MOLDOVA has not experienced an earthquake for nine years, so it seemed symbolic that the tectonic plates chose to shift on a night when an international group of journalists were in the country to assess the opportunities for its wines in the global market.
The 5.3 Richter scale shake that rocked the capital, Chisinau, was all anyone could talk about the following morning as they mostly forsook the spittoons at the first tasting. It had been a reminder for those who live in the country of how fragile life could be and a taste for others of the delicate balance that Moldova strides.
The wine industry here has certainly suffered its fair share of disasters over the years, but it has finally begun to learn from its misfortunes and is beginning to strike a balance that it hopes will build its strength and allow it to fortify itself against the vicissitudes of global dealing.
For many years Moldovan winemakers were at the behest of the Soviet government, even following a wine Prohibition in the mid-eighties which saw most vineyards destroyed. Their reliance on Russia as an export market prevailed until 2006, when Russia imposed a ban on Moldovan wines. It was lifted a year and a half later but just a few weeks before my visit the Russian quality control agency once again decreed Moldovan wines to be too poor quality for import.
But many see this as a political move rather than a question of quality, and this time the Moldovan wineries were better equipped for the news.
The 2006 ban had seen a sea-change in attitudes as the Moldovans realised they needed to focus on markets that would prove more stable and the winemakers started to move away from their old ways to embrace new technologies.
Helping this small and economically poor landlocked country (it is sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania) to raise its winemaking game was the USAID-funded Competitiveness Enhancement & Enterprise Development II (CEED II) – a project to support “Moldovan enterprises’ ability to successfully compete in the global marketplace by growing and expanding key industries to increase sales and investment”.
And, according to Diana Lazar, project deputy director and wine industry manager, the winemaking industry rose well to the challenge.
“After the embargo of 2006 it took about a year for the winemakers to start realising they had to build on an international market,” she says. “It was only now they had a major revelation in terms of style, quality and innovation.”
Back then there were five wineries which had the equipment and energy to get into international markets and they joined forces as the Moldovan Wine Guild.
Lazar says: “They looked to the UK, Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic but it was difficult for these five wineries to build a market by themselves. They were the wineries that CEED helped.