Winery visits, wine tasting in the premises, taking part in winemaking process, a walk in wine cellars: all of these fit in the description of wine tourism. What’s common between all is shared and authentic experience.
The official concept of wine tourism is born in the early 90’s. New wine world is more or less responsible for the boom of visits to wineries. Even if there is no tradition, marketing and sales come in place. USA, New Zealand, Australia first came up with a concept how to sell wine to the tourists and created environment for it, and the second phase was to think of the type of wine they are going to produce. There are similar examples in Bulgaria. In Old wine world (Italy, France), tourism is consequent of the traditions and a logical formula to present wine to educated and curious audience.
Wine tourism became popular in Bulgaria during the socialist regime in the end of 80’s. Then first organized tours to Bulgaria were promoted in London. However, till 2000 they were just part of the system and government policy. Afterwards, supported by European funds and strategies, Bulgarian wine producers took the initiative in their hands. Now they are liable for all the information and welcoming of individual groups of wine enthusiasts, traders, journalists.
Are there conditions in Bulgaria for wine tourism? The answer is definitely “yes”. In the last 10 years, along with the development of new wineries, the focus of wine presentation to end consumer directly in wineries is increasing. Hotels, degustation rooms, wine routes are built. Undoubtedly Bulgaria is producing wine with high quality, only for 2016 Bulgarian wines are awarded with more than 150 medals in international contests. Another achieved condition for wine tourism is the sufficient amount of wineries. Currently in Bulgaria there are more than 350 and every year at least 10 new are launched. However, only around 50 are prepared for degustation and wine tours. Merely 20 – so called chateaus in French – have full service: hotel facilities, trained staff, etc. Unfortunately most of those wineries are maintained from tourism of its own, not wine tourism in particular.
Though, there are good examples of wine routes created from wine producers and they are mainly in the regions of Melnik (Orbelus, Villa Melnik) and Thrace (Dragomir winery, Villa Yustina, Via Vinera, Rumelia etc.). There are a lot of wineries close to Sofia, within 150km that can be visited even for a day.
According to the Institute for Tourism Analysis and Assessments in 2017 around 55,000 Bulgarian and 7,000 foreign tourists: mainly from UK, Germany, Scandinavian countries, Russia, Serbia and Macedonia, have visited the country with the purpose of wine tourism. However, it is still an expensive experience. Wineries are offering paid degustation from 10 to 50 BGN per person, depending on the chosen package.
What is still not enough in Bulgarian wine tourism? In order to be a long-term initiative and not only a trend, there are some additional conditions. The basics are not in the winery, but in the attraction of people’s attention and leading them to wine regions. Joint effort between wine producers, tour operators, hoteliers, restaurant owners, institutions and local organizations is needed, to create routes and proper conditions for wine tourism. Periodic wine events and festivals, innovative type of tours (yoga in the vineyards), interactive websites and media that inform users, creating regional enoteca, all are needed for long-term development. Those strategies can be copied from typical regions for wine tourism: USA, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, also from neighbor countries like Greece that are progressing in that sphere. One thing is certain, there is potential for wine tourism in Bulgaria.