A team supervisor in Corcova watches his men tilling the Cabernet Sauvignon plot. Since 2005, 136 acres of the vineyard were replanted with French varieties from Pépinières Hebinger and with those who brought fame to the Bibesti family estate – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Muscat Ottonel, Chardonnay – as well as Feteasca Neagra.
Much like a student who failed the subject for a century, Romania now rehearses the components of an equation which proved to be successful in the interwar period: favorable natural conditions + solid investment + legislative support + Western technology & knowhow = good wine. Nowadays, in Romania, the EU’s fifth wine producer, almost 445,000 acres of vineyards are undergoing a metamorphosis under the watchful eye of local and foreign investors. Yet another interesting phenomenon is taking place in the comet’s tail: after half a century during which spritzers with semi-sweet whites reigned supreme, an aspiring segment of the Romanian population is developing a taste for quality wines.
Wine is a sort of litmus test for a population’s degree of sophistication. People need time, information and a broad variety of experiences in order to become more refined, to learn, to develop their taste and respect for quality. Communism destroyed almost every aspect of local colour (or terroir). In doing so, it also destroyed the population’s taste for quality.
Lately, consumers have become able to tell the difference. They experiment, they read up, they learn that a Cabernet Sauvignon with a touch of tannin and a slightly stronger structure is not recommended for salads and should rather be paired with rare steak.
Still, the fans of quality wine remain few. If they are at all like me, Romanians who have just converted to the cult of wine are still fumbling, learning, discovering, seeking. Most of us are like children still learning the alphabet: we can’t write words of praise to wine, let alone form sentences.