Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Significance of Wine in Bulgarian Folklore - Na Zdrave!

Many years ago, I lived in German wine country, in one of the northernmost wine growing regions of Europe, between the rivers Rhein and Mosel. This was a white wine region, with a very short growing season and the vineyards, with rows of Riesling grapevines terraced on steep hillsides to catch the sun, created a beautiful and unique landscape. This is the area I was privileged to live in for nearly four years. This is Bernkastel-Kues, a beautiful wine village, on the Mosel River, 45 minutes away from where I used to live:

The Romans, in their conquest of the continent, spread viniculture far and wide. They cultivated grapevines in the valley of the Middle Rhine, which is at a latitude of 50 degrees north. This was as far north as they could go; in this part of the world the growing season is from May to early October. Wherever the Romans went, so did their vineyards; Spain, Italy, Austria, France, Hungary, Portugal, and Bulgaria. The Greeks were also known for their wine and may have brought viniculture to Bulgaria as well.

The drinking of wine accompanies every special occasion and there are holidays connected with it: Trifon Zarezan in February (when the vines are pruned), and Holy Cross Day in September, which falls around the time of the grape harvest. Both have pagan origins. St. Trifon is the patron saint of vineyards. Here's a Trifon Zarezan celebration, which falls on February 14:

Wine has almost a religious significance in Bulgarian folklore. It is seen as more than just a beverage, but as something that promotes health (there has been a lot in the news lately about the health benefits of moderate consumption of red wine), and since it resembles blood, it is also seen as a symbol of fertility and life. It also promotes a communion to those who partake, and even children are allowed to drink small quantities.

Red wine is the predominant vintage in Bulgaria, and rakia is the distilled spirit made from this wine. Wine and rakia are mentioned in this folk song:

Bulgarians would never dream of having a celebration without wine and dancing.

Bulgarian proverbs mention what happens when there is too much of a good thing, and the hangover after the party is a universal phenomenon. It’s not the wine, it’s the drinking!

"THE FIRST glass is for health, the second - for joy, the third - for fun, the fourth - for madness."

"BLESSED wine, cursed drinking!"

Here’s another folk song about a blonde who has no comb, and is looking for a man to marry her. The chorus: Elena, bring the red wine and the red apples......

Although Bulgaria produces a significant amount of wine, it is very hard to find here in the States, unless you live in a large city like New York or Boston. Part of the reason is that people won’t drink wine from a place they know little about. Maybe their wine is so good they don’t get much of it to export here. I know for a fact that in Germany, the best wine stays in the country; the rest is exported.

I have yet to find Bulgarian wine at a liquor store near me.
The best way to obtain it, probably is to buy it by case, via the internet.
For more about wine and Bulgarian folklore read:

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