Archive

Archive for the ‘Photography’ Category

WITH A LITTLE HELP, KOSOVO’S WINE INDUSTRY BEGINS TO RIPEN

December 11th, 2009 61 comments

Written by Joe Linstroth

Photography by Evan Martin

———————————————————————————————————-

**Click arrows in bottom-right corner for full-screen viewing and captions

———————————————————————————————————-

RAHOVEC, KOSOVO – In any discussion of the world’s emerging wine-producing regions, Kosovo’s Rahovec Valley rarely garners a mention, and with good reason. For the last fifty years, the wines produced here have offered little to talk about and, with the exception of Germany, have rarely found their way outside the Balkans. But ten years have passed since the war with Serbia, and the winemakers in this agricultural town of about 25,000 have begun the long rebuilding process with the hope to one day carve out a little piece of the international wine market and enjoy the respect that comes with it.

With just 2 million people, Kosovo will never be able to compete with the big boys in terms of production. Nor does it have the name recognition to keep afloat in the massive international “wine lake” by producing the same old varietals like chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and merlot. But what Kosovo does have in abundance is pristine terroir and indigenous grape varietals – two ingredients that make Kosovo’s goal far less unrealistic than it may seem.

“I’ve never seen better conditions for growing grapes than I have in this valley,” says David Rowe, who, as a former editor of Decanter wine magazine and now an international wine consultant based in Bordeaux, has seen his share of the world’s vineyards. Rowe has been coming to Rahovec for years as a consultant winemaker for Stone Castle Vineyards, the region’s largest winery.

Rahovec was once the crown jewel of wine production in the former Yugoslavia. It was also the scene of some of the worst fighting during the 1999 war. While the turbulent history is never far from the surface, the winemakers in Rahovec, with significant help from the German government, are dedicated to finding a way to extract the enormous potential nature has bestowed them.

Diving Headfirst

On the northern ridge of the Rahovec Valley, just outside of town, the locals gather at the community pool, seeking relief from the intense summer heat. Teenagers jackknife off a rusty platform just 100 yards from the edge of a vineyard. But this is Kosovo, where even a cool dip can come with a reminder of the still delicate situation here. On the days when NATO’s German contingent is conducting an exercise at the nearby firing range, the staccato bursts of machine-gun fire blend with the slapping water and youthful laughter to form an eerie racket more akin to a sound installation in a postmodern art gallery than a poolside picnic with the family.

The view on the other hand is a reminder that Mother Nature has no politics. The hills roll on for miles, all coifed with thousands of rows of vines, their round scalps seemingly parted in every direction by a thick-toothed comb. The valley is entirely surrounded by mountains, a geographic rarity that has created a microclimate ideal for growing grapes. The region has more than 200 days of sunshine and rainfall is optimal. The continental climate’s harsh winters induce the dormancy needed for a healthy grapevine’s annual life cycle.

From afar, everything a wine region needs seems in place. But a trudge through the vineyards and a tour of a local winery reveal a dizzying array of problems.

“Although on the plus side the climatic conditions are almost perfect for viticulture,” says Rowe, “on the minus side there is a lack of professionalism.”

The first challenge has been to figure out where to even begin. Does it start with the winemakers, who lack knowledge of international wine standards? In the vineyards, which suffer from neglect and poor maintenance practices? Or at the administrative level, which must overcome a dearth of resources to implement policies — not just a window-dressing wine institute — that will ensure a reliable product necessary for the highly competitive international wine market? So far, the answer has been all of the above.

Humble Beginnings

A sour odor of sweat blankets the cramped, narrow room in Kosovo’s Wine Institute. The tiny air conditioner, when switched on, struggles in vain to counter the scorching July heat and the radiating bodies of twenty-five local winemakers, oenologists and government representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Development. All the major players in Kosovo’s struggling but proud wine industry have gathered here for a two-day training led by Carsten Heinemeyer, an international wine consultant based in Germany. Speaking in short spurts so his ethnic Albanian translator can keep up, Heinemeyer starts from the beginning. Empty wine glasses line the edge of the U-shaped table. They lie in wait until after lunch, when Heinemeyer will conduct a blind tasting with local, regional and international wines side by side — a liquid dessert of humble pie.

Most of the winemakers at the training, despite decades of experience, are getting their first introduction to international wine standards; their first exposure to detailed descriptions of common mistakes in winemaking; and their first lessons on ways to avoid and correct them. It’s a delicate task.

“When it’s about problems with the wine, this is always very difficult to talk about because to talk about the mistakes in their wine is the same as talking about the beauty of their daughter,” says Marcel Schwickert, head of the German Technical Cooperation’s (GTZ) Program for Economy and Employment Promotion, which is funded by the German government.

“They say, ‘She’s the most beautiful one,’ and my question is always, ‘Okay, she’s the most beautiful one but have you already been able to marry this daughter to somebody?’”

Germany is alone when it comes to providing international aid to the Rahovec wine industry. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the territory’s other major international contributor to private sector development, commissioned an extensive study of the industry in 2006, but in an email response, officials said the wine sector lacked the potential to benefit from short-term investment.

Schwickert sees the long-term potential in Rahovec. This is partly because Germans have a long history here. Since 1957, they have been the largest consumers of Kosovar wine, importing millions of liters a year from the state-owned factory that is now Stone Castle and selling it at rock-bottom prices under the Amselfelder label. GTZ has been involved in Kosovo’s wine sector for the last three years, says Schwickert, mostly helping to establish the Wine Institute and surround it with an administrative framework. Schwickert has brought Heinemeyer to Kosovo to begin the next phase, which will last an additional four years and focus exclusively on the wine producers.

Off Notes

After visiting many of the area’s wineries, Heinemeyer complements the moderate alcohol levels and high acidity of Rahovec wines. Yet nearly all of them, he says, exhibit at least one, if not several, obvious faults, such as oxidation and excessive sulfur dioxide. He maintains, however, that with education and dedication, these faults are correctable.

“The wineries don’t need hardware. What they need is software,” he says, pointing to his head.

Flaws can be difficult for the local winemakers to spot because it is how they have been making wine in Rahovec for decades. Unfamiliarity with international wines and winemaking practices is problematic, especially when the ultimate goal is to compete in the highly competitive international market, where critics and connoisseurs await with a quiver full of semantic arrows that can kill a wine region’s reputation faster than a viticulturist can say phylloxera.

“Our message was: ‘When you start fishing, the fish has to like the worm, not the fisherman,’” says Schwickert.

The former Communist mentality that measured success in liters still remains. Most growers in the region aim for producing as many grapes as possible, and with the current system in which the fruit is purchased by the kilogram, there is little incentive for the farmers to alter their methods. But in the delicate art of winemaking more is not better.

Efforts are underway to encourage grape producers to limit their yields through practices such as “green harvesting.” When the green berries appear, farmers selectively trim some bunches away, concentrating the vine’s energy into fewer grapes, elevating their color and flavor. With thousands of grape farmers in the Rahovec region, implementing this practice is a daunting challenge.

Schwickert says he plans to bring in more international experts to help wineries identify the problems in the vineyards and assist in the drafting of standardized parameters that will form the basis of long-term contracts between the wineries and growers – a necessary first step toward revitalizing the vineyards in Rahovec.

Solo Artists

The wine industry in Kosovo was privatized in 2006. At the same time, the provisional government passed a series of regulations, collectively known as the Wine Law. A year later, it established the Wine Institute in Rahovec to implement the new policies. This process, at times chaotic, has resulted in two tiers of wine production, one with seven licensed wineries and the other consisting of independent winemakers, like Faik Vuciterna, who operate with little to no government oversight.

Vuciterna works his family’s hectare of vines with his two adult sons. Knowledge of his craft comes from his father and grandfather, and during the winter months, he supplements the old ways with modern techniques taken from books written by French and Italian experts. Last year, Vuciterna managed to squeeze 3,000 liters of wine out of a winery the size of a vaulted two-car garage. During fermentation, he says he sleeps on the room’s bare concrete floor, listening for the gurgling mash to hit the right pitch. He bottles the finished product himself and sells it to restaurants in Pristina, Kosovo’s capital, and in neighboring Albania. The budget is so tight that he cannot afford to hold any wine back for further aging.

“Maybe we work in a primitive way,” says Vuciterna, standing amidst the long shadows of vines perched atop a hill adjacent to the town’s center. He points to a circular scar in the earth where he says the Serb military used his land for a strategic bunker ten years ago.

“They destroyed the whole city. We couldn’t work for two years in our vineyards and had to start over,” he explains.

Now, as the Rahovec region reassembles the pieces, thirty to fifty winemakers like Vuciterna operate outside the legal framework because the benefits of official recognition have yet to materialize. The government offers no subsidies; the only exporting they can realistically consider is to Albania, which many already do anyway; and, domestically, they avoid the government’s high excise tax.

“I’m a small fish. There are big fish and they can do more,” Vuciterna says.

By far the biggest fish in Rahovec is Stone Castle. Purchased in 2006 by two Albanian-American real estate developers from New York, the behemoth, with its vast underground cellar and rows of 50-foot fermentation silos, was once a dominant state-owned wine factory in the former Yugoslavia. Today it is one of the largest privately-owned wineries in the world, with a capacity to produce 50 million liters of wine, though, if Rowe has his way, it will never hum at full throttle.

“Stone Castle has been built with industrial-scale winemaking in mind,” Rowe says. “My idea is to start developing a winery within a winery, a smaller-scale operation for the top-quality wines coming from the new vineyards.”

According to GTZ studies, Stone Castle dominates the market, growing or purchasing over 85 percent of the grapes in Rahovec. There is one medium-sized company, Haxhijaha, with a five percent market share. Five smaller wineries split the remainder.

The seven licensed wineries are subject to the regulations laid out in the Wine Law. They include annual laboratory analysis, quality rankings by a five-member panel appointed by the Ministry of Agriculture, and a domestic excise tax. Many agree that the government’s role in the wine sector, though in need of improvement, has built a strong foundation.

“For the first time there is an institute that has to take care of the activities and the needs of the sector from the government side,” says Schwickert.

Kosovo Needs a Mondavi

The Rahovec wine industry is still in the early phases of rebuilding. So far, the focus has been on pruning vineyards, modernizing winemaking techniques and sharpening government policies. These efforts all point eventually to the creation of a cohesive strategy for the export market. Kosovo’s slow pace of development has had one advantage. It has allowed the industry here to learn from the errors made by others in the Balkan region.

“They should definitely not make the same mistakes as the Bulgarians, who aimed at the lowest price point in the export market,” says Rowe, who consulted for a Bulgarian winery ten years ago. “Once you establish a very low price point it becomes almost impossible to get out of that.”

Among the local winemakers, there is no consensus on which varietals deserve the most attention. Few mention native Balkan varietals like prokupe (also known as prokupec in Serbia) and vranac (vranc), both reds, and the white grape, smederevka. More often, international varietals like cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir and chardonnay attract the winemakers’ attention. But the international market is already overflowing with more established regions producing these varietals, and many sophisticated wine drinkers have developed chardonnay and cabernet fatigue.

“People do get tired of these same eight grape varieties that everyone produces,” Rowe says. “People who know a bit more about wine are looking for something different, and countries like Kosovo can provide for that gap in the market.”

Heinemeyer notes prokupe could produce excellent results. But he resists describing the grape’s flavor profile, stressing that it will change with improved knowledge and winemaking practices.

Discussing the potential of vranac, Rowe is quick to highlight a future role for the Wine Institute.

“I think the priority for the Institute is to work on clonal selection,” he says. “It may be that there is only one clone of vranac, but I suspect there are many different clones in fact, and it’s only by identifying and selecting the most appropriate clones that we can get the best out of that and other grape varieties.”

In addition to clonal selection, Heinemeyer and Rowe say a thorough and professional cadastral study of the region will help. In the past, due to the government’s heavy production demands, vines were planted without careful consideration of soil-type. GTZ plans to help the government begin the arduous, but necessary, process next year.

To consolidate all of the new information, the winemakers at the training recently formed an association that they hope will develop a way forward. They have committed resources to help offset some of the costs, including footing the bill for Heinemeyer’s accommodations. As the association matures, it will eventually be asking for more help from the fledgling Kosovo government, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008. It remains unclear what sort of assistance the foundation will receive.

“If we want to do something, we must have a strategy for the wine sector,” says Bekim Hoxha, chief of the permanent secretary office in the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Development. “But we’re not ready yet.”

Heinemeyer stresses patience. “We need leaders, pulling forces, people who can be a reference – the avant garde.” In other words, someone to do for the Rahovec region what Robert Mondavi did for Napa Valley and Nicholas Catena has recently done for Argentina.

The stakes are high. More than 4,000 grape growers in the Rahovec region rely on wine production for their livelihood, according to a government study conducted last year. Others here estimate the number is much greater. Kosovo is a mostly rural territory that depends heavily on agricultural production and establishing a robust export wine industry is crucial. With these stakes in mind, the Rahovec wine community is putting its collective nose in a wine glass and taking on the challenges that lie ahead.

“We cannot produce planes or automobiles, but we have all the natural resources to make wine,” says Bashkim Koronica, a longtime professor of viticulture and oenology at Kosovo’s main university in Pristina.

A healthy wine industry could also do more than boost a beleaguered economy in which unemployment has hovered above 40 percent for years. Producing great wine instills pride in a country and culture in ways that a spicy pepper or a dense potato cannot. In the words of Hemingway: “Wine is the most civilized thing in the world.” After years of receiving international support, producing great wine is a way for Kosovo to present itself in full regalia to the world and, much more simply, to give a little something back.

Toasting the Future

After lunch, the winemakers file back into the steamy room for a blind tasting. Heinemeyer fills the glasses in front of them and then asks each person to rank the wines, encouraging them to think about the flaws mentioned during the morning’s presentation. Fejzullah Berisha is quick to offer his comments, as he has been throughout the day. Berisha is Stone Castle’s chief winemaker and thus the elder statesman in the room. It’s a bold move. Everyone is aware that their wines are mixed in with their international competitors, and silence is the predominating response to Heinemeyer’s prodding. Number Two is the worst and Number Five has a significant flaw, Berisha says. The consultant removes the sleeves revealing the wines Berisha singled out are both from Stone Castle. With a genuine smile on his face, the winemaker throws his hands up in the air. The room gasps with laughter.

“Of course it’s always difficult to convince the big boss he has to learn something, but they are willing,” says Schwickert. “It’s promising.”

At the training’s conclusion, Berisha is the first to stand and offer a toast to Heinemeyer and Schwickert. For the last two days, some of Kosovo’s best and brightest in the wine industry have been knocked down a few pegs. This is a rare moment when Kosovo’s past has been a blessing, for bloated egos are difficult to come by in a place that has seen so much turmoil and is in need of so much rebuilding. Amidst the idle conversation as everyone sips sparkling wine, it is as clear as the blue Rahovec sky in the window that they are prepared to pull their weight. Success is not preordained; nor will a fine Rahovec wine purify all of the vinegary notes from the past. It could, however, allow the rest of the world to taste a hint of Kosovo’s pride.

10 Years Later, Kosovo Remembers Bill Clinton

December 2nd, 2009 46 comments
Click here To Watch Video
Click to Watch!

Audio & Narration by Joe Linstroth

Photography & Videography by Evan Martin

-Translation by Vullnet Malazogu

Sun and Moon Festival Celebrates Traditional Culture in Delchevo, Bulgaria

June 25th, 2009 42 comments

**Click arrows in bottom-right corner for full-screen viewing and captions

Photography by Evan Martin and Joe Linstroth

Audio by Joe Linstroth

WINE TOURISM SLOW TO DEVELOP IN SLIVEN, BULGARIA

June 22nd, 2009 45 comments

A translation of this story appeared in the September issue of Bacchus wine magazine, published in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Text by Joe Linstroth

Photography by Evan Martin

———————————————————————————————————-

**Click arrows in bottom-right corner for full-screen viewing and captions

———————————————————————————————————-

SLIVEN, BULGARIA — Hidden amidst the weeds and behind a rod-iron door that once marked the entrance of a World War II bomb shelter is the degustation room of one of Sliven’s oldest and largest wineries.  There are no signs or posted hours of operation.  There is no indication whatsoever to the public that what lies behind the graffiti-covered facade near the center of this sleepy city in central Bulgaria is a place to taste the wines made by Vini Sliven.  By appointment only, large groups can see what lies behind the secret entrance.  Inside is a series of cool, arched tunnels that house the winery’s oldest wines and long tables where the visitors can sit and taste them.  The dusty, moldy bottles add to the ambience.  But the stash is also a buried clue that reveals a neglected treasure, and only recently have the Sliven region’s wine-producers begun to realize that they might be sitting on gold.

 Wine-making in Bulgaria dates back nearly 3,000 years.  In fact, it is theorized that the Thracian societies who inhabited what is now Bulgarian soil were the first to introduce commercial wine-making to the civilized world.  Wine tourism in Bulgaria, however, is a new concept.  The Sliven region, with its own long wine-making tradition, is just beginning to explore its potential. 

 But building elegant chateaus that serve good wine and offer free tours is only the first step.  Wine tourism in Sliven has suffered for many reasons, and only some of them can be attributed to the lack of new facilities.  There is little information or advertising to direct wine tourists to the places that currently exist.  Cooperation between the wineries to promote the region has been non-existent, as has significant support and additional marketing from the Sliven municipality and local tourist agencies. But there are signs that producers are beginning to take wine tourism seriously.

 The Potential Exists

 Sliven’s wine history combined with its close proximity to the Blue Rocks, which attracts tourists with its panoramic views and accessible hiking trails, makes it an ideal place for wine tourism in Bulgaria. Located just 100 kilometers from many of Bulgaria’s popular Black Sea resorts, Sliven’s wineries are a short trip away for international tourists looking for more than just sun and sand.  

“What is on the Black Sea is not Bulgaria,” said Georgi Zhekov, the finance and planning manager for Vinex Slavyantsi, one of the region’s largest wine producers.  The company sees the potential for wine tourism and Zhekov said it has future plans to enter the market. 

“Tourists can touch the countryside and taste good wine,” said Zhekov. “They can see another type of Bulgaria.”

For Bulgarian tourists, most of the wine cellars are located just off the main road from Sofia to Bourgas and easily accessible by car.  

Elka Mihaylova, manager of Sliven Tours, one of the only travel agencies for local tourism, said she has seen increased interest in wine tourism among Bulgarians.

“Wine production is very important for the Bulgarian economy and it’s maturing.  In the last two years, Bulgarians have started to show interest,” she said. “This is just the beginning.”

 Plans for the Future

On a warm and sunny Saturday afternoon in June, the main dining room at Chateau Windy Hills was filled with 20 Belgian tourists tasting wine and having a light lunch.  Afterword, they toured the facility, taking pictures of the modern production equipment and the oak barrels lining the cellar walls.  

“In Belgium, we know Bulgaria has good wine,” said Eric Cambien.  “It’s not only the French wine that’s the best.” 

Opened in 2006, Chateau Windy Hills is one of the first models for wine tourism in the region.  Unlike many of the Sliven region’s large wine factories such as Vini Sliven, Vinprom Karnobat and Domain Boyar, which produce wine in large quantities that sell at lower prices, Windy Hills is more focused on quality, producing smaller batches of wine with higher price tags.

 “You don’t find many chateaus like this one in Bulgaria,” said Mariana Vassileva, the manager of Windy Hills.

 But more are coming to the Sliven region. 

 Earlier this year, another boutique winery opened a chateau in Elenovo, which is approximately 45 kilometers from Sliven.  Like Windy Hills, Edoardo Miroglio’s Soli Invicto has a restaurant and hotel rooms in addition to wine degustation and tours of the facility.

 Some of the region’s largest wineries are also recognizing the potential.  They have acknowledged that industrial factories discourage tourism and are devising different approaches to enter this new market.

 Vinprom Karnobat, one of Bulgaria’s largest wine producers, is putting the finishing touches on its Chateau Karnobat, Brothers Minkov.  Located 50 kilometers east of Sliven on the main road to Bourgas, the winery, which will feature wines from Karnobat’s Cycle label, will officially open this September, said manager Ivan Ivanov.

 “We have two big wine factories and now is the time to make the wine cellar for boutique wine, where we will show special wines, more expensive wines,” said Ivanov. 

 Maria Dimitrova, executive assistant at Vini Sliven, said her company has plans to move into the boutique wine business as well.   It will transform an old wine cellar in the village of Padarevo, which is approximately 45 kilometers northeast of Sliven, into a microvinification winery, complete with a barrel room, a small bottling line, a tasting room and, eventually, a hotel. 

 Just a few kilometers down the road from Padarevo, Vinex Slavyantsi is formulating a different plan.  Zhekov said the company wants to renovate a house it owns in Sungurlare, the village adjacent to the wine factory.   Instead of a boutique winery, however, they will offer hotel accommodations, wine degustation and feature mountain bike rentals and trails that wind through and around their vineyards.

 “In Bulgaria, some companies with tourism concepts want to have them in their wineries.  Our concept is to go out into the country, into nature and into the vineyards, because our winery is more industrial,” Zhekov said. 

Both Vini Sliven and Vinex Slavyantsi said they expect their new facilities to be completed in two or three years.  All of the companies said they plan to pursue funding from the European Union for these projects. 

But securing the funding and building the necessary facilities to attract tourists is just the beginning.  The real challenge, it appears, will be for all parties involved, from the wine companies to the Sliven municipality to the local tour operators, to work together and to focus their attention on the business of wine tourism.

 Challenges Lie Ahead

Chateau Windy Hills sits prominently on a lone hilltop a few hundred meters from the main road between Sofia and Bourgas.  Yet no signs direct passersby and tourists to the wine cellar’s access road.   Their business seems to rely on contracts with tour operators, online advertising and word-of-mouth.  Judging by the manager’s reluctance to provide the number of visitors the chateau has received this year, this strategy seems to have produced limited results.

The large wineries are also struggling to attract tourists.  Vini Sliven has its unused cave.  Domain Boyar has a tasting room in front of its factory on the outskirts of town. But, surprisingly, it is not open on the weekends, when tourists are most likely to visit, nor was it open on a Monday, despite the sign on the door that said otherwise.  A representative at Vinprom Yambol, another one of Bulgaria’s largest wineries, which is located 30 kilometers south of Sliven, had to get approval from the owner before even discussing the company’s efforts in wine tourism.

In the last few years, the Bulgarian wine industry has been focused on planting more vines and modernizing equipment and methods.  But it is still hampered by the reputation that it produces only low-quality, cheap wines.   By connecting domestic and international wine enthusiasts with Bulgaria’s unique terroir and native grape varietals, wine tourism could help change Bulgaria’s image and support the wineries’ top priority, which is to make and sell good wine.  

“It is the way to show people the new side of the Bulgarian wine industry,” said Zhekov. 

With most of the larger wine companies focusing on production, however, opportunities for attracting tourists have been neglected.  The companies may feel there are not enough tourists to devote resources to wine tourism, but without more commitment, the situation is unlikely to change.  

“The possibility for wine tourism is not so big at this moment,” said Dimitrova. “This is a secondary aspect of our business.  But I think that everybody could improve – the municipality and our company.”

Stoyan Markov, the city’s director of Economic Development and European Programs, said he is preparing an information packet, to be ready by year’s end, which will be printed in both English and Bulgarian to promote tourism in Sliven.  In addition to information about hiking in the nearby mountains and the city’s museums and art galleries, the packet will include a map of local wineries.  

“Our idea is to attract different kinds of tourists to Sliven,” he said.

The map, however, is likely to have only a few dots, as it appears there are just two or three noteworthy degustation rooms for wine tourists to visit.  But it is a start.  The last round of promotional material the city produced in 2007 had almost no mention of the wineries.

Markov said that compiling information for the wine map has been a challenge because the local wineries have not organized collectively to promote wine tourism in the region.  Such a long-term, collective vision has yet even to be conceived.  And this may prove to be the wineries’ most difficult task. 

Vassileva at Windy Hills was reluctant to offer suggestions of other places where tourists can go to taste wine in the Sliven region. 

“The competition is fierce,” she said, after hesitating to mention Edoardo Miroglio.  

Ivanov at Chateau Karnobat recommended that tourists go to one of his company’s other vineyards or factories.  But Vinprom Karnobat does not have anywhere else in the Sliven region for tourists to go.

Collective entrepreneurialism, through promotion of the region’s wine tourism, will require a change in mentality – a far more difficult task than building chateaus.

For guidance, they could look at the formula for success of most other wine tourism regions in the world.  From Napa Valley to Tuscany to Alsace-Lorraine, competing wineries have organized to promote their region’s wine.  Many areas, like Napa for instance, offer trains and buses that take tourists to the area’s many producers to sample their wines.  By promoting their regions’ tourism together, the producers were rewarded with more than enough business to go around.   The Sliven wineries’ competition is less among each other than it is with other wine-producing regions.  For international tourists, they are competing with these famous wine areas around the world.  Among Bulgarian tourists, Melnik is the most well-known. 

Some of the wineries also expressed future plans to export their products.  Cooperation could support these ambitions as international wine sales are most often linked to the good reputation of an appellation or a geographical region, rather than the individual reputations of the producers. 

But there is evidence that a few Sliven producers may have begun to recognize the economic benefits of working together. 

“We are helping each other, because it’s difficult in this business. It’s really difficult to promote,” said Silvia Kiuchukova, the sales manager at Soli Invicto.  “For example, if we have a group in Elenovo, they taste our wines and stay for two hours, and we send them to Windy Hills to taste their wines and compare.”

Some of the other wineries with future plans also expressed an interest in working together when they are ready.  The success of wine tourism in the Sliven region may depend on it.  At the very least, their collective promotion will make it easier for tour operators, like Sliven Tours, and the local municipality to join their efforts.  Together they could work to ensure that the region’s natural beauty and the wineries’ new facilities don’t end up like Vini Sliven’s wine cellar – hidden and forgotten.

 **Evan Martin contributed reporting from Sliven, Bulgaria.

Youth Still Have Ways to Go to Realize Power

May 25th, 2009 112 comments

students-in-varna

Krassimir Kolev (left), an attorney for the Interior Ministry, moderator and journalist Alexander Andreev, and Dimitar Dimitarov, Varna's Chief of Police, address security and privacy concerns with young people in Varna. On the board it reads: "State -- Citizen; Security -- Freedom." EVAN MARTIN

By Joe Linstroth

VARNA, BULGARIA — There was a disappointing turnout, to say the least, last Wednesday, in this city on the Black Sea, where a rare opportunity was missed for young people to discuss, face to face, privacy and security issues with high-level officials. Just 25 people, mostly university students, sat in a corner of a large lecture hall at the economics university here as the chief of police of Varna, the country’s fourth-largest city, and an attorney from the nation’s Interior Ministry, addressed growing concerns over the lack of police protection and increased monitoring of online activity. With the poor turnout, however, it is unlikely the officials left with anything to seriously reconsider.

The meeting was the seventh in a series organized by New Moments, New Ideas, a public relations firm subcontracted with EU funds to hold similar forums at universities throughout Bulgaria to engage young people on issues related to the European Union in advance of the upcoming June elections. Aglika Georgieva, the project’s director, said the sparse attendance at all of the meetings has been a disappointment, despite publicity campaigns and direct phone calls. The offer of free cocktails couldn’t even penetrate the apathy and mistrust.

aglica-in-varna

Project Director Aglika Georgieva says attendance at the meetings, designed to engage young people in Bulgaria with EU issues, was extremely disappointing. EVAN MARTIN

In Aglika Georgieva’s own words:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

The topics of the meetings varied depending on the region and the university. For example in Svishtov, which has a prominent economics university, Georgieva succeeded in bringing in the head of Bulgaria’s National Bank. The attendance was even less than in Varna.

She chose security and privacy issues for the Varna gathering because there have been recent protests here over inadequate policing and corruption after two young people were murdered outside nightclubs earlier in the year. Some of the largest protests were led by the Union of Students and Young People, whose leaders in Varna and Sofia assured Georgieva that they would rally members for the meeting.  None showed.

One person who did was Misho Shamara, aka Big Sha, a well-known Bulgarian hip-hop artist who cut a music video with Snoop Dogg and another Bulgarian pop-singer last year. His concern was mainly about the growing lack of privacy, from street cameras around Varna to the increased monitoring of the internet proposed across the entire EU.

Misho Shamara, a prominent Bulgarian rapper, in his night club, Chocolat, in Varna, Bulgaria, in May 2009.

Misho Shamara, a prominent Bulgarian rapper, in his night club, Chocolat, in Varna, Bulgaria. EVAN MARTIN

In Misho Shamara’s own words:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

With Bulgaria’s seat at the EU table only two years old, it has been a struggle to inform many Bulgarians, both young and old, about the ways in which a governmental body located 1000 miles away in Brussels can improve their lives, especially after years of disappointment in their own government.  More investment, both in time and money, must be made to encourage young people to become more active citizens, to participate in the democratic process, and to volunteer for causes they believe in.  Currently, Bulgaria’s allotment for the EU’s Youth in Action Program, which supports such efforts, has gone largely unused because few are aware that the funds even exist. 

This lack of interest from university students is disheartening. They are the ones who will lead Bulgaria into the future and without their involvement — without the recognition of their power in numbers — it’s more difficult to see where the impetus for change will emerge.