Recent events in Moldova have thrust a small Eastern European country into public view; for many this will be the first time that they have heard of the former Soviet State. Although the current politics are complex, a wine importer based in the UK steps forward to explain a little bit about Moldova and suggest why the term “wine revolution” is so appropriate.
Civil unrest due to the results of a recent election has brought some people to suggest that the Moldova could be heading for a revolution. Revolutions that develop in post-communist societies normally adopt a specific flower or colour as their symbol and it has been suggested that the “wine revolution” would be fitting to Moldova.
The Country has a troubled political history; its location has made it a historic passageway between Asia and Eastern Europe and it has been a victim of viscous and frequent warfare. In the last century alone it has fallen under Hungarian and Romanian control before the USSR established the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic. For the past 18 years Moldova has been ruled by Moldova’s Communist Party and it was their re-election at the beginning of the April that has sparked impassioned protests.
Moldova is among the poorest countries in the world; in 2004 it was estimated that around 25% of the population were living below the poverty line, with one fifth of children living in absolute poverty. As is often the case, the country has struggled to establish functioning market economies from the fractured Soviet system. There are few large privatised companies operating and they have been unable to absorb the high unemployment levels generated from the closure of former state owned enterprises. This poverty and the lack of institutional stability have resulted in key political actors reacting to every change in balance of power.
At present there is some hope that a window of opportunity has appeared to promote state accountability and improved governance. Numerous international organisations have moved into the country over the last decade to tackle the major contributing factors attributing to the country’s poverty. One strategy is to enable the country to effectively produce high quality wine that is suitable for export into new markets. The Moldovan government, with help from a World Bank program, is assisting wine companies to find new markets and since 2006 the Growing Sustainable Business for Poverty Reduction Initiative (GSB), formed in collaboration with United Nations Development Plan, has allocated over thirty million dollars to promote sustainable business which will hopefully play a significant role in eradicating poverty in the country.
Moldova has a rich history of expert wine production; the inhabitants of the territory that comprises modern Moldova have practiced the art of wine making since at least the 8th BC. It has the best potential of all former Soviet states for growing excellent quality international varieties of grape and its viticulture can be characterized as continental. Although its climate is more like that of Burgundy, its latitudes are similar to those of Bordeaux, between 46° and 48°. The southern half of the country benefits from climate and soil conditions that are favourable for wine production. However, Moldovan wines are so little known outside its borders that even the celebrated Milestii Mici winery, who boast the world’s largest wine cellar and, with a million and a half bottles, the world’s biggest wine collection, has found it difficult to break into European markets against established labels.
Imperia UK, a London based wine importer, has spent the last few months working hard to introduce the sophisticated British wine drinker to the joys of Moldovan wine. Whilst the business venture is by no means a charitable one, the Imperia UK team are passionate about revealing the secret wines of Eastern Europe and are pleased that in doing so they may be helping one of the world’s poorest country’s to work their way out of poverty. Speaking from London yesterday the Lithuanian born managing director, Tomas Lankutis said “I have always been aware of the fine wines that have been produced by Moldova and I was shocked to discover that these wines are just not recognised in the United Kingdom. I am looking forward to working with the Moldovan wine producers to remedy this, and I am proud that the work that we will be doing may in some way help to promote a sustainable business structure in Moldova.”
So whilst the spectre of political revolution hovers over the country, it can be argued that an economic revolution is taking place, and one that has every right to be described as a wine revolution.