Valentine’s day is usually described as a curse nowadays. The gestures of love are never enough, the attention to detail is never satisfying, the singles have never been so lonely. The sad thing is that this day should inspire love and happiness, not become a competition of whose boyfriend bought the biggest bouquet. That’s why I’ll present you another holiday that is celebrated on the 14th of February.
In Bulgaria, we’re celebrating a lot of American or Catholic holidays that we often watch in the movies and then imitate. Lucky for us, we’re not going crazy about St. Valentine’s because we have a much better alternative. We’re celebrating the day of all wine-grower and winemakers. The 14th of February is the day when the first cutting off the wine branches. This tradition is performed only by men because it is said that the vines should “give birth” to a new vintage. In the meantime, the women of the village are preparing bread with the shape of a wine leaf. After this, the men make crowns from the branches and dance traditional Bulgarian dances around the vineyard.
With a group of friends, we visited a city in the South of Bulgaria that is famous for its viticulture. The small city is called Melnik and has preserved his spirit throughout the centuries. You can sense it while walking the main (and only) street in the smallest city in Bulgaria. The architecture is the same as it was during the Bulgarian Renaissance (18th century). The good thing is that it’s forbidden to build something that will ruin that little piece of history.
We were invited by one of the biggest wineries and got to celebrate the holiday with them. We started the day with a coffee, unlike most of the visitors who had already full glass of wine at 11. We walked into the vineyard and participated in the cutting of the vines. To respect the old traditions, the men were cutting and the women were filming. We even received small branches that we could plant so that we could make our own little vineyard someday.
We then participated in the wine tour. As I had worked in France in a château, I knew a little bit about the technique and could compare the differences. This winery had a small production, but it was more of a boutique winery only designated for connoisseurs. We were invited to the tunnels under the winery, where the wine was aging in barrels. It was like entering the crypt of a haunted castle with a much better smell in the air. The best part was, of course, the wine tasting. After the stories about the process, we could taste the different sorts of wine that they were making. It goes without saying, that we bought a whole box.
One of the wines is called “Hailstorm”. I was fascinated with the story that is surrounding this wine. One year there was a big hailstorm in Melnik and most of the grapes were destroyed. The production was very small this year, but the wine was better than ever. The secret is that the grapes that survived the natural disaster were stronger and richer in flavors and that made the wine different than the others.
We also had a walk in the town center. We went to one of the three monasteries overlooking the city. We climbed some 300 steps, but don’t be fooled by the number – these steps were so uneven that even the iWatch considered it as good training. The view was incredible. On the one side there was the city, on the other side there were the Earth Pyramids. They are a geological phenomenon made of sand and with different shapes.