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Ivo Varbanov, Chairman of the Bulgarian Association of Independent Winegrowers, on the importance of small producers

Ambitious, inventive and working after the highest professional standards, small and family Bulgarian wineries make the most interesting part of the contemporary wine scene in this country. An organisation, the Bulgarian Association of Independent Winegrowers, has dedicated itself to help them popularise Bulgarian wines both in the country and abroad. Its chairman, winegrower Ivo Varbanov, shares more.

Why independent Bulgarian winegrowers need support and how the Association provides it?

Outside Bulgaria, winegrowers associations are usually created on a regional principle with the aim to promote the regional brand as a whole.

The Bulgarian Association of Independent Winegrowers was established in 2012 with the aim to unite small and family wineries and to protect their interests in front of institutions at local, national and European level, and to promote their wines. We have a representative in the "wine working group" at the Ministry of Agriculture expressing the needs of small and family wineries. We are a full member of the European Confederation of Independent Winegrowers – CEVI, of which I am one of the two Vice-Presidents. This organisation unites 12,000 winegrowers across Europe.

BAIW includes producers who are engaged in the process from A to Z: they grow their vineyard, they make their wine, and sell it on the market. On a practical level, our members benefit from lower participation prices at exhibitions and specialised events. Our strength is based on the fact that we have 43 full and associated members. Associated members are either companies involved in the wine industries or wine producers who do not own vineyards and purchase grapes on a long-term contract basis. The associated members cannot vote in our General Assembly, but they use all the remaining benefits (for example lower rates at wine exhibitions, which is often more than the annual membership).

Why are independent winegrowers important?

In the past 15 years Bulgaria experienced a boom of independent winegrowers and this is something very good. Bulgaria and the Bulgarian wine scene need small producers as they popularise Bulgarian wine abroad and help it to become recognisable and better valued. (We need to remember that till around 2000 Bulgarian wine was usually at the bottom shelf in supermarkets across wine-drinking countries). Small wineries make excellent wines, rigorously following all the steps in the process: well farmed vineyards, highly qualified winemakers, and all the required equipment to make well-crafted wines. They are also dynamic, they experiment and are eager to create new wines, working with both local and international grape varieties. Small winegrowers have a very special connection and feel to wine, because owners themselves spend a lot of time in close contact with it: in the vineyard, in the cellar. As a result, they make limited series of wines. Few of them go beyond 100,000 bottles a year, most of them produce between 10,000 and 40,000 bottles a year.

This wine, however, is excellent value-for-money. A bottle of wine made by a small producer that costs

15 leva is better than the rest at the same segment because it has passed through fewer intermediaries to reach the market, and the cost of a large marketing department and advertisement has not been calculated in its price. So, you pay for the wine in the bottle, not the packaging, the marketing and advertisement.



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