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Consider Moldova

Being new is important.  But so is being old.

That’s the balance that Dumitru Munteanu, director of Moldova’s recently established National Office for Vine and Wine, and his colleagues are trying to strike as they attempt to better penetrate the American wine market.  It’s important to have a history, they believe, but you don’t want to seem stuck in the past.

Munteanu and about a dozen of his wine-producing colleagues were in Washington and New York this week, sharing their wines and their history in hope of getting more advocates in the media and more importers from the wine trade. The fact that the wines are very enjoyable, and at times distinctive, certainly is a good start.

Of all the countries that made up the former Soviet Union, Moldova arguably has the most-dominant wine culture. “It’s been that way since the early 19th Century,” says Artur Marin of Purcari Château, when winemaking communities from France, Germany and Italy settled there.  Moldovan farmers have traditionally made their own home wines, which is one reason that only about five per cent of Moldova’s commercial wine production is consumed domestically, Munteanu says.

Although small in size with only three million people, Moldova supplied 60 percent of the Soviet Union’s wines.  “Since our independence 20 years ago, it took us time to organize our industry [as an international competitor],” says Ludmila Gogu of Château Vartely.  “We’ve had to do it step by step.”

Sandwiched between Romania to the west and the Ukraine on its other borders, Moldova is geographically well-suited for viticulture with four distinct regions. “We are in the middle,” Munteanu says, “between being continental and a sea climate.” Although the small country is landlocked, rivers on either side open into the nearby Black Sea. 

Moldova grows both international varieties and indigenous ones, with names such as Feteasca Alba, Feteasca Neagra and Rara Neagra and has 150 wine producers farming 112,000 hectares or a quarter-million acres of vines. Moldova claims to have the largest underground cellars in the world, and it’s wine school is the third oldest in the world.

Typical of the wines are a 2013 Vinaria din Valle Feteasca, a white wine that is fragrant, floral, dry, food-friendly and reminiscent of an Argentine Torrontes, and 2012 Purcari Château Rara Reagra, a red that has fruitiness similar to a Merlot but a rooty, earthy finish more like a Pinot Noir.  Both are quite enjoyable.

Although once part of the Soviet Union, Moldova is not basically Slavic and changed its place names back to their original status once it achieved independence in 1992.  “We are very Latin in our souls,” Munteanu says, “and our language is the same as Romania.”

Now the question is whether Moldova’s wines, with their rich heritage but increasingly modern winemaking approach, will have the right combination of taste, price and a compelling back story to attract trade and media attention and eventually the American consumer.

Hungary and Romania, both former states of the Soviet empire, have made their cases to American consumers with so far modest success.  Moldova hopes the third time will be the charm.

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