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 New museum of wine in Bulgarian lands

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PostSubject: New museum of wine in Bulgarian lands   Fri Jan 27, 2012 11:16 am


New museum of wine in Bulgarian lands

In the Kayluka Park near the town of Pleven in Northern Bulgaria, one can find a truly interesting tourist site. It is one of the few museums in the world dedicated to wine, and also one of the youngest such places. Founded in 2008, the museum is housed in one of the caves of the Kayluka Park. The cave galleries shaped like the Cross of Saint George store over 12,000 bottles of Bulgarian wine from all regions of the country. One can see there the largest collection of old wines in Bulgaria – some 7,000 bottles of wine that have aged between 30 and 100 years. The museum reveals the history of wine in Bulgaria, which largely coincides with the history of wine in general.
Why has such a rare type of museum been created in a small country like Bulgaria?
Bulgarian lands abound with evidence of the ancient history of this magical drink from as early as the Thracian times. In antiquity, the Thracians were known as the producers of the best wines. In the Iliad, Homer tells how ships loaded with wine from Thrace travelled to the Greek camp near Troy. In the IV century BC, Aristotle mentions the mythical wines of Thrace which were so thick that it was imperative to dilute them with water before drinking. As a matter of fact, the ancient Thracians were the only people in antiquity drinking their wine undiluted. It was a sacred ritual for them. The first known God of Wine belongs in the Thracian pantheon – it is Zagreus, God of the Sun, reborn later in the famous ancient Greek god Dionysus.

Tanya Nikolova, director of the Pleven-based Museum of Wine, has told Radio Bulgaria more:
Actually, wine is central to the whole Thracian culture and religion. The first God of wine was the Thracian deity Zagreus although he is better known with his later incarnations under the name of Dionysus or Bacchus. The Thracians believed that by sipping the magical drink, God would dwell in their soul, and therefore they felt happy and started singing and dancing. Wine was drunk from beautiful vessels. The Thracians were also the first who deliberately mixed several types of wine into one. This is evident from a finding in the famous Valchitran gold treasure, representing three interconnected leaf-shaped vessels, each of which probably contained a different type of wine. This unique vessel was used for serving a special drink during religious rituals. The whole of the Thracian culture revolved around wine and it is impossible to speak of the Thracians without talking about this drink.

There is a countless number of exquisite ancient wine vessels, mostly made of silver and gold which have been found in the numerous Thracian tombs in Bulgarian lands. The most famous is the Panagyurishte treasure that has been lying underground for over 20 centuries. The Thracians handed down their wine-making skills to the Slavs and Proto-Bulgarians who arrived in Bulgarian lands at a later historical stage. Eventually, these three ethnic groups merged into one, forming the new Bulgarian ethnicity. A testimony to the widespread use of wine in the early Middle Ages can be found in the famous laws of Bulgaria’s medieval ruler Khan Krum (803-814). One of these laws included a severe punishment for drunkenness. Interestingly, during the Middle Ages Bulgarians lost the ability for long-term storage of wine. Wine often turned sour and therefore, contrary to present-day practices, the young wine was much more expensive than the matured wine, according to historians.
Bulgarians preserved their traditions in viticulture and wine-making also at the time when Bulgaria was occupied by the Ottoman Empire in the period from the 14th to the 19th century. One reason for this is is the fact that they managed to preserve their Christian religion, whose liturgical rites include wine as the symbol of Christ's blood. After the liberation of Bulgaria from the Ottoman domination in the late 19th century, Bulgarian vine-growing and wine-making was modernized by adopting the modern technologies existing in Western Europe.

The contemporary history of wine-making in Bulgaria began in 1890 with the opening of the first Bulgarian specialized school in Pleven. In 1902, the first modern wineries appeared in the Balkan Peninsula, again in Pleven,"
Tanya Nikolova goes on to say. "
The town also saw the establishment of the state-owned agricultural experiment station in viticulture and enology, which in 1903 grew into the Institute of Wine Research. It is fifth in the world in historical terms, as it appeared after those in Russia (1828), Italy (1872), France (1874) and Hungary (1898). Some time later, Bulgaria was made member of the Chamber of producers and exporters of quality wines in Paris."

In the first two decades of the 20th century, several major wine-making centres emerged in Bulgaria. These were Pleven, Lovech, and Suhindol in Northern Bulgaria and many more in the southern parts of the country, including Plovdiv, Sliven, Stara Zagora, Chirpan and Melnik. Agricultural cooperatives were established based on the model of French winemakers as voluntary associations of vine-growers and winemakers. At the annual world exhibitions in the late 19th and early 20th century, Bulgaria participated very successfully with two emblematic products – Bulgarian rose oil and wine.
In the years of Communism after World War II, Bulgarian wine became very famous throughout the Socialist Camp, but its production was shifted towards a more general type of table wines. In this period, Bulgaria lost its previously gained positions on the Western market. In the early 1980s, Bulgaria managed to restore its market share in the Western world, mainly in the UK, Germany, and Japan.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the wine industry suffered a serious concussion connected with an unsuccessful land reform, privatization of the huge Communist era wineries and economic turmoil over the transition to a market economy. It was not until the start of the 21st century that Bulgarian wine began to regain its markets. However, currently it has to deal with the heavy blows of the global economic crisis. The new trend is the creation of small, boutique wineries with elite series of wines that win medals at international wine shows. Bulgarian winemakers pay special attention to the revival of traditional local grape varieties such as Mavrud, the wide leaf vine of Melnik, Pamid, Dimyat, Muscat. Yet, the most popular French varieties are also widely grown, including Cabernet, Merlot, Muscat Ottonel, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Traminer, etc. Bulgarian vineyards in the southern parts of the country provide grapes with a high sugar content and saturated flavours.

According to EU criteria, Bulgaria has only two wine region - the Danube (or Northern) region and the Thracian (or Southern) region separated by the large mountain range of the Balkans. However, the tradition in this country clearly distinguishes between five smaller wine region. Each of them has different climatic conditions and specific characteristics of the grapes grown and wines produced from them. The Wine Museum near Pleven showcases the wines representative for all regions. All bottles are arranged around an impressively large wooden table for wine tasting.

According to the museum's director Tanya Nikolova, two of the traditional Bulgarian grape varieties have great potential for a significant presence in the global market. One is the typical broad-leaved Melnik grape variety grown near the Bulgarian-Greek border and producing one of Winston Churchill’s favorite wines. It is known that the British Prime Minister ordered more than 800 liters of this southern red wine each year for himself. Another particularly promising variety of Mavrud is growing only in the region of Asenovgrad in southern Bulgaria again. Bulgarian wines of this variety have great potential for aging.

Mavrud is a grape variety used to make a red wine with a deep, beautiful color, good tannins and a very high potential for aging. This is one of the wines most powerful in antioxidants, even stronger than those of Cabernet Sauvignon. It is used to make dry, heavy wines with the flavour of wild berries. The wine made from the broad leaved grape variety of Melnik is often blended with other varieties with stong colors. But in contrast, the wine produced from the broad leaved vine of Melnik has a well-established body, lingering aftertaste, rich flavor and aging potential. Melnik is perhaps one of the most enjoyable wines for consumption of wild game and lamb,"
says the museum's director Tanya Nikolova.

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