If you meet on Feb. 14 more men wearing laurel wreaths on their heads and holding wine bottles but not flowers, then you certainly are in Bulgaria.
This is so, because the small Balkan country on this day widely celebrates St. Tryphon, the protector of viticulture and wine, while marking of the traditional Valentine's Day as in many other countries is yet to gain momentum there.
This feast is called "Tryphon Zarezan," which is widely known as a producer of wine from the time of the Thracians, some 5,000 years ago, and since ancient times celebrations are organized on this day throughout the country.
Bulgaria is still on the world wine map, being fourth largest wine producer in the world and the second largest exporter after France in 1978, while the overall production of the divine drink in the country amounted to 1.37 million hectolitres in 2012.
Following the tradition, the residents of the town of Straldzha, a wine producing center some 315 km east of the Bulgarian capital Sofia, gathered together on Friday morning in the town square to mark the beginning of the festivities.
ALL ROADS LEAD TO VINEYARDS
Against the backdrop of folk music and dance, Mitko Andonov, the Mayor of the municipality, said that on this day all roads led to the vineyards.
Right after that, the people moved to the vineyards near the town, where a priest blessed the vineyard for fertility, and vines were pruned and sprinkled with holy water and wine.
"Not only for me but for all residents of the municipality and the town of Straldzha, this is a big feast because viticulture is highly developed in our region," Andonov said in an interview with Xinhua.
Here were grown famous grape varieties such as Muscat from Straldzha and Merlot, and local alcohol producers made Muscat Rakia, Andonov said, "We have also new varieties, new producers, new types of grapes and fine wines."
A company called "Panda Invest" is one of the new producers mentioned by Andonov. Seven years ago, it planted 115 hectares of vineyards located along the nearby village of Nedialsko, and makes some 500,000 liters of wine annually.
Since the planting of the vineyards, the owner of the company Ivailo Pandov has been inviting on Feb. 14 his friends to have a fruitful year and quality grapes.
This Friday, his guests were welcomed by bagpipe players and girls who served ritual bread with honey and salt. Everyone was also decorated with a laurel wreath.
Then, a priest blessed the vineyard for fertility, and Pandov and his guests pruned vines.
The celebration continued with folk songs, dances and banquet.
CHINA AS DESTINATION FOR BULGARIAN WINE
Pandov told Xinhua that his company makes the ends meet not easily, because he planted the vineyards with his own funds, and then it turned out that the maintenance was quite expensive.
"We still can not get a fair price for our work, because the grapes in Bulgaria have not a very high price, but we are managing to survive," Pandov said.
His business is to make wines and have good partners in China, he said. "In fact, our main partners for whom we export wines are in China," Pandov said, adding that he has already exported there about 80,000 liters of wine.
He said he expected his partners to develop distribution, and Bulgarian wines to become increasingly popular in China.
Asked about which feast on Feb. 14 is more popular in his country, he said that in fact, Tryphon Zarezan is a typical Bulgarian feast, while Valentine's Day began to be celebrated not long ago, since 10 to 20 years.
"But wine and love in Bulgaria are inextricably linked. When there is wine, there is love. The two are always together," Pandov saidn