The first thing that comes into view when flying into Moldova is the bright green landscape, with greenery in all directions. This is a lush, unspoiled country, which is reflected in its fresh, vibrant food – and its wines.
Which is not surprising, considering the Moldovans have been making wine for more than 5,000 years. Wine has deep roots in this landscape – and now they want to share it with the world.
Moldova at a glance
Moldova sits in Europe’s southeast, in the Black Sea basin – the birthplace of Vitis vinifera – where the climate is moderately continental. The country has plenty of low hills, sunny plateaus and plains, criss-crossed by streams which flow into the two big rivers, the Prut and the Dniester.
Located at the significant 46-47˚ latitude, Moldova has the perfect terroir for wine, plus a winemaking history that dates back to 5,000 BC, to the Cucuteni–Trypillia culture of the Neolithic period. One of the striking features of this culture was that it had no division of labour – households were self-sufficient. This culture of self-sufficiency has been kept alive through the centuries, with almost every Moldovan household growing vines and making its own wines. Many people continue to make their own wines today, giving the Moldovans a deep and authentic wine culture that is rarely found elsewhere.
Wine also plays a significant role in national life, with 15% of the active population involved in professional wine production. This is, above all, a country that takes wine seriously.
Not surprisingly, given such a long history, Moldova also has plenty of indigenous varieties, which today count for around 10% of the total vineyard area. The most famous are Feteasca Neagra, (“Black Maiden”), an ancient red variety only found in this part of the world, along with the white Feteasca Alba and Feteasca Regala, and the red Rara Neagra; the 2019 harvest was particularly notable for the quality of its red grapes, with 300,000 tonnes picked.
In order to preserve and enhance the authenticity of Wine of Moldova, winegrowers are constantly expanding the plantations of local grapes and also experimenting with new, modern-style blends of European and indigenous varieties, as well with varieties that are resistant to both disease and the vagaries of climate change.
The number of wines bottled with PGI (Protected Geographic Indicator) labels continues to grow, with two thirds of the country’s wineries now registered as IGPs. Work is currently underway to determine three PDO zones. Altogether, 114,000 hectares under vines, Moldova has one of the highest proportions of land devoted to vine of any country in the world.
Given the natural beauty of the landscape, the Moldovans are strongly invested in sustainable growing practices, to preserve their heritage into the future.
Old country, new strategy
For most of the 20th century, Moldovan wines were a secret known only to the Russian market, who prized the wines for their range and beauty. In the past decade, however, Moldova has launched itself internationally, to great acclaim – in 2019, exports rose by a huge 9%, with wines heading to more than 70 countries, from the EU to North America and the Asia Pacific region.
How did Moldova go from a virtual unknown to a rising wine star? It all began with a quality revolution.
The new era of Moldovan winemaking and the metamorphosis of the industry started in 2013, when the Republic of Moldova decided to implement dramatic and painful structural and legislative reforms in its wine sector. The strategy was to blend Old World’s respect to wine-making traditions and terroir, with the flexibility, and innovative mindset of the New World. It took over $600m in investment and planting 30,000 ha of new vines to upgrade and secure the production potential. In the meantime, the reformed legislative framework spurred the emergence of small, boutique wineries, which became Wine of Moldova’s ambassadors for quality and innovation. This refocused Moldova’s wine industry towards a new approach and brought with it a significant leap in quality.
The National Office for Vine and Wine (NOVW), a one-of-a-kind public private partner- ship in the region, was established and assigned the task of creating programs to support market diversification and the growth in exports of high-quality wines. NOVW has also become responsible for the promotion of Moldovan wines on export markets, under the umbrella of the national wine brand, Wine of Moldova. A legend Alive, launched at ProWein 2014.
To ensure the quality and traceability of Wine of Moldova, a national Wine and Vine Register was put in place, followed by the implementation of a quality system based on the EU model of protected geographical indications (PGI), based on deep research and established around three traditional vine growing areas: Valul lui Traian, Ștefan Vodă and Codru, plus a special geographical denomination for grape brandies called Divin. The first PGI wines hit the shelves in 2015 and over the next three years their number and volumes doubled, while the area of PGI plantations tripled.
This intense focus on quality has paid off in the most extraordinary way, as can be seen by the number of medals that Moldovan wines keep winning in major international wine competitions. In 2018, Moldova’s wines came home with 488 medals. In 2019, that number rose to 824 – of which 300 were Gold.
Moldova – a wine tourism destination
In recent years tourism in Moldova has boomed, fuelled mainly by wine tourism and festivals and events linked with wine, such as National Wine Day, Wine Vernissages and Wine Runs. As a result, dozens of wineries in Moldova have opened their doors to visitors, offering a wonderful opportunity to get closer to Moldovan wine, by establishing personal connections with winemakers and their very human stories. Wine tastings are often accompanied by a taste of homemade local food, based on locally sourced flavoursome ingredients, a reflection of Moldova’s rich folklore and traditions.
Moldova is also internationally famous for its vast underground cellars at Cricova – more like an underground city than a cellar – and at Mileștii Mici, the 200km long system of tunnels, which holds the Guinness World Record for the largest wine collection in the world. Not only that, but Moldovan cellars, from the largest to the smallest peasant cave, are a masterpiece of sustainable design, which use the earth itself to moderate the temperature
After visiting Moldova, visitors can be in no doubt that Moldova is a country where wine is in the blood.
This article first appeared in Issue 1, 2020 of Meininger's Wine Business International magazine, available by subscription in print or digital.