Caroline Gilby, MW, The Wines of Bulgaria, Romania, and Moldova. (Infinite Ideas/Classic Wine Library, 2018).
Sue and I are heading off to Romania in a few days for the 2018 International Wine Contest Bucharest, which will be held in Iasi, Romania this year. I’ve been searching for a good book to get me up to speed.
I hit pay-dirt with Caroline Gilby’s new survey of Bulgaria, Romania,, and Moldova. I have only read the Romanian section so far, but I am very impressed. (Gilby says that it is important to read about all three countries because their histories are quite different and inform one-another. I will catch up with Bulgaria and Moldova on the flights to Iasi.)
Gilby’s book has answered many of the questions I had about the Romanian wine industry and given me some new topics to explore while we are there. I like books that make me question and think and this volume really does the job.
Wine books about particular countries or regions often follow a fairly standard format. History, climate and terroir, grape varieties, regions, producers, wines. All these important topics are covered very well in Gilby’s book. But there’s a lot more, too.
The evolution of the Romania wine sector has been punctuated by a number of important events. Phylloxera is one that is common to many regions, of course, and it is noteworthy that many local grape varieties were replanted and therefore preserved while others were replaced with international varieties.
Wines made from international varieties are popular in Romania, while wines made from the indigenous grapes get more attention abroad, where another Sauvignon Blanc is nothing new but Feteasca Regală can be something to get excited about.
The communist era and its collapse have left Romania a real puzzle that I hope to begin to unlock during our short visit. Wine is old in Romania, for example, but the wine industry is surprisingly young, with many important projects dating from just the last 20 years.
Romania’s vineyard area is quite large, but the average plot is tiny. There are more than 800,000 winegrowers, for example, who have less than half a hectare planted to vine on average. This is a legacy of the collective farm system, where families had tiny plots to farm for themselves. Putting together large enough vineyards for commercial farming has been a struggle, but progress is being made.
International influences extend beyond grape varieties. There are flying winemakers, of course, as there are everywhere these days, but also a good deal of investment from abroad. It is not every country that can count both the Antinori family and also Pepsi Cola as important participants in the wine sector’s development.
Romanians drink a lot of wine (in fact, they have been net importers for the last few years), but they are not always the target market for new projects because much of the domestic consumption is of home-made wine (this reminds me of Georgia). The new winery projects, with higher quality but also higher costs, have to compete with both home-made wine and cheaper imports from Spain and elsewhere.
Hence a focus on exports to the EU and beyond, which is where we come in, I think, because my book Wine Wars analyzes the forces driving the global wine markets and some in Romania think it can be useful in thinking about strategies for their next step. They commissioned a translation of Wine Wars titled Războaiele Vinului or “War of the Wine.” I’m flattered by the attention and pleased to help out.
I’ll give a talk about Romania and the wine wars at the university in Iasi in addition to our work at the IWCB wine contest and some cellar and vineyard visits. Should be a good trip! Looking forward to meeting everyone and learning more about Romanian wine.
In the meantime, let me recommend Caroline Gilby’s new book. The stories she tells about Romania are fascinating. She writes with style and authority. I’m very impressed and looking forward to learning more as I read about Bulgaria and Moldova.