Moldovan wine industry’s focus on EU pays off
Moldovan winegrowers like Nicolae Tronciu had already largely switched from selling to Russia to the EU, which spared them the upheaval caused by the war in Ukraine – Copyright AFP Daniel MIHAILESCU
Ionut IORDACHESCU, Hervé BOSSY
In the small Moldavian village of Pereni, Nicolae Tronciu contemplates his vine with buds ready to bloom.
The 71-year-old launched his current brand four years ago, selling it to Europe rather than Russia, traditionally his country’s biggest customer – a move that is paying off amid the war in Ukraine.
“Most of my production goes to Europe, especially to our Romanian brothers,” Tronciu told AFP at his vineyard, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the Ukrainian border.
Moldova – a small former Soviet republic of around 2.6 million people nestled between Ukraine and Romania, and among the top 20 wine producers in the world – has long sought to move closer to Europe.
This has now softened the impact of the war as the industry grapples with rising commodity prices and a lack of Ukrainian consumers.
– ‘Freedom blend’ –
“The Russian market was our traditional market… In the EU you can charge higher prices for wine, but there the focus is on quality,” Tronciu said.
His family has been producing wine for four generations and he hopes to pass his business on to his sons working overseas.
He does not hide his preferences.
“Geographically and as a person I am pro-European, yes,” he said.
Moldova’s pursuit of closer ties with Europe angered Moscow and led to two Russian embargoes in 2006 and 2013.
These pushed the country further west, with the EU liberalizing its market for Moldovan wines and sealing a bilateral free trade deal with Chisinau in 2014.
The transformation has been drastic – Russia accounted for just 10% of Moldovan wine exports in 2021, compared to 80% in the early 2000s, according to figures from the Moldovan Ministry of Agriculture.
Moldova exported more than 120 million liters to European countries last year, compared to 8.6 million liters to Russia.
“Before the (Russian) embargo in 2006, the country did not know the term ‘market diversification’… Today, it exports almost 68 million bottles each year to more than 70 countries,” he told AFP Sergiu Gherciu, senior official of the Ministry of Agriculture.
Moldova’s top wine producer, Purcari, has even taken a direct political stance against Russian influence with a wine called “Freedom Blend”, launched in 2014 and made from three grape varieties from Georgia, Ukraine and from Moldova.
“This wine is a symbol of those countries that are de facto fighting for their freedom,” said Eugen Comendant, General Manager of Purcari.
After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, the company helped Ukrainian refugees with free housing and sponsored an anti-war banner in the Romanian capital Bucharest, where Purcari is listed on the stock exchange.
– Expensive raw materials –
Comendant said the impact of the war was “close to zero” in that Russians no longer bought Purcari wines.
There are currently no trade restrictions on wine between the two countries, but the war has made transportation difficult and international sanctions prevent Russia from trading internationally.
But the Ukrainian market, in full development and representing 4% of the company’s sales, collapsed.
The war blocking the port of Odessa in southern Ukraine has also caused “major logistical problems and complicates our exports to Asia”, Comendant added.
In March, the Moldovan government said more than 750,000 euros ($790,000) worth of wine had been stuck in the Ukrainian port.
But the main challenge for Moldova’s wine producers is rising production costs, which are expected to soar 50% this year, according to Gherciu.
Tronciu, who sells between eight and ten tonnes of wine each year, said all raw materials have become more expensive.
“Pesticide, fuel, gas, even the wire we use” for the vines, he said.
He also lamented the lack of tourists he used to welcome.
“Most of them were Ukrainians, but also a few Russians,” he said in his now empty tasting room.