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Bulgarian Wine History wine history

Wineglass Bulgaria may be the oldest wine producing country in the world. Archeological studies evidence that wine was produced in this area between 6,000 B.C. and 3,000 B.C. The main livelihood of the population in the Pomorie region since times immemorial has been vine growing and wine making.

Thousands of years before the Romans, Thracians planted the first vines on the northern and southern slopes of the Balkan Mountains. They introduced winemaking techniques, worshipped the God of Wine with eating, drinking, and merrymaking, and developed special tools both for the cultivation of the vines and the making of the wine. Greek settlers arrived on the Black sea coast around 500 B.C. They brought their experience in the preparation of wine, and the local wine acquired a considerably improved taste and became the object of bustling trade.

Homer referred to the wines of Thrace in both the Iliad and the Odyssey.

The Romans came to the Balkan Peninsula in the first century A.D.Roman soldier picture The Romans wished to encourage vine growing and win making. The Romans issued several decrees, including one which allowed the planting of vines in areas previously reserved exclusively for growing wheat. The Romans brought in new methods of viticulture and viniculture, along with skilled wine makers.

In the 2nd Century A.D. Wine production was serious business to the Romans. There was a law demanding severe punishment for anyone caught damaging vines.

There was a considerable increase in the wine trade in the 4th and 5th centuries when the Eastern Roman Empire was founded with Constantinople as the capital. Large shipments of wine were transported via water from Black Sea ports to the  capital city in Constantinople. Clay vessels called amphorae were used for this purpose (the beginnings of containerized freight). These were transported by means of especially equipped ships or a kind of ancient tanker. Many storm wrecked transport ships, including large numbers of Byzantine amphorae, were recently discovered on the bottom of the Black Sea in front of Pomorie.

During this period, grape juice was poured into pythos (large clay pots buried in the ground to maintain constant temperatures for fermentation purposes.) Then the fermented product was transferred to the amphorae for shipping. On the amphora, usually on the neck, was placed a seal stamped with the name of the producer, the origin of the wine, and the time of filling the amphora.

In 681, the Bulgars moved into the area and established the first Bulgarian State. Vineyards were ordered destroyed because the country was found to have a drinking problem due to the widespread production of wine.

During the 2nd Bulgarian Kingdom, from 1186 to 1241, the Black Sea cities became centers of lively economic activities, including the production and export of wine. The great cities of Dubrovnik, Venice, and the republic of Genoa kept trade representatives in the Black Sea cities. The local Bulgarian Wine is mentioned in their trading books as being a sought after commodity with a well-established reputation in western markets.

In the Middle Ages Bulgarian winemaking came under  increasing influence from the Monasteries and Churches, who stored their wine in the cold cellars beneath the abbeys and priories. These Churches and Monasteries influenced the storage methods used on Bulgarian Wine.

Bulgaria later fell under the rule of the Muslim Turks who outlawed drinking. But the Turks realized the value of wine exports and continued to trade in the wine.  In addition, the Turks introduced dessert grapes for the production of sweet wines. In customs laws during the Turkish period, wine is listed first in importance, with a high, strictly enforced customs tax differentiated according to the producer and the exporter.

In the late 1800's, the Phylloxera root aphids, that destroyed vineyards throughout Europe, struck Bulgaria.

At the turn of the century, the wines from Anchialo (Pomorie) were transported and traded by an Egyptian named Captain Mujur.

In 1927-1929 the first vine growing and wine making cooperative was founded. Equipment was imported from Italy and Austria. French technology was used for production. The cooperative sold its wine domestically and exported to Germany.

During the Communist era beginning in 1947, the government confiscated land, and wine production was "nationalized". The "State Organization for the Production of Spirits" was founded, renamed in 1948-"State Spirits Monopoly", and later "Vinprom". Vinprom was privatized after 1989..

In the 1960's, scientific classification of vine growing took place. Grape varieties were assessed for their growing needs and planted in the most appropriate regions. Classic varieties were introduced including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Riesling, and Ugni Blanc. The whole of Bulgaria, with the exception of a small area around Sofia is declared a wine growing area.

Production has fluctuated during the 1980s. As exports to the Soviet Union dropped during this period, vines were pulled up, reducing output by a quarter. Years of drought in the late 1980s reduced it further, from 4.5 million hectoliters/118,881,000 U.S. gallons in 1985 to a mere 1.8 million hectoliters/ 47,552,400 U.S. gallons in 1990. But the 1990 vintage was "the best in forty-five years" according to the Bulgarian Vintners Company (B.V.C.). Rain during 1991 relieved the worst effects of the drought, and production approached normal levels.

Short harvests in the early 1990s moved Bulgaria from fifteenth to about twentieth in the volume league table of wine production. It was the second largest exporter of bottled wine in the world up to 1990.

Political changes have affected the structure of the industry. Following elections in the summer of 1990 Vinprom (the state organization responsible for wine production under communism) was disbanded. Vinimpex, its export arm, survived because it was the hard currency earner and took over some of Vinprom's functions, as well as the job of trying to introduce the industry to market-based ideas. B.V.C., which used to market all Bulgaria's wines in the West, now faces competition, since individual wineries will be able to make their own direct agency deals. It has also faced the end of cheap government loans and price controls, which helped to make Bulgarian wines so competitive on export markets,

The new government helped, or possibly hindered, progress by introducing the Land Reform Act in February 1991. This piece of legislation enabled people to claim back land that had been theirs (or their family's) prior to 1945, In the long run, and in theory, private ownership of land should encourage personal enterprise and initiative, and perhaps a free market in grapes, similar to that which successfully underpins good quality wines elsewhere in the world. In the short-term, though, it is more likely to produce chaos. Another change has been that wineries, which previously had to pass on 70 percent of foreign earnings to the government, can now keep all their profits, providing investment capital and extra cash for the rapidly increasing price of grapes.





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Bulgarian wine history. Bulgaria as a wine producing country