Romanian wine faithfully reflects the transformations of the almost 3 past decades. It is not only about the economic and social change, but also about the change of mentality, and perception of wine by producers, authorities and consumers.
Author: Sergiu Nedelea
© Happening Media
© Alina Iancu
The journey from the IAS (state-owned agricultural enterprise) wine to the premium wines we have today was not at all simple.
The main mutations in the post 1989 wine-making industry were generated by the transfer from the centralized economy to the market economy, as well as from the state property to the private one. In the first 10 years after 1989, the changes led to a reduced surface of noble vineyards. Instead, the areas planted with directly productive hybrid grew at an alarming pace, which seriously affected Romania’s image and position as a country with a tradition in wine export. As soon as they started to directly compete with the world's wines, Romanian wines faced a decrease in exports.Planting new vines was an activity at first reduced and then stopped, which led to the aging and general decrease of the wine production potential. Another negative consequence was the massive reduction of the production of vineyard material by the dismantling of many nursery units and the deforestation or abandonment of almost all rootstock crops. At the same time, the viticulture research institutions and resorts were no longer funded by the state, which endangered the genetic basis of Romanian vines. Many local grapes, otherwise valuable, got closer to the danger of extinction.
This was the local context, when the first European investors came to Romania.The first step was made by the Corsican Count Guy Tyrel de Poix, who founded S.E.R.V.E. in 1995, the first private wine company in Romania. Soon, several Romanian vineyards were bought by foreign investors. Thus, in 1998, Sergio Faleschini convinced a group of foreign investors to found Vinarte, acquiring vineyards in Mehedinți, Stârmina, Dealu Mare, Vila Zorești and in Drăgășani, Sâmburești. In Banat, in Recaș, in 1997, two Romanian engineers joined Philip Cox, an English businessman,and laid the foundations of Recaș Wine – a fervent promoter of Romanian quality.These companies have the merit of being the first to re-launch the Romanian wine in the European landscape. Moreover, they have capitalized on the potential of wine as a support for culture and promoted local grape varieties.
In 1996, the German producer Carl Reh Winery bought a vineyard with an old tradition in Mehedinți, Oprișor. In 1997, Halewood International, from UK, bought Vinalcool Prahova. Over time, Domeniile Halewood have aquired vineyards in Apoldu de Sus and Cernavodă. A great merit of this company is to have taken over the pre-war tradition of the Rhein Azuga Cellars, reviving the prestige of the Romanian sparklings.
After 2000, the number of foreign investors increased, either as direct investments or as joint ventures with Romanian partners. This is how new players emerged, such as Corcova, Liliac, Nachbil, Alira, Lacerta, Crama Ceptura (founded by Vinăria Purcari, Moldova Rep.), Clos des Colombes. Nachbil, Negrini, Gramma proved that a large vineyard is not mandatory to achieve a high level of quality.
Davino was launched in 1998, with Dan Balaban succeeding to bring Romanian wine to an exceptional level, both due to the the quality of the wines and to the labels created by George Moisescu. Later on, other investors tried to follow the same path of exclusive wines, such as WineRo (Alira), with vineyards in Dobrogea or Prince Știrbey, in Drăgășani, where, in 2001, Baroness Ileana Kripp, descendant of Prince Barbu Știrbey, regained its 20 ha of the formerly nationalized vineyards during the communist era. A similar restoration process occurred in Dealu Mare, for Crama Basilescu – an old property of a Mecena of the national culture in the interwar period.
Crama Gîrboiu, a family business, resurrected Șarbă and Plăvaie varieties. Balla Géza produces exquisite wines in Miniș. Without taking on a family tradition, Aurelia Vișinescu, an enologist, took over only the tradition of valuable local varieties and,with European funds, managed to render Săhăteni, Dealu Mare the fame of the past.
A special praise should also be given to the enologists of the new generation, as,ultimately, they are the ones to make the wines: Liviu Grigorică, Gabi Lăcureanu, Bogdan Costăchescu, Aurel Rotărescu, Iustin Urucu, Veronica Gheorghiu, Lorena Deaconu, Mihai Baniţă, Marian Andrieș, George Maluțan... to name just a few. And we cannot deny the contributions of expats Stephen Donnelly, Hartley Smithers,Nora Iriarte, David Lockley, Fiorenzo Rista, Stephen Bennet, Marc Dworkin, those who left their native terroir for the Romanian one.
The major producers before 1989 were privatized (Murfatlar in 2000, Cotnari in1998, Jidvei in 1999, Vincon Vrancea in 1999). In 2003, Domeniile Viticole Tohani was founded, today being the largest wine producer in Dealu Mare. The colloquial Casa de Vinuri Cotnari was set in the Cotnari vineyard. Vincon Vrancea went from Beciul Domnesc towards Ambrosio. Avincis, Casa Isărescu, Domeniile Sâmbureşti are representative for Drăgăşani. Apart from these, Ostrovit S.A joined the major producers, dominating the Danube Terraces.
Domeniile Coroanei Segarcei had the ambition, right from the start and confirmed in time, to revive the interwar fame, producing both large volumes and quality. Jidvei has the great merit of resuscitating the tradition of the local vine nurseries. Budureasca managed to stabilize and become an important player. Domeniile Urlați made a sound technological investment and is a notable winery in Dealu Mare. Corcova brings a fresh perspective, by making their wines attractive to a customer segment targeted by all producers: those aged 25 to 35. Averești and Crama Hermeziu rewrite the wine stories from northern Moldova. In Viișoara, “Conu Albu” brings freshness in Dobrogea. Also in Dobrogea, Via Viticola Sarica Niculițel harnesses the “Caii de la Letea” (Horses from Letea) at the carriage of quality wines.
As, after all, wine is simultaneously an agricultural product, a nourishment, a cultural element... a noble product addressed to everyone, the role of this Gault&Millau guide is to make it available to the wide public, with the support of an eminent jury,whose wine judgement can be read in the following pages.
Guest Author: SERGIU NEDELEA
With a professional experience of over 20 years, Sergiu is well known as Founder of Winetaste School, CEO Sommelier Agency, as well as an outstanding member of the European Knighthood of the Wine – O.E.V.E, where he acts as Cupbearer and President of the Oenological Commission – Romanian Consulate.