Sunday, May 8, 2011

Wine Tourism in Bulgaria

Yesterday I finally made a visit to the Pleven Wine Museum, a relatively new local attraction. Opened in 2008 by a Bulgarian-French team of architects, wine-lovers and museum curators, it's surprisingly under-visited. I went with a few friends by taxi, really the only way to get there unless you have a car or possibly a bicycle. About 8 kilometers from the town center, it's located inside of a natural cave within Kailuka National Park.
The cave setting made it a really unique and visual experience. There were a few exhibits on the history of wine making in Bulgaria, a long tradition stretching back to Thracian times. Our guide explained how the ancient Greeks and Romans adopted Thracian viniculture, which became associated with mythology and religious practices. Later on the techniques used by the inhabitants of this region were adopted throughout Western Europe, namely in France. Pleven has had a wine production institute for over 100 years and for the first few decades of the 20th century Bulgarian wine production was at its peak. However, under the socialist government all wineries were state-run and focused on quantity over quality. Today this is changing and Bulgarian wines are becoming much more well-known and popular abroad. Although much smaller in comparison, the museum reminded me a lot of the national museum of wine in Budapest's castle district. However, wine tourism around the world is still relatively underdeveloped.
We decided to sample some of the wines produced here after the tour, and our guide was very professional and informative about each of the different varieties we tried. My favorites were the Chardonnay-Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, both produced by the vineyards also owned by the museum. Of course, when Dena and I mentioned that we were both from Northern California, our guide was very pleased and even shared her reaction to the movie Sideways. We talked about how Paul Giamatti's character made Pinot Noir something ofcliché among wine aficionados. She told us that the two most important questions when tasting wine are: "do you like it?" and "do you like it?" I thought that was a refreshingly candid insight and made me feel less worried about not knowing enough about wine. The only thing that matters in the end is finding one that suits you. 
I feel very lucky to have such a well-designed and user-friendly museum (a rarity here, unfortunately) in close proximity. Hopefully more people will make the trip and visit, making this a well-known wine region around the Balkans and Europe. If anyone is visiting northern Bulgaria or Pleven I highly recommend it. Na zdrave!

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