The Saga of Moldovan Wine: From Garage Wineries to International Brands
The Russian influence on Moldovan wine is over two centuries old. After 1812, Tsar Alexander I encouraged agriculture in the area, by bringing French wine specialists and settlers from Germany and Switzerland, to whom he offered land and religious freedoms in return of good wine-making. The current Purcari winery was founded by German colonists. With the advent of the Wine School in 1842, Bessarabia positions itself as an important player in the wine world and the main exporter in Russia. (Gilby, 2018).
Politics, history, and wine
The inter-war period is a turbulent one, in which the Greater Romania’s agrarian reforms affect the natural course of viticulture, and the annexation of Moldova by the USSR is changing the direction towards a planned production, not one led by the market, often turning into over-production and poor quality. Throughout this period Moldova offered up to a quarter of the wine drunk in USSR.
Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign in 1985 was the first alarm signal for Moldova and showed what could be the effects of withdrawal from Russia as the main consumer, with losses estimated at 4 billion rubles. A relique of this period is the famous hiding place from Milestii Mici, used for expensive bottles.
The fall of the USSR has left Moldova in a state of disorganization and decay. Giving back the land to the rightful owners meant dividing the plots and abandoning the formerly centralized cultures. Without other perspectives, the producers were still looking towards eastern markets, where they exported mainly (75%) sweet and semi-sweet wines, sparkling wines (10%) and some dry wines.
A prompt response to this emancipation trend comes in 2006 when Russia sets out its first embargo on Moldovan wines based on a pesticide accusation. Similar actions have also taken place in the years to come.
Passion in the garage
Many internationally renowned companies such as Apple, Disney, Harley-Davidson, and Google have humble beginnings in a simple garage and have become recognized throughout the world in a few decades. This seems to be the story of some of the small wine producers of the Republic of Moldova.
Following the Russian embargos in 2006, 2010 and 2013, several small producers have not given up their dream of having a winery. The only thing they had already renounced in their mind was the comfort of exporting to Russia.
Their courage was not just a crazy one. The confidence that they will succeed is based on a robust wine culture, a specialized education abroad, and especially a vision of the positioning of their products.
Begun in 2008, the Association of Small Wine Producers from Moldova first aimed to change legislation in their favor, making authorities let go of the clause requiring each producer to have a bottling line and its own warehouse, therefore releasing them from the tutelage of large producers they were forced to work with.
Dismissal of the EGO
The Association has brought together those producers that have under 30 hectares and annually produce less than 300,000 liters. Although each has a distinct individuality, own branding, and target markets, they have found the strength to collaborate.
Within the Association, there is a clear consensus on giving up individualism and personal interests, and all decisions are taken so that everyone’s good will prevail. Negativists may disregard such a centralized approach as the nostalgia of communist times, but it is just vision and long-term strategy.
Who Are Small Moldovan Wine Producers?
At the end of 2018, there were 15 of these young wineries, some just started, others with deep family roots, all created by passion and dreams. You can find out more about each of them in this article by Svetlana.
Atu– They define themselves as an urban winery, produce small batches that they dedicate to international markets, which are always thirsty for new and innovative but demand quality.
Carpe Diem-Established by Ion Luca, representative of the fourth generation of winemakers in his family, it represents hope. Even the labels of this winery capture people of all ages and races enjoying life, and most likely wine too.
Crescendo– A school project of the Austrian Government helping young students at the Nisiporeni School of Vocational Training to learn the basics of viticulture and winemaking.
Pripa Domains– With just two hectares, this winery has the ambition to bring a smile on the faces of Moldovans, especially by a remarkable Feteasca Neagra, but also other reds specific to the area.
Equinox – The first small, independent producer, Costia Stratan is a mentor for the other associates, both through courage and knowledge accumulated on three continents. Elegance and New World notes distinguish its wines.
Et Cetera – A family business, born from the passion and curiosity of the Luchianov brothers. They focus on 100% quality and have particular respect for nature, where the grapes for the wine grow. It is known for red varieties like Rara Neagra and Saperavi which can only be found in the East of Europe.
Gogu – The story of Ilie Gogu sounds like a fulfilled American dream. After being unemployed after the 2006 embargo, he began to produce increasingly better wine. Its symbol is the Tree of Life, and he has in the portfolio both refreshing white wines and a pastoral which got an award at Bucharest.
Kara Gani – Descendants of the Bulgarian and Gagauz settlers, the owners of the winery named after the grandfather’s nickname, have a white and a red wines coupages, a rose and also dessert wines.
Mezalimpe – A small and ambitious producer who has not left Purcari’s fame to intimidate him, even if he only has a few hectares, he hopes to make organic wine.
Minis Terrios – The dream of a young family of passionate wine-makers shows that nothing is impossible when you have something to believe in. Definitely worth trying Red Emperor coupage and admiring the symbols that define the seemingly impossible: the plane, the rocket, the woman on the bike, the air balloon, the delta plan and … the witch.
Novak – A courageous winery, made out of passion and worth noticing for a happy event, to rediscovery the grape White of Oniţcani.
Sava Wines – For over a decade, Mihai Sava has turned his grapes into wine instead of selling them in bulk, and for the last two, he even bottled it under his own label, dreaming of exports.
Unicorn Estate – The Străşeni Winery proudly bears the name of the unicorn, as it would otherwise explain that Rara Negră was appreciated by Andreas Larsson with 90 points.
Noble Winery – Created under the magic wand of Oleg Boboc, a trademark oenologist of the Republic of Moldova, these wines have a strong signature, given by the grape variety and use of oak.
The DAC Winery– A wine cellar that focuses on quality and diversity in small but impressive batches. They have already entered the international market for several years when successfully attended ProWein 2014.
The story of each of the wineries is impressive, and their common story is one of a group of ants set to conquer global markets with patience, toil, and steadiness.
Together, they appear to the world as a whole, ready to go outright, with the best wines and following their values which are family, tradition, and hope. The lesson we can learn from these small producers is that it does not matter how little you are when you set to seize your goal and no matter how big are the obstacles you encounter if you have next to you people who share the same goals and sense of brotherhood.
I can say that seeing how these hardworking Moldovans are organized I thought about the legends about the soldiers of Stefan the Great who, although they were few and weak compared to the invaders, always won through tactics, trusting each other, and the idea that there is no other option but victory.