melnik) varieties. Vineyards cover about 15% of the total area. Well-known growing areas are Blagoevgrad, Boboshevo, Damjanitza, Gotze Deltchev, Harsovo, Kapatovo, Kresna, Kulata, Levunovo, Melnik, Petrich, Sandanski, Smotchevo and Vinogradi. Here, on about 75% of the area, mainly red wine varieties are cultivated. Important 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 specialty), Pinot Gris, Tamianka (Muscat Blanc) Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier.
GRAPE VARIETY LIST
The vineyards are located on the numerous mountain foothills, in the side valleys and the lowlands of the countless river courses. In 2016, the area under vines was around 60,000 hectares. This is more than a halving compared to the EU accession year 2007 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, Bulgaria has the following new designations or quality levels (see also in detail 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 the two country wine areas PGI Danube Plain (Northern Bulgaria) and PGI Thraki Valley (Southern Bulgaria).
PDO (Protected Designation of Origin)
A quality wine with a protected designation of origin. The old designations 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 areas.
The supplementary quality designations indicate grape ripeness, type of vinification and ripening period. For PGI wines these are Premium, Reserve and Barrique. For PDO wines, these are Premium Barrique (first ageing), 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 (to. 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.