Galina Niforou, Chairwoman of BWEA: The SEE region is going through a real vine-growing, wine-making and wine-marketing renaissance

Automation & RoboticsInterviewSouth-East European INDUSTRIAL Мarket - issue 1/2014

Galina Niforou,
Founder & GM at OINORAMA wine consulting,
BIWC Managing Director,
Chairwoman of Bulgarian Wine Export Association

Dear Mrs. Niforou, would you please briefly present yourself and OINORAMA? What is the company’s scope of activity?
Let me present myself first. I have an engineering degree in Wine and Spirits Technology from the University of Food Technology, Plovdiv. I have specialized in Wine Marketing & Management MBA at the Bordeaux International Wine Institute - INSEEC in France.

After 15 years of experience in the wine industry in Bulgaria and abroad I decided to establish myself in the consultancy business because I believe it is a very important but missing part of the Bulgarian wine scene. That is how Oinorama consulting was created.

OINORAMA wine consulting & business solutions is the only Bulgarian company specialized in strategy development and marketing consultancy for wineries. Our services include all the necessary practices for achieving success in the business. From vineyard management, through enological practices, we get close to our clients in order to develop the identity of their winery and create a strategic marketing plan. Together we project their business and find new markets for their wines.

You have remarkable experience in the field of wine production in Bulgaria and abroad. Tell us more about the greatest challenges facing the industry.
I had the chance to study in one of the best business schools in Europe. Its Wine Marketing and Management MBA program was ranked the top specialized MBA program in France. The experience I had there and the contacts I made with wine specialists from every corner of the globe were priceless.

In 2006, after graduating, I decided to come back to Bulgaria. The wine industry here was rapidly developing and the possibilities were enormous. I had the chance to start working in one of the best wineries in Bulgaria, Katarzyna estate and to become a part of a great team. I learned a lot from my colleagues and had unforgettable moments there as a professional and as a person.

What is the current state of the wine market in Bulgaria and in South-East Europe as a whole? What are the possibilities for further development in this field?
The wine market in Bulgaria is very dynamic right now. There are lots of possibilities provided by the EU funds - for building new wineries, planting new vineyards, etc. Many businessmen from Bulgaria and abroad have taken chances and built state-of-the-art wineries and vineyards.

This is a very positive trend, because only thus the quality and the healthy concurrence can ensure the market development. Thus the consumers can be taught how to recognise the quality wine. This is valid for the entire SEE region, where we witness a real boom of new wineries these days.

There is an idea for presenting Balkan wines as a common brand in international markets. How is this going to facilitate their success abroad?
It all started with the idea of creating the Balkan International Wine Competition and Festival, held annually in Sofia. Why the Balkans, you may ask. First of all, the Balkan region is proud to have the most ancient wine history in the world.

Moreover, the local grape varieties are at least as rich as the spirit of the people in the region. With nearly 1.8 million tons wine production per year, the Balkans rank 5th in the world, right after the largest wine producing countries - Italy, France, Spain and the USA. For the last decade the region made an enormous progress in the quality of its wines and today it can stake its claims as a key player on the world wine map.

All these reasons led our team to create and further develop the idea, quite successfully in my opinion. It is easier for an international buyer to focus on a whole region instead of a small Balkan country. I can say it is already working.

Are Balkan wines globally competitive? Which are their best qualities? What does it take for a Balkan wine producing company to establish itself in foreign markets?
Of course they are competitive! We just need to be more confident and proud of our wines. This way we can transmit that feeling to the buyers, distributors, opinion makers and media. The biggest strength of our region is the richness of the vine varieties.

There is no other place on earth with richer vine heritage. We have to take advantage of this to position the Balkans as a unique wine region. And because working alone for establishing a single brand is very difficult, an idea of generic promotion of the whole region is much better.

Would you please summarize the latest trends and technologies in winemaking in the SEE region and around the world? Can we keep up with the major global wine producers?
We cannot be so global in our region. Every Balkan country follows its own steps, coming from its own traditions, the taste of the people on the domestic market, the combination with the local food, etc. But as a whole, the SEE region is going through a renaissance in the vine growing, wine making, marketing, everything.

It will be difficult for us to compete with the bigger countries. The essence of branding the Balkan region is to keep our personality and just be different from the others. This, I think, is the most important thing for us.

Tell us more about the Balkans International Wine Competition. How did you come up with the idea and what made you chose the Balkan region in particular?
THE BALKANS INTERNATIONAL WINE COMPETITION is a first of its kind. It celebrates the millennial wine-making tradition of the Balkan Peninsula as expressed in its modern Balkan wines - daily savored and loved by locals, more and more preferred by the wine lovers worldwide.

Dedicated exclusively to regional wines, this annual competition - to take place at the heart of the Balkans, in Sofia, Bulgaria - aspires to draw the attention of the global wine community to the unique range of flavors that this interesting region has to offer. The competition is open to wine producers from all Balkan countries. The Balkan wine festival that will follow the competition will welcome the wine-loving public.

Why the Balkans? Again, this is an unique place, actually - the birthplace of wine, more than 700 indigenous grape varieties, 5th place in the world in terms of wine production. What else do we need? Passionate people? Yes, we have plenty of them in the Balkans.

What to expect from the Balkans International Wine Competition in 2014? Which major Bulgarian and international winemakers will participate?
BIWC 2014 will be the third edition of the Competition. The interest is growing every year and we expect the top players from each Balkan country to participate. At the same time there are many regional wine events to promote the Balkan idea. This is great because it makes people understand that together we can show much more to the wine business and the wine-loving audience.

What are the causes for the interesting cultural and marketing phenomenon Enotourism? Which are the key routes in the South-Eastern European wine map?
The enotourism is a very natural part of the marketing communication of each winery. Of course it is important to clarify from the beginning what you will sell - a wine, a region, a "marriage" of food and wine. What is the infrastructure? Are there any historical sites near the winery? Many questions are involved in that puzzle, and the most important thing is to be creative, open to the new things and honest with the customers.

Most of our neighbors already have established their own wine routes - Greece, Serbia, Croatia, etc. Bulgaria needs to work hard to catch up with them. I have an idea of creating a global Balkan wine route, which, in my opinion, will show the world the immense beauty of the region, its wine and the people behind it.

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