GENERAL HISTORY

Kukeri crafts wines from some of the most unique vineyards in Napa Valley and Sonoma County. We treat that fruit as gently as possible, producing small lots of quality wines that display the complexity, power, finesse and specific terroir with Cabernet Sauvignon grown in Mount Veeder, and Pinot Noir from Petaluma Gap and Russian River Valley.
Kukeri ritual is a pagan Bulgarian tradition that may date back as far as 8,000 years to the ancient Thracians – and to Dionysus, the god associated with wine, fertility, and rebirth. The festival is replete with mystical symbolism, steeped as it is in a tradition representing the cycle of life, death and rebirth.
Petar Kirilov, founder & winemaker of Kukeri Wines grew up in Bulgaria, and graduated from the prestigious University of Food Technologies in 2002 with a Master's degree in winemaking. He began his professional career as a Technologist in a Bulgarian distillery. In 2003, Petar decided to leave for California and secure a winemaking internship with Truchard Vineyards in Napa Valley. In 2005, Petar joined the hi-tech wine company Vinovation, as Winemaker, where he has been involved in numerous research and development projects. In 2008, Petar joined Meadowcroft Wines and Foyt Wines as a Winemaker to oversee the production of high-quality wines. He also is a founder of the wine industry website VinoEnology.com.
In 2010, Petar decide to start his own brand Kukeri Wines, to focus on producing of small lots quality wines form single vineyards. In 2013 after a long vinification we bottled the first vintage of the 2010 Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon and later the  Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.
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The tradition

Kukeri is a traditional Bulgarian ritual of Thracian origins. The ritual is performed between Christmas and Lent by costumed men, who walk around and dance to scare away the evil spirits, as well as to provide a good harvest, health, fertility, and happiness.

According to the tradition, the kukeri visit people’s houses at night so that “the sun would not catch them on the road.” After going around the village, the kukeri gather at the square to dance and amuse people.  The symbolic meaning of the winter and pre-spring rituals performed be single men is related to the end of the old year and the beginning of the new one and to the upcoming awakening of nature for new life.

 

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The costumes

Their costumes cover most of the body and include decorated masks of animals and large bells attached to the belt. The mask, according to folklore beliefs, is a protection from the harmful influence of impure powers. It represents a head of a peculiar creature with a scary face. Different masks could have gaping jaws, horns, tails, or snapping beaks. The elaborate decoration made of feathers is supported on a wooden frame.
Some masks have two sides. One of the sides represents a good face, and the other – a scary face. Such masks are a symbol of good and evil, which exist together in the world.

The dance of the masked men is a mystic unity of rhythm, sound and color. They move in special rhythmic steps. They fill the air with the sounds of their bells and of whispered blessings for prosperity.

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The masks

The fearsome animal looking masks (originally representing the goat) worn by the Kukeri often have hinged jaws that can be snapped open and shut, as well as horns which may be real or just wooden. Sometimes these masks have two sides, one representing good and the other evil, reflecting the balance of these forces in nature. The masks are believed to drive away malevolent spirits, and once donned cannot be removed for the rest of the day. Quite a challenge considering how heavy they must be!

The Kukeri also add various other symbolic articles to their horns such as tassels, ivy (which is sacred to Dionysus), basil (a herb which signifies love in some cultures) and feminine beads and ribbons.