Wine Tourism and More in Romania:
Most people know little about Romania, other than that it includes Transylvania, the home of Dracula. That’s despite the fact that Prince Charles first visited Romania in 1998 and has returned many times. Romania remains an undiscovered land. So while my visit was ostensibly for the wines, I took the time to sample some of the delights of the country and to enjoy the Christmas markets and New Year festivities.
The oppressive communist state of Ceauşescu was overthrown in 1989 in a bloody but popular uprising, and since then the people of Romania have started to rebuild their country with democracy, new businesses, new openness, and the opportunity to communicate with the world.
To get an understanding of the current state of Romanian wines, I was going to visit 4 different wineries across Romania, to see their production, taste their wines and understand the ideologies behind the winemaking itself. But I was also going to get to see some of Romania itself.
First stop was at Timisoara, a provincial capital and the largest city in North West Romania via a simple 2-hour flight from Stanstead. Historically known as “Little Vienna,” Timisoara is home to theatres, art galleries, museums and a great nightlife. Timisoara was the first European city to introduce horse-drawn trams (in 1869) and electrical street lighting (in 1889) and was where the elite of the day would have a residence. Baroque architecture surrounds many of the grand squares, and the Christmas markets were in full swing. With many areas purely for pedestrians or trams, children could run around freely whilst their parents hovered over stalls selling ornate decorations and presents. Upmarket designer shops line the avenues, along with a mix of restaurants offering a good range of cuisine.
Walking around the town at night seemed safe, with groups of families and couples arm in arm sharing the Christmas and New Year feeling in the town. The wide streets were all clean with no graffiti, adding to the charm of the town.
The vast Romanian Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral dominates the end of Victory Square and is a memorial marking the starting place of the uprising in 1989.
A short and simple 30-minute flight took me on to Bucharest, the capital of Romania. The city, founded in 450BC, is known for its grand Belle Époque buildings, and very French style. It was called “Little Paris” in the 1900’s, and with its wide roads, flamboyant building facades and even a mock Arc de Triumph, you can easily understand why.
No visit to Bucharest would be complete without seeing the Parliament Palace. Built on the orders of Nicolae Ceausescu, the massive Parliament Palace (formerly known as “People’s House) it is the world’s second largest administrative building (the Pentagon is the first)
It took 20,000 workers and 700 architects to build and has 12 stories, 1,100 rooms, a 350-ft.-long reception area and 4 underground levels, including a nuclear bunker. Tours of the area are well worth taking, and can easily last a day. This is certainly one of the reasons I will be going back to revisit Romania.
Bucharest is literally stuffed with churches, museums, art galleries, food halls, restaurants, boutique shops, designer label shops and so much more that make it a compelling place to visit, and the low cost of flights means we Brits will still get a good deal for our money. There are numerous hotels, including the largest JW Marriot in the world (which is almost always fully occupied) so clearly the word is spreading about this destination.
Romania joined NATO in 2004 and has been in the EU since 2007, allowing their young people to move elsewhere in Europe and back again, bringing with them new ideas and experiences. This has not been lost on the wine industry, where both Europeans and locals have started to rebuild their vineyards and wineries, allowing them to produce quality wines. Romania is the 10th largest wine producing country in the world, with over 180,000 hectares of vines associated with wineries. It has a wine heritage that goes back to pre-Roman times.
Under the communist rule that ended in 1989, all land was confiscated and wine was simply red or white. White was preferred as it could be produced in greater volume, so many of the historic vines were ripped up to mass produce, and export, basic wine. Since the revolution, winemakers are starting to get their appropriated land back, and although much of the wine history has been lost, they are beginning to restore it. There are over 30K wineries in Romania now, and the quality is now so good that people are talking about it.
The first visit was to the Cramele Recas winery at Recas, near Timisoara. You could consider this as an industrial scale winery, and indeed, producing over 17million litres of wine a year, it is. Shipping to the UK, Holland and Germany, chances are that your first experience of a Romanian wine will be from this winery. Their size allows them to supply most of the supermarkets and many specialist wine resellers with a consistent supply of affordable top grade wines.
Then across and down a bit to Bucharest, and out west towards the Dragasani and Sibiu region. Here in the rolling hills is the Avincis winery, a mid-scale and growing winery that mixes tradition with a vibrant and modern approach to both wine and engagement, offering residential wine course and visits. With new investment, this is a winery looking to grow its production as it expands the range of grape producing vines.
A short drive across a hill to the Prince Stirbey winery, a small vineyard continuing from its 300-year-old roots. This is a very small niche winery, producing no more than 100K bottles per year, using solely grapes from its own land, and focussing on returning to the quality wines and grape varieties that existed in the 1900’s before the wars.
Lastly, just an hours drive out of Bucharest, a visit to Cramele Halewood winery. This winery is an example of the winemaker’s skill, producing wines from own vine grapes as well as from imported regional varieties. This allows the smaller vineyard owners to flourish without having to invest in their own winemaking facilities and allows Halewood to produce the volume needed to export with consistent supply outside of Romania.
I will give more detail on these wineries and their wines in future posts, but let me leave you with this thought; 90% of all wine sold in Romania is actually Romanian wine.
More about the wines in the next feature.
For now, if you are thinking of visiting Romania, why not pin this post for later