History and Legends
Archaeological findings suggest that the area around the modern city of Asenovgrad was a main winemaking region for the Thracians. In Ancient times the Greeks would reach this area through the Maritsa river. Viticulture was the main sustenance of the local population. The grape harvest and winemaking were regional celebrations, filled with traditions, rituals and daily festivities.
Legends for Mavrud
The legends about a young man called Mavrud date back to the time of khan Krum (9th century AD). Those legends have neither been confirmed nor refuted by different sources.
The legends tell the story of the willow Ilaya who raised her only son with grape and wine from a wine tree in her yard. The boy grew up to be extremely strong and even submitted khan Krum's lion in a fight. Impressed by the boy's strength, khan Krum enquired about his name and the source of his strength. The boy's name was Mavrud and his source of power were the grape and wine he was raised on. The khan ordered that the grape variety is named after the young boy - Mavrud.
Another legend describes the young man Mavrud showing unimaginable strength in fighting a demon. After khan Krum found out that alcohol consumption is one of the reasons his army is not performing well in battle, the khan ordered all vines to be uprooted and everyone who was caught drinking wine to be severely punished. The bravery of Mavrud who defeated the evil demon and released the caprtured people by the demon, made the khan reconsider his order and commend the brave young man.
Mavrud stories from the Rhodopean collar and Asenovgrad
Mavrud receives the highest praise in the book titled "Wine book" (1982) by Iliya Zaykov, Ivan Dionisiev and Georgi Petrov. Cultivating Mavrud and making wine from the grape in the area of Asenovgrad is presented as part of the traditions and culture of the Bulgarians, in connection with the ancient rituals and the development of viticulture and winemaking in the region. The book is a source for the majority of shared information about Mavrud here.
Citing a number of sources, including from Ancient times, the authors suggest that there was a direct access by water via the Maritsa river from Troy to the heart of Thrace. The Greek ships sailed on the Maritsa river and archaeological findings point to the fact that the viticultural center of Thrace was in the area of Asenovgrad.
“…in the Rhodopes, above Asenovgrad, there was a temple in the name of Dyonisus, where there were powerful oracles, famous around the ancient world." It is documented that Alexander the Great visited this temple and gave a "wine sacrifice". Ancient historians describe the spirituality Thracians ascribed to the consumption of win. For the Thracians wine was a divine product, a source of strength and inspiration. Before going into battle, the Thracians drank wine to gain strength and courage.
The development of viticulture and winemaking in the area of Asenovgrad is an example of how this delicate and complex product was spread in regions near and far and contributed to the image of Bulgaria as a wine country. The variety that first made Bulgarian wine famous was Mavrud. Mavrud has been the pride of Bulgaria for centuries - dark, dense, powerful and thick.
The importance of viticulture and winemaking in the region is emphasized by the old names of Asenovgrad - Stanimehos (related to harvest) and Ampelinos (related to vine). It is well-known that almost until the end of the 19th century the area around Asenovgrad was in essence a massive vineyard. The main grape varieties in the region were Mavrud in the lowlands and Pamid at higher-altitudes. Viticulture was the main sustenance of the local population. Harvest and winemaking were regional holidays, filled with traditions, rituals and daily festivities which are described in detail in the book.
The "golden" years of local viticulture and winemaking were during the Krimean war when the French merchants set up a wine supply chain from Asenovgrad through Burgas. Ox carts, loaded with expensive barrels filled with wine, criss-crossed the Ottoman Empire to deliver Mavrud wine for the French and British troops figthing at Sevastopol.
The Asenovgrad Malaga
Asenovgrad has gone through two events, which despite their tragic nature, did not discontinue the main sustenance of the local population. The events were the burning of the town in 1793 and 1810 and the plague during 1814-1815.
A wine considered miraculous was deemed to play a role in the quick recovery and survival of Asenovgrad's citizens. The wine was the Malaga wine of the Chorbadzhakovi family which is a source of the perceived, even to this day, characteristics of Mavrud wines - dark, thick and delicately on the sweet side. It is said that two sips from this wine brought new life into people.
Inspired by this story, we celebrate Mavrud Day on St. Dimitar's Day. This was the day when the famous Asenovgrad winemaker Aristi Chorbadzhakov began harvesting and later used special winemaking techniques to make this particular style of wine. At the end of fermentation, he separated part of the fermenting juice, boiled it and returned the thickened and cooled must to the wine. In this way, the fermentation stopped and the wine stayed thick, slightly sweet, with concentrated aromas and flavors.
Another forgotten, but important for the promotion of Mavrud, style of wine is the Patriarch Mavrud. This Mavrud wine was never sold on the market and was served only at special occasions. The wine aged in large clay pots, buried in the ground, following a Georgian winemaking technology. The connection with Georgia is Bachkovo monastery which was founded by Georgians. The monastery had a huge impact on the local population and the monks taught winemaking. The monastery was important in preserving the winemaking tradition in the area through the years.
Phylloxera reached the area around 1910 and represented a major challenge for grape-growers. Those who were able to graft their Mavrud vines onto American rootstocks were able to preserve their vineyards. There are still rumours of "old Mavrud" vines, grown on their own rootstock, in private houses in the area of the Rhodopean collar.
Source of information: Professor Venelin Roychev DSc, Agricultural University - Plovdiv
Professor Roychev develops Bulgaria's first "Monograph of the Mavrud variety".