As a wine producer Bulgaria has always had a special place on the international wine map. For starters, with its territory and climate, the country has been the fifth largest wine producer in the 70’s of the last century. The trade monopolist of that time, Vinimpex, was the largest wine seller in the world with annual production exceeding 300 million bottles, which equals approximately 1 million bottles per day. This, of course, was in an entirely different political and economic environment and with an artificially sustained exchange of commodities within the framework of the former COMECON (Council for Mutual Economic Assistance).
Following the dramatic shrinkage of the vineyards in the last 20 years of the 20th c. and the subsequent cataclysms in the industry caused both by the abolition of the state monopoly in the production of and trade with Bulgarian wines and by the restitution of the agricultural lands and the privatization of the wine industry, Bulgaria entered the new century with the ambition of finding its actual place in the wine world and the respective niche for its products. The process of preparing the country for its accession into the European Union also had its strong impact with the resulting adoption of the European legal norms for the industry including the various schemes for aiding grape and wine production.
Today, after 10 years of full membership in the European Union, the country is ranked 15th in the global classification of wine-producing countries, which, to a large extend, corresponds to the actual potential of the Bulgarian viticulture and wine production.
The vineyards are approximately 60 000 hectares and the registered wine producers are more than 260. Grape yield has varied in the past years depending on the specific climatic conditions in the particular year but in general it is around 400 million kilograms per year. Almost half of this quantity is processed for household consumption.
The annual production of the registered wine producers in the past few years has been around 140 million liters and there is a tendency towards reduction of the quantities that are sold on the foreign markets and an increase in the sales in Bulgaria. This is an interesting phenomenon since almost a decade ago approximately 60-70% of the produced wine was sold abroad. Lately, the domestic market has been accounting for about 90-95 million liters annually whereas exports range between 50 to 60 million liters. The share of imported wines on the Bulgarian market is around 5% in terms of quantity and 11% in terms of value. According to market studies, the average price per liter of Bulgarian wine is BGN 7, while the average price for a bottle of imported wine is approximately BGN 14.
The segmentation of the market in terms of sales channels follows the global tendencies to a large extend. Almost 90% of all sales are realized off-trade, but they generate 30% of the value.
The sales ratio between white and red wines is interesting. Traditionally, Bulgaria has been considered a large manufacturer of red wine both on the international market and in the minds of the Bulgarian consumers. The truth, however, is slightly different. In the past years the sales of white and red wines on the domestic market became almost equal with red wine prevailing insignificantly. We must not ignore the significant increase in the sales of the rosé category. If 15-20 years ago rosé wines were considered a certain type of exotic wine product, today their sales exceed 7-8% of the annual sales and account for almost 15% in terms of value. We are observing a stable tendency where it is absolutely possible that the rosé will continue to expand its market share. The traditionally well-marked seasonality in the sales of white wines and rosé has become more obscure.
When it comes to packaging the Bulgarian market is still traditionally oriented towards the glass bottle but there is also a stable tendency of increasing bag-in-box sales. These factors apply to the traditional corks as well as they slowly but inevitably give way to synthetic caps, screw caps and glass stoppers.
In conclusion, the wine market in Bulgaria in the past decade has demonstrated tendencies that are similar to those of the other wine markets in the world, which, to a large extent, results from its accession into the common European market and from the enhanced possibilities to travel and exchange information.