Taking off in Toronto, Canada. Photo taken April 28th.
Where are Kevin and Ruth right now? Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.

Where are they going next? Cabri Regional Park, Saskatchewan, Canada. Arrive April 29th.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The underground wine city of Cricova

Moldova is not a well known country, especially in North America. But if anybody knows it, they know it for it's wines. The tiny country (1/10th the size of California) produces about 66 million liters of wine per year.

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.

More lights.

Ruth, Kevin, and Gizem.

More lights.

Republic of Moldova.

Another great day in Moldova!

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Fantastic deal on an air bed if you need one for the spare room. Can't go wrong for this price...






25 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Happy to hear that! We are enjoying it too. :-)

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  2. Interesting sights , but sure looks cold.

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    1. Yes, it is too cold for our liking. But, we are dressed for it and it's not unexpected. Although it is slightly colder than normal here for this time of year. We will pick a warmer destination next time. Looking forward to getting to southern Spain in January.

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  3. Reading about Moldavian food, have you tried the corn dish of Mămăligă? Looks like good east in Moldova.

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    1. Okay, the mămăligă is the polenta you keep referring to. Got it.

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    2. Yep, I was going to say that but I see you already figured it out. Almost every meal out we have had this plus twice with our hosts. It is sort of like cornbread but not as solid more like a stiff pudding and not sweet but very moist. It is also a Romanian traditional dish.

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  4. Thank you so much for letting me see your travels! It is so interesting to see another country through your pictures and blog!

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    1. You're welcome Kay and thank you for following along on this journey with us. :-)

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  5. A very interesting read. This trip is amazing, and thanks for sharing...

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    1. You are welcome Peter, glad you are enjoying our posts.

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  6. Loved, loved the wine tour...we love doing wine tasting tours and have been to many of them in USA as far south and north to Alaska. Fun, fun, fun. I also love brewery tours...recently did them in Colorado. The tunnels are amazing!!!

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    1. We enjoyed the wine tour as well mostly because it was so different from any others that we have ever done. I think we will be doing two more and they will each be different from this one. We have also some brewery tours and whiskey tours.

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  7. Also loved, loved the wine tour! I know very little about wine production, but have been on lots of rum production tours and tastings. So, forgive my ignorance when I ask the following question. Why does the winery keep bottles of UNDRINKABLE wine?

    Dee

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    1. So glad you enjoyed the tour through our eyes. We have been on a number of different wine tours but non like this one.

      They have only kept a few "old" bottles of wine just like a collection in a museum for history and show only. Almost all of the bottles that you see in the National Collection are drinkable, even the ones covered in dust. When a wine is ordered from their collection then they just wash off the bottle and put a label on it and ship it off.

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  8. The wine tour looked so interesting! And the price on that wine is amazing. It definitely looks way too chilly there at this time of year for my blood but fascinating, nonetheless!

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    1. Th price of the wine is totally amazing!

      Yes, it is pretty chilly here! It is a little colder than what we were expecting but we are well dressed for it so it isn't really stopping us from doing the things that we want to do. Late spring, summer or early fall would be a much more desirable time to come. Having said that, it was prefect for this wine tour because it is cold in the tunnels so we were dressed perfectly for it, if you did the tour in the summer you would be freezing down there so make sure you bring warm clothes for the tour!

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  9. I think it's awesome that you travel in Eastern Europe at this time of the year - very few people do it, hence there are few pictures and actual blog or facebook postings around. Your snow covered photos look almost like paintings - beautiful and serene, sometimes foreboding in an interesting way.

    Awesome winery tour and things you have shared with us so far about Moldova. We've put it on the "to go" list, as it seems to meet our three criteria: safe, inexpensive and interesting!

    Very nice trip, thank you for taking all of us along!

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    1. I don't think the lack of blogs, Facebook, Pinterest or Instagram postings has anything to do with less people traveling here at this time of year, it has to do with the fact that very few people visit here at anytime of the year. Most people have probably never even heard of Moldova, hopefully we can change that, even if it is just a little.

      The weather is a little cooler than we were expecting but we are dressed for the weather so it hasn't been stopping us from doing the things we want to do or see.

      Yes, we are finding both Moldova and Romania totally fit into your criteria. Sure hope you make the trip here for a visit.

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  10. This is fascinating. Amazing winery underground. Love your posts. Trish

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    1. It was very interesting and today we will be going to the largest wine cellar in the world, it is even in The Guinness World Record book so it should be another fun day.

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  11. WOW...now that is a really neat tour. I felt like I was on a speeding car watching the video. lol

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    1. Yep, it was a fun tour. Today we will be doing another one where we actually drive our own car through the cellars along with a guide. Looking forward to see how this one will be different from the Cricova one.

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