There are about 45 commercial wineries in Moldova, and 10 of them are open to public tours. In no particular order, we plan to visit three of them during our time here. Yesterday, we visited the second largest wine cellar in the world, at the Cricova underground wine city!
The area where the Cricova wine cellars is located is about 15 kms (9 miles) north of the city of Chisinau in the village of Cricova.
Actually, it's not located in Cricova. It's located under Cricova!
Other than the fields of grape vines surrounding the village, this is what you see above ground...
The entrance to Cricova Winery.
To give you some background, this area is built on a huge limestone quarry. They have been mining the limestone for well over 5 centuries and mining still continues to grow the tunnels. Back in the 1950's, someone figured out that the tunnels that had been excavated made for perfect conditions for producing and storing wine. It is a constant 12C (54F) and 96% humidity year round.
There are over 120 kms (74 miles) of tunnels!
We had to make reservations in advance. Even at this time of year, the wine tourism is busy. Our friend Andrei picked us up and brought Gizem with him, a girl from Turkey who was staying at the same couchsurfing place that he was.
The four of us arrived just in time for our 11:00am tour.
There were about 18 people in our group, plus Tatyana our English speaking guide. We all piled onto an electric golf cart style of train,and off we went into the tunnels.
We'll start you off with a video...
Cricova Winery is most popular for it's sparkling wines, although they make regular red and white as well.
Wine ageing in oak barrels.
Some of the barrels are huge!
The cheaper commercial table wines don't get the benefit of the oak!
Tatyana explained about the volume of wine stored in the underground tunnels. All manufacturing and storage is done underground. And, the tasting rooms and offices are all located in the tunnels as well. There are over 1.2 million bottles of wine in storage here, plus almost 60 million liters of wine in current production.
500,000 bottles of sparkling wine being aged.
The wine has to be turned by hand once per week, for between 4 to 8 weeks.
From there, we sat and watched a 15 minute movie about wine production in the area. Good film.
Then, it was off to the national wine collection of Cricova.
The oldest bottle of wine in the collection is from a single batch made in 1902. There are a lot of bottles from the 1930's, but many of them are no longer drinkable.
A dry red wine from 1938.
A few of the wines stored here are from Herman Goering's private collection that was taken by the Russians from Berlin in 1945. There are about 125 bottles left. You can own one for a cool $15,000 USD.
The other stored wines in this part of the cellar are collector edition wines that date from anywhere over the last 50 years. Most of the collector bottles sell for about $30 USD.
Also, every political statesman who visits the winery is afforded his own personal space in the cellar. Vladamir Putin has one, as does the U.S.'s John Kerry. Apparently Putin likes it so much that he held his 50th birthday party here.
Don't disturb the dust!
We were told that the dust helps prevent light from getting at the wine.
Next, it was off to see the tasting rooms. It's quite expensive to do the wine tastings, as so we're going to reserve that for another winery that we think we will prefer. The tastings are usually done with food, and it's a fairly posh event.
It is cheaper to simply buy a bottle, and do your tasting at home!
One of the tasting rooms.
A map of the underground tunnels below Cricova.
In the shop at the end of the tour.
Yes, I chose a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, 2014. Cost was 54 lei ($3.80 CAD, $2.80 USD). This bottle would cost at least 20 bucks in Canada!
These tours are not cheap. We did the basic tour only, and the cost was 410 lei ($29 CAD, $21 USD). We paid a premium for the weekend. They are slightly cheaper midweek.
Definitely one of the most interesting wine tours we have ever done though. Despite the high cost, we would recommend it.
The Bucuria candy shop.
We all stopped by the Bucuria candy shop that had been highly recommended by one of our readers. Also, Andrei had a list of things to buy there for some of his coworkers back in Romania. Yummy...even Ruth and I spent $6 on candy, something we rarely do.
After that, we said our goodbyes to Andrei who dropped us off at McDonalds back in town, along with Gizem. The three of us decided to go downtown too check out the Christmas lights. First, we stopped at an Orange cellular store to get a Moldova SIM card for the iPhone. Cost for the SIM card plus 100 minutes and 3 GB of data valid for 15 days was 100 lei ($7.00 CAD, $5.00 USD).
Then, we took the city bus downtown. You get on the bus, and a girl comes by and sells you your ticket. It cost 2 lei each to take the city bus. That's 14 cents Canadian...ten cents in USD!
Downtown Chisinau at night.
Selling balloon toys.
Ruth, Kevin, and Gizem.
Republic of Moldova.
Another great day in Moldova!
Fantastic deal on an air bed if you need one for the spare room. Can't go wrong for this price...