To mark its 25th anniversary of independence from the Soviet Union we shine the spotlight on the emerging wines of Moldova, a country that may be off the beaten track for most tourists, but is quietly becoming a favourite for those looking to discover something very different on their travels.
Moldova holds the distinction of being the least visited country in Europe in 2015. Only 94,000 foreigners entered Moldova last year. But anyone that has the inspiration to go can be assured not only an enormously warm welcome, but a wonderful mix of cultures, interests and food and drink to enjoy.
Moldova is one of those rare countries, particularly in Europe, where every experience is a new one. From the architecture, the monasteries, the transport, the music or the cuisine.
But what is not different is its love affair with wine. Moldova was one of the first countries in the world to produce wine and has a long, proud history of winemaking with many of its wines now winning awards in major international competitions. It also boasts some of the biggest, grandest wineries, built up during the years when 90% of its production went to Russia.
One winery, Mileștii Mici, is even in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the largest cellar that contains some 2 million bottles of wine.
Which is probably enough to quench the thirst of the average Moldovan who holds the distinction of being the second biggest drinker on the planet, just behind Belarus, consuming some 16.8 litres of booze a day.
The Russian ban
The Moldovan wine industry has, however, had to completely re-invent itself since 2006 when Russia decided to ban all wine imports from Moldova in order to build up its own wine industry. It has forced the country’s winemakers and producers to build up new markets in both the West and the East to ensure they could survive the decision makers in Moscow.
The Moscow ban had an initial devastating impact on the country’s wine industry, with up to a half of producers having to close and its total wine production fell by some 60%.
But in time it has slowly established itself again as a key wine producing country. It is now the 22nd largest producer of wine in the world. This has come about thanks to enormous investment both from the Moldovan government and private investors that has helped a new generation of wine producers to open up state of the art facilities. It is estimated some €330 million has been invested in new vine plantings, production equipment and technologies in the past ten years.
It means there is no reason why the wine being produced in Moldova should not be as good as anywhere else in Europe, particularly now most of the wineries use winemaking consultants responsible for making wine in all the major wine producing countries.
So let’s take a look at some of the headline figures for the Moldovan wine industry and what you can expect if you invest a few pounds and buy a bottle or two.
Moldovan wine: the essentials
- Wine is a major part of both Moldovan culture and its economy. Its wine sector accounts for 3.2% of the country’s GDP and 7.5% of its total exports.
- The country even hosts a two day wine festival every year between October 3-4, known as National Wine Day, with festivals and events all over the country.
- Moldova consists of four main wine regions: Valul lui Traian (south west), Stefan Voda (south east), Codru (centre), and Balti (north). Note the first three are destined for the production of wines with protected geographic indication.
- It employs over 250,000 people in 140 wineries, accounting for some 27% of the working population.
- Moldova has the biggest density of wineries in the world, making up 3.8% of the country’s land and 7% of the country’s arable land.
- This works out at 112,000 hectares of vines with 30 different varieties of grapes.
- 70% are its vineyards are dedicated for white varieties (mainly Rkatsiteli, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Aligote) which are mainly in the Codru region.
- 30% are red varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Saperavi) grown more in the southern regions. Aromatic varieties account for 36 % of the vineyards.
- Its average annual production is 15 million dal (decalitres).
- 88% of its production is still wines, 6% sparkling and 6% specialised wines.
- 30,000 hectares of new vines have been planted in the past seven years alone, mostly taken up by the Mediterranean grape variety, Vitis Vinifera, as well as plantings of more local varieties.
- 80% of Moldova’s wine production is exported annually, to more than 50 countries, of which 55% are red wines.
- The CIS states account for 68% of all exports, which are worth $156m. But this is down from 90% back in 2004.
- Wine exports are worth a total value of $156.1m.
- 60% of its wines are shipped in bulk and 40% bottled.
Moldova’s key export markets:
East Russian Federation 38% Kazakhstan 15% Ukraine 11% Belarus 6%
West Poland 36% Czech Republic 22% Romania 6% United States 5%