Due to the significant investment of Bulgaria Wine Tours into the development of Bulgarian Wine & Spirits Industry, BulgarianWine.net chose them to uncork our new project "The Most Influential People of the Bulgarian Wine Industry". The aim of the project is about the people behind wine glasses, wine bottles, wine brands. Wine lovers crave the stories and want to know more. More of what makes people travel and even move to Bulgaria, what makes people chose Bulgaria as a wine destination, what makes Bulgaria a wine country, after all? Bulgarian Wine is more than just wine. It is a history, passion, love, and devotion. And it is up to you, dear reader, to decide whether you like it or not. But firstly, let me introduce you, an inspiring couple behind Bulgaria Wine Tours: welcome Zina Sorensen and Vasil Zlatev.
1. When did your wine journey begin?
Zina: I have liked to drink wine for a long time. Many of my friends from the hotel and restaurant industry work with wine and know wine. I was around wine for several years during my time working in hotels. It was not until 2013 that my real wine journey began though. I wrote a thesis on wine tourism in Bulgaria, and travelled the country visiting over 15 wineries.
Vasil: Zina and I first bonded over a bottle of Bulgarian wine actually. I joined her during her research trip to some Bulgarian wineries in 2013, and couldn’t help but think: “People have got to come here, see these wineries, taste these wines and hear these stories”.
2. What has provoked or motivated you to connect your life with wine?
Vasil: I used to work for an NGO that focuses on renewable energy, energy management, and sustainable development. It’s quite different to what I do now in Bulgaria Wine Tours. We saw an opportunity in 2013 to promote wine tourism in Bulgaria to the rest of the world. And in the meantime, we got enchanted by wine. It is one of the things wine does to you when you allow yourself greater contact with it.
Zina: When visiting wineries, tasting the wines, meeting the people and hearing the stories and legends associated with wine here, I thought that the more rural regions of Bulgaria have so much to offer. People tend to associate Bulgaria with the Black Sea Coast and, perhaps, the ski resorts. Many wineries, small guesthouses, restaurants in the countryside expressed that they would love to have more people visit, so I thought: Let’s try to bring more people to the rural regions of Bulgaria.
3. What is the most challenging part about being in wine business?
Zina: Probably convincing people to come to Bulgaria for wine and food tours. It is still an unknown destination for such tourism.
Vasil: Promoting Bulgaria as something more than a cheap holiday destination, but as a destination where one can find excellent wines, millennia-old traditions and history, delicious food, stunning nature, and hospitable people.
4. What do you find the most rewarding about being in wine business?
Vasil: Being able to showcase how rich in culture and experiences Bulgaria is.
Zina: Without a doubt, the satisfaction expressed by our customers. We have yet to meet a single person who have come on our tours and tasted Bulgarian wines to say anything negative. Everyone seems to be impressed with Bulgarian wines, food, history, and nature. It always feels good to get positive feedback.
5. Which one of the wine regions of Bulgaria would you recommend to explore and why?
Vasil & Zina: Each wine region has something unique to offer. In all of them, you will not be able to avoid stunning nature, good food, excellent wines and interesting people. Some regions offer unique points so, for example, if you would like to combine wine with spa, we would recommend the Struma Valley region, or the Rose Valley region. If you want a truly rural experience with a large focus on nature, wine and food, we recommend the Sakar region. If you want culture, good wine, and some city experiences, we recommend the western part of the Thracian Valley around Plovdiv and the Rhodopean Mountain Range. If you want to combine wine with a beach vacation, go for the Black Sea during the right season.
6. If you have to recommend only one Bulgarian winery to visit, which would that be and why?
Vasil: This is like asking a winemaker to name her/his favourite wine :) I would say that the best winery visit is the one that creates a lasting memory - you remember the setting, the wines, the people you met there, the people you were with and when you buy wine from that winery and open it a few weeks later, it is as if you were at the winery just a couple of hours ago and all these memories come back.
Zina: Too difficult to answer. There are so many great wineries here, and they are quite different. It all depends on the experience that you are looking for. We recently visited two vastly different wineries. One was a small family-run boutique winery with a few guestrooms. The experience was personal, authentic and memorable. Our hosts took such good care of us, we wanted to stay for several days and basically live with the family. The second winery was part of a larger complex with a beautiful hotel, spa and restaurant. I would love to spend a weekend at such a place too and pamper myself.
7. Favourite combo (place+food+wine+with (person)).
Vasil: Depends on the season. In the summer, an outdoor garden restaurant in the Old Town of Plovdiv with melon & prosciutto slices and a glass of cold rosé. In the winter, a heavy red with lots of tannins that make your mouth so dry that you need a nice, juicy pork chop to go with it. Of course, shared with Zina :)
Zina: A traditional Bulgarian mehana with a platter of Bulgarian cheeses and cold meat cuts, a glass of Mavrud and I would want to share that moment with Vasil.
8. What is your advice for starting wine entrepreneurs?
Zina: For any entrepreneur, really, I would say stay focused and be patient.
Vasil: It depends, I guess, in which area of wine entrepreneurship (retail, tourism, etc) but in general, I would say try as many wines as you can, try to get to know wine and the regions that you will operate in.
9. What are your wine goals in the next year or two?
Zina: I would be happy if we could increase our tours and number of customers.
Vasil: I would very much like to work on getting stakeholders in the Bulgarian wine industry to work together in a more strategic and targeted way. I believe the sustainable way in which the wine industry, wine tourism and everything around it should develop is to make Bulgaria famous for its wine and not try to make individual wineries famous. I bet you that most people going to Bordeaux for a wine tour can’t name even 5 wineries in the region. That is what we need to achieve here as well - when someone says Bulgarian wine, this should be associated with good quality, irrespective of the producer.
10. Describe “Bulgarian wine” in three words / Bulgarian Wine is..
Zina: Passion, History, and Emotions.
Vasil: Different, Bold, and Full of stories
About Vasil Zlatev: Vasil was born and bred in Plovdiv. Having lived in the United States, UK, Sweden and visited much of Europe in his early to mid-20s, Vasil returned to Plovdiv to work in sustainable development. Initially, Vasil focused on air quality, energy efficiency, renewable energy and sustainable transport, but after meeting Zina, he became a wine tourism entrepreneur. Vasil has always been passionate about history, stories, and exploring old traditions and now he has added another passion that is very much related to these – wine.
About Zina Sorensen: Zina is originally from Denmark. She has studied International Hospitality Management (BSc) and Environmental Management & Policy (MSc). Her career has been mainly within the tourism sector in hotels and travel agencies. As the child of an expatriate family, traveling to different countries started in her early childhood. Her childhood, student years and work career has taken her to over 8 countries across Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Now, she is a dedicated wine enthusiast, small-business owner, sustainable tourism advocate, travel fanatic and food lover.
Bulgaria Wine Tours is a full-service tour operator specialized in wine and food tours. Bulgaria Wine Tours offer tours that aim to introduce the guests to the wines, culture, traditions, cuisine and nature of Bulgaria. Bulgaria Wine Tours offer tours for small groups as well as itineraries tailored to suit individual preferences. Every step on any given tour has been personally checked to guarantee that they turn into memorable experiences. Bulgaria Wine Tours was founded in 2014 and is the first tour operator in Bulgaria to specialize exclusively in wine tourism.
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