Bulgaria’s rose valley is a vision of pink.
The Damascena rose buds have burst into colour – and are ready for picking.
Workers are turning out here early in the morning to harvest the flowers, to make rose oil – fondly known as “liquid gold” because of its density and honey notes.
It’s a blooming industry – providing seasonal jobs for some 40-thousand people.
The Damascena is considered to be the best oil-bearing rose.
The petals are picked still laden with dew – and then transported to a distillery as soon as possible, to keep them in the best shape.
“I work in construction, but every year I do not want to miss the rose picking. I am helping my family. I am satisfied with the work because it provides good income,” says rose picker Anton Naskov.
“Well, so far we are well, in the future we will see.”
Unique climate and soil conditions make the Rose Valley one of the world’s biggest production areas for rose oil.
Low temperatures in the morning of 5 to 10 degrees Celsius (41 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit) and highs of 25 to 30 degrees Celsius (77 to 86 Fahrenheit) at midday are said to help the roses generate more oil.
The air humidity, cloudiness and precipitation in May and June are said to help too.
The quantity of flowers picked in a day is closely matched with how much can be processed, here at the Enyo Bonchev rose oil distillery.
The sacks of petals are emptied into huge vats as part of the production process.
“The initial production of rose oil is a simple distillation. For this purpose, rose oil distillers have been used, these copper kettles and wooden coolers. The first distillate is being boiled again to give a purer product,” explains Genka Zhekova, a technologist at the distillery.
It takes some 4,000 kilograms (8,800 pounds) of rose petals to produce one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of 100 percent pure, steam distilled rose oil.
The oil, which is used in perfumes, costs up to seven-thousand euros (9,551 US dollars) per kilogram.
Bulgaria is one of the world’s leading exporters of rose oil, producing 70 percent of the world’s output.
Filip Lesicharov, Chief Executive Officer and Owner of the Enyo Bonchev distillery, says traceability is “one of the most important things” for customers.
Demand for organically produced, fairtrade oil is growing says Bonchev.
“They are coming more and more comparing in the past years in order to check our production, how we are working, whether we are using fair trade practices,” he explains.
“Not only caring about the quality of the product which they are receiving but also how we are producing this rose oil. Every year we have different visits from customers and I see more of them coming to Bulgaria.”
The biggest buyers of Bulgarian rose oil are France, the UK, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, the United States and Japan.
There also emerging markets in China, Thailand, and Korea.
This year’s harvest season started on 10 May and ends on 15 June.
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