Yes, the tiny, unknown country of Moldova has the two largest wine cellars in the world.
The one we visited yesterday at Milestii Mici Winery contains over 2 million bottles of wine.
The main difference with the Milestii Mici wine tour is that you have to have your own car. There is no other way to take the tour, unless you perhaps go with a taxi and pay the taxi driver's tour price as well!
We paid the 200 lei ($14 CAD, $10 USD) tour price, and Helen our guide came out to get in the car with us. She guided us into the tunnels and away we went.
Entering the tunnels at Milestii Mici.
Although we drove about 3 kms (2 miles) inside the tunnels, there isn't really a lot to see. At some point in time, they discovered that the fumes from the cars was affecting the wine in some way and they have moved all storage away from the tourist area where the cars go.
Still, it was interesting getting an idea of the scope and size of the tunnels. There are over 200 kms (120 miles) of underground tunnels, and they even have street names on most of them so you can't get lost.
Our guide Helen was really good though, and certainly kept us well informed along the way. Eventually, we came to a parking area and got out off the car somewhere 60 meters below the surface.
Helen, explaining some of the facts about their wine.
The wine cellar only contains wine dating back to 1969.
There are a lot of politics at play in the wine making industry here. Up until 1991, Moldova was part of Russia and every second bottle of wine consumed in Russia was produced in the Moldova area.
But back in 1984, Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev tried to ban alcohol in Russia and most vineyards in Moldova were destroyed, as well as any wine in storage in the cellars. But the winemakers at Milestii Mici built an underground room where they secretly stored 50,000 bottles of the best vintages at the time.
Some of them are still available today, if you've got a spare $1,500 USD or so!
There are between 500 and 1,500 bottles in each one of these compartments.
And the compartments go for miles!
The collection room.
This is what happens when wine sits untouched for years.
When demand is ready, these wine bottles are cleaned up, labeled, and put up for sale. The dust and mold is actually good for the wine as it protects it from light.
Private wine storage.
You can rent your own storage space in the cellars. All it takes is a 150 euro ($165 USD) per year fee, plus the purchase of a minimum 500 bottles of wine. Apparently several Chinese businessmen own the wine in some of these compartments. China and Japan are now the biggest importers of Milestii Mici wine. Russia imposed a ban on Moldova wine in 2006 that has been on-again off-again since then. This company went after different markets and no longer sells to Russia.
Guinness Records certificate.
Our guide Helen told us there are currently over 2 million bottles in storage.
We decided against the extra cost of the tastings and instead we purchased two bottles. A 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon, and a 1987 Negru. Total cost for the two bottles? About $7...
Even the cheap stuff is good wine!
I think we enjoyed the tour at Milestii Mici more than the one at Cricova. The difference of course is that you have to have your own car for Milestii Mici. Oh, and the tour at Milestii Mici is much better value for your money. The cost was only half of what it was at Cricova, plus we had our own private tour guide. It's also much less commercial. So, if you have a choice of one or the other, (they are both close to Chisinau) Milestii Mici is better in our opinion.
We then went for a short drive in the area and found somewhere to go for a walk.
Our little Ford Fiesta rental car.
Moldova has some of the most fertile soil in the world.
And the climate is perfect for growing grapes.
A fox in the distance.
What a beautiful day. The best weather we've had in over two weeks. Sunshine, and a high of about 7C (45F) with very little wind.
Today, we're going on a road trip! We're driving about two hours to the south to visit our next winery, and stay overnight in that area!
128 GB flash drive...dirt cheap for our American readers...