The North-Central region of Bulgaria, part of the Danubian Plain wine region, stretches over five officially recognized Bulgarian wine regions, covering Pleven and Veliko Tarnovo, the ”City of the Tsars”. It is also known as the Danube Valley wine region. The oldest, biggest and most respectable wineries here are Raynoff, Pirgovo, Svishtov and Pleven Vinery. They grow the same variety of grapes as in the Northwest around Vidin: Pinot Noir, Cabernet, Chardonnay, Traminer, Riesling, and are reviving special, local varieties: Misket Vratsa, Vratsa violet, Kaylaka Muscat, Tamianka and Gamza. Wine tastings and visits to the vineyards are organised here. Many mineral springs add to the authenticity of the terroir.
Pleven is the nucleus of Bulgarian winemaking. Another school for grapegrowers and winemakers was established here in 1890. In 1902, the National Institute of Viticulture and Oenology, the fifth of that kind in the world, started its work. The Institute cultivated a popular hybrid grape Storgozia, named after a Roman road station and later a fortress (3rd century AD) near Pleven.
Pleven, most famous for its Epopoe, the 1877 war panorama, and the beautiful Regional Historical Museum, has a new attraction – Bulgaria’s first Wine Museum in the Kailaka (Kaylaka) National Park. The statue of the famous Russian General Totleben, who blocked the nearby river in 1877 to finally end the Ottoman’s siege of Pleven, shows the way to the huge entrance gate to Plamen Petkov’s Chateau Kailaka winery (just 250 metres from the Wine Museum). He runs a real cave of wine treasures, officially opened for the Best European Sommelier Competition in September 2008.
A cross-shaped cave, created by General Vinarov to celebrate Russian military glory, now houses the history of Bulgarian winemaking, starting with a small statue of the young wine god Dionysus, found near Pleven. There are also lynns and vats, traditional 19th century vessels in which young women used to crush grapes with their bare feet. There is a map showing all present-day wine producers in Bulgaria. A special section is dedicated to Mavrud, a grape variety native to Bulgaria, cultivated for 3,000 years. Luciano Pavarotti was a big fan of it.
Thracian, Greek and Roman artefacts dominate the Historic Hall, paying tribute to the ancient wine gods Zagreus, Dionysus and Bacchus. Replicas of golden and silver bowls, phials, ancient pottery for wine fermentation and conical amphorae tell the long story about winemaking in Bulgaria. Apparently, the Thracians loved their wine pure, while the Romans and Phoenicians preferred mixing it with water, herbs or honey. The Thracians used a special knife, mahaira, to cut grapes and make wine baskets (19th century) and oak barrels.
The Wine Hall stores a selection of 6,000 specially selected wines, representing all Bulgarian wine regions. The oldest bottle is from 1912. A rakia distiller (late 19th century) is there too. The museum’s guide Nikola Ninoshev will help with decanting and wine tasting. Taste Emporion, a Cabernet & Mavrud blend from the nearby Chateau Kailaka.