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Romania: Between Seven and Four Millennia of Wine

Romania can be easily identified on the map of Southeast Europe owing to certain landmarks which have always made it attractive to whoever cared to take a closer look: harmonious landscapes, unique through their bio-diversity, world-class sports people, scientists who blazed a trail in physics, mathematics or medicine, musicians, and more recently, a good production of cars and green energy. But wine has always been there: an art of living by striking a balance between earth and sky, past and present and the future. As an ironical testimony of history, it has been said, along the centuries, that the inhabitants of this country were first into wine growing, and then into agriculture.

Let us take a brief fact-finding trip together.

Romania ranks in the world's TOP15 and is the biggest producer in Eastern Europe:
(Volume in thousands of hectoliters )

Country 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
World 264,372 267,243 256,222 287,600 270,864
United States 20,890 19,140 21,740 23,500 22,500
Spain 35,353 33,397 31,123 45,650 37,000
South Africa 9,327 9,725 10,568 10,980 11,420
Russia 6,400 6,353 6,400 6,200 6,000
Romania 3,287 4,058 3,311 5,113 4,093
Rest of World 27,791 30,870 25,120 29,330 27,996
Portugal 7,148 5,622 6,327 6,238 5,886
New Zealand 1,900 2,350 1,940 2,484 3,200
Italy 48,525 42,772 45,616 52,429 44,424
Greece 2,950 2,750 3,115 3,343 2,900
Germany 6,906 9,132 9,012 8,409 9,725
France 44,381 50,757 41,548 42,004 46,151
China 13,000 13,200 13,810 11,780 11,780
Chile 8,844 10,464 12,554 12,846 10,029
Australia 11,420 11,180 12,260 12,310 12,560
Argentina 16,250 15,473 11,778 14,984 15,200
Source: OIV, October 2014

These figures are owed, first of all, to a varied relief, which has allowed the constant and bountiful development of vines. Proportionately, Romania’s relief is defined as “Carpathian-Danubian-Pontic”. Carpathian, as two-thirds of the Carpathians chain is here, Danubian because the lower reaches of the Danube – over one thousand km – are on Romania’s territory or on the border with its neighbors (Serbia, Hungary, Ukraine), and Pontic, since it has a Black Sea shore stretching over 245 km. This geo-morphological mix, as well as the fact that it is crossed by parallel 45, together with the specific conditions of the various micro-climates encountered here explain why Romania’s present-day territory has been one of the historical cradles of wine growing: not only today’s Romanians, but also their predecessors, the Dacians, Gaeto-Dacians and the Thracians were particularly attached to vineyards. Four thousand years of history, documented by written records and archaeological finds prove the existence and the importance attached to vines by the peoples who populated Romania’s present-day territory. It is not by accident that the ancient legends say that the god of wine, Dionysus, was born on the territory which is now part of Romania.

From Homer to Modern Times

Last century, historian A.D.Xenopol wrote about the Gaeto-Dacians, using a text from Homer, that “the men and the women drink wine in the Scythian fashion, unmixed with water, using big deer antlers or ox horns, instead of glasses or cups, which were passed from hand to hand.”

In his turn, Diodorus of Sicily (1st century BC) described a feast that the leader of several Gaeto-Dacian tribes, Dromichaetes, gave in honour of his prisoner, General Lysimahus. The guests were served with wine from gold and silver cups, while the hosts drank from animal horns and wooden vases. A story told by antique geographer Strabo, referring to the creator of the first Dacian state, Burebista (1st century BC), shows that he ordered for all vineyard to be torn down, in order to stop the invaders, who were interested in this special resource of the area. It seems that the measure was only partly applied, because when they came to Dacia, the Romans issued a coin, in 106 AD, which showed two children offering grapes to a woman. An obviously defining symbol of the Dacians was being thus highlighted. The Romans also brought in new types of grapes, but also their own wine-growing techniques, which contributed to improving the production.

Wine growing continued throughout the historical periods, and wine became also renowned outside the Romanian provinces. According to Dimitrie Cantemir (a historian and ruler of Moldova, 1673-1723), the wines produced in Moldova were sent to Tsarigrade (Constantinople, in the archaic Romanian denomination), Warsaw, Vienna, while the ones from Wallachia were sent deep into Turkey and Egypt. In 1788, Stefan Raicevic, a merchant from Ragusa, who became the tutor of Alexandru Ipsilanti’s children, then Austrian consul, wrote thus about the Moldovan vintners, in his book titled “Osservazioni storiche, naturali e politiche interno la Valachia e Moldavia”: “The Moldavians do not use special skills in making and preserving wine, because it is so good in its own that it becomes clear and fit to drink even after the first year.”

The history of Romanian wine growing also went through a period of decline, when the phylloxera struck, an insect which devastated the vineyards, destroying the roots of the vines in the second half of the 19th century. The upside consisted in two measures which brought priceless long-term benefits: besides the domestic grapes, new types of grapes were brought in (Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc), and the Romanian vintners became more specialized in the field.

The turn of the 20th century found Romania with 152,000 hectares of vineyards. During the interwar period, there were 220,000 hectares. When they came to power, the communists destroyed part of the vineyards, encouraging, over four decades, the practice of cultures based on quantity, to the detriment of quality. But after 1990, wine production took an upwards path, following the return of the vineyards to their owners and privatizations, as well as a result of support from EU funds. Now, Romania’s wine-growing surfaces are divided into seven big regions counting 40 vineyards and more that 160 wine-growing centers.