Wines from Moldova – Under the radar, but not for long

Moldova is under the radar for all but the most enlightened North American and Western European wine drinkers.  If, however, you’re from Russia or a former Soviet-bloc country you have undoubtedly had wine fromMoldova because it was one of the leading suppliers to the USSR.

Practically all Moldovan wine was shipped in bulk and bottled in the USSR so there was little incentive to produce high quality or create brands.  Even after the collapse of the Soviet empire in the early 1990s, the wine trade went on as usual.

In 2006, however, Russia denied access to Moldovan wines, accusing Moldova of using illegal pesticides in the vineyards, refusing payment for wines already shipped.  The accusation proved to be false, but payment was never made, so when the ban was lifted at the end of 2007, Moldovan wineries were choked with debt and unable to invest in the infrastructure necessary to compete on 21st century terms.

The industry has been encouraged to find new markets and some wineries have been successful selling bottled wine to Eastern Europe, Germany, the UK and the USA, but there’s still a lot of work to be done to raise the standards of viticulture, winemaking, sales and marketing to western consumers.

I spent last week in Moldova as part of a team hired by the European Investment Bank to provide technical assistance to the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industry and the trade following a 75 million euro loan provided by the EIB.  My first impression about Moldova’s potential was positive.

Most vineyards have been planted to international varieties such as cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, riesling and merlot.  I was more interested, however, in tasting wines made with local grapes such as the white varieties feteasca alba and feteasca regala and the red variety rara neagra.  Some of the winemakers we talked to seemed to turn their noses up at the mention of these local varieties, so we tried to explain that part of the international success of Chile,Argentina and Spain was due to carmenère, malbec and tempranillo.  We also tried to make the point that unless Moldovan chardonnay and cabernet were vinified to express the character of the soils and climate of the country and were marketed as Moldovan, the risk was that their cab and chard would only be attractive as commodities and only if the price was right.

We’re returning toMoldova the first week in April to visit wineries and taste more wines, after which I’ll have a better idea of the current state of the industry.  The Ministry, several wineries and winery associations and international cooperation agencies are working together to create a strategic sales and marketing plan, which includes the creation of a public-private national wine promotion board like Wine Australia.

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