Entering the most thriving wine market at the moment - US, may not be such a great challenge after all when it comes to high quality Bulgarian wines...

Entering the most thriving wine market at the moment - US, may be not such a great challenge after all when it comes to high quality Bulgarian wines, as much as the haters and pessimists would like to claim.  The truth is there is a light at the end of the tunnel and its name is Brand Marketing Organization for World Wines (BMOWW).

Behind this melodious name is a team of young and open-minded economists, logisticians, a journalist and now sommeliers. And it just so happens that most of us have studied and/or worked in the US market at some point.

"We have a query for two sommeliers to promote Bulgarian wines on the American market and we recommend you and Zhivko Narlev" was the brief conversation that I had with George Filipov of the Bulgarian Association of Sommeliers and Wine Lovers. Zhivko and I did not even have to think twice about taking this opportunity!

Signs from fate

Sign number one. The US Visa interview was short and clear.

- What is your job?

- Sommelier!

- What is the nature of your visit to the US?

- To promote quality local wine on the US market.

- Mr. Atanasov, you have a US visa.

I took this as a sign that the US is ready for us, the people who have one mission - tell and show the true identity of Bulgarian wine. Even the US bureaucracy melts at the sound of my secret code word – “wine”.

Sign number two. I listened to the conversation of a group of people at the next table at the neighborhood coffee while browsing an article published in www.divino.bg: "The peculiarities of the US wine market." The conversation was one a heavy one and they were asking each other questions like of those heavy, like "who are we, Bulgarians, and why we are going through all this?", referring to the tough Bulgarian social and economic reality.

The “Di Vino” article ends succinctly with a tip from David Throne: "Do not come alone to the US market, rather come with other manufacturers with whom you share a common regional identity. You will then start building your brand."

This could easily be used as a slogan of BMOWW, for short, precise and clear presentation of ideas, perceptions and goals of the organization.

I did not need any more signs. We have the product, I met the right people, I would be honored to be one of the ambassadors of Bulgarian wine - these were the thoughts that went through my head while the same group of people seated at the next table ordered another round of beers and started dissing the Government, the municipality, the economy, etc.

I packed my laptop, paid the bill and left. The time for I got the computer I paid the bill and left. The time for complaining was over, it was time to get to work.   

The Product, the People, the Time and the Place

The Product - high quality Bulgarian wines from local and international varieties, made with love and devotion from the following cellars: Bratanov, Burgozone, Minkov Brothers, Windy Hills, Villa Melnik Marash Winery, Orbelus and everyone else who wished to join the Organization, that is sufficient and does not look down on others. After all, on a market such as the US even the large players seem small.

Message from Anne, a local distributor. "Do not make wine specifically for the US market, keep its identity, we like you as you are.

The People – this is us, Iva, Mimi, Eli, Mitko, Dimi, Maya, Zhivko and I. I will not fall into formalities, because, as I told our Ambassador Elena Poptodorova, in whom we found praise and very strong support: "We're not some of those snobby sommeliers, we are cool." The Ambassador replied with a smile: "It is very important not to be snobby sommeliers in the US”.  This is a market where Chardonnay became “Chard”, Cabernet - Cab, Fran is Pepper, Sauvignon Blanc is a cliché, but when it is “buttery” and “round” from aging in the bottle it is suddenly “interesting” and “cool”. The US is no place for formalities and clichés.

I can already imagine the Americans who enjoy the scent of leaves, hummus and berries in "that M 55", referring of coarse to Melnik 55.

The Time in the US - We live in a time that could be best characterized by Mel Dick’s words "The timing has never been better suited for business with the US, a time when 77 million people born between 1980-2000 are reinforcing their interests". "They are more educated, more informed, they travel more often and are constantly looking for new tastes," emphasized David Tron, head of Total Wine and More, a network of wine supermarkets in 18 states with over 8000 labels. (Source: Di Vino)

The Time in Bulgaria - We have a unique opportunity to be living in a time in which the new Bulgarian history is being written. Any action that prevents does not somehow help the Bulgarian wine production and export should be considered criminal. We, the people who are dealing with wine in Bulgaria daily - be it sommeliers, technologists, agronomists, traders, journalists, officials, etc., have no right to give anything but 100% in order to promote Bulgarian wine in foreign markets.

The Place - Washington, DC, right in the bullseye. The city is cosmopolitan and simultaneously it vibrate with youth. Fresh brains from around the world work for their country and for themselves. Politics is not a dirty word, and people have opportunities, culture, and are willing to experiment.

We had the opportunity to present Bulgarian wine in front of representatives of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, sommeliers, distributors and lovers of wine.

I began the presentation with a simple question: "What do you know about Bulgaria and Bulgarian wine?" The answer was: "Not much." I felt a certain relief due to the fact that I did not have to utter Bulgaria and Bulgarian wine half-heartedly, as in Europe, where in the past we lost positions due to controversial decisions of the people associated with our exports.

Each wine was evaluated on merit, because the market is huge and there is a niche for every type and style of wine. In the corporate lodge where we had the wine tasting one could hear words like "surprise", "quality", "unique", "identity", "design", "labels" and last but not least - "something different."

At the end, one thing is certain - we have access to the door that leads to the US market.  Now we simply need to open it wide.


August 17th 2015

Marin Atanasov