Cricova cellars’ genuine underground town covers an area of 53 hectares, and the underground galleries transformed into streets, have a total length of 120 kilometres © Cricova
“Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world, that has been brought to the greatest perfection” were some of Ernest Hemingway’s words.
Indeed, if we take a look back in history, we can trace the art of wine making to about 9,000 years ago. The oldest evidence for producing this alcoholic beverage, made mainly from grapes, but sometimes also with fermented rice and honey, comes from China. Two thousand years later, the seeds of the European winemaking tradition were sown in western Asia, where the ancestor of the European wild grape (Vitis vinifera sylvestris) originated between the Mediterranean Sea and Caspian Sea.
In Europe, extensive proof of early wine making activity was discovered in Greece, at Dikili Tash including relics such as a clay cup containing both grape juice and grape pulp, dating between 4400–4000 BC. A wine production installation has also been discovered in Armenia. A platform for crushing grapes, an ingenious method for moving the grape juice into storage, as well as evidence of the fermentation process were examined and dated to around 4000 BC.
Later, by Roman times, wine became a highly valued economic as well as social and cultural product. Not to mention that Christianity also recognised the importance of wine through the very first recorded miracle in the New Testament (John 2: 1-11), when Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding.
A long tradition of wine making was developed on European soil and later on, by the mid-19th century, with the colonisation of California, European grapes flourished in its mild climate, launching the American wine industry. It is now one of the top five wine producers in the world.
Wine has been appreciated, recognised and highly valued for a long time now. The most expensive wine ever sold was a bottle of French Burgundy, which fetched the record sum of 558,000 USD at an auction in 2018. A bit too pricy this wine, I would say !
Martin Luther once said that “beer is made by men, wine by God”. Could that be the reason ?This is a personal opinion, but I have always considered wine (and champagne) much more refined and appropriate for elaborate soirees and high-level events.
Nowadays, Italy is the leading wine producer in Europe with a yearly production of approximately 49.1 million hectolitres. France comes second with 46.6 million hectolitres, followed by Spain. These three countries are also the world’s top three wine producers, with Europe producing about two thirds of the world’s precious beverage.
According to the US-based market research and consulting firm, Grand View Research, the global wine market was valued at about 417.85 billion USD in 2020 and is expected to expand at an annual growth rate of 6.4% from 2021 to 2028. The increasing adoption of wine by all age groups, from the younger generation to the elderly across the globe is the key factor for market growth. (Source grandviewresearch.com).
Although there has lately been a decrease in sales in the hotel and restaurant sectors due to the Covid-19 pandemic, online liquor stores have flourished and sales are booming. So, there is no need to worry about the industry. Europe is the most established market for wine with countries like Italy, France, Spain or Portugal having the highest per capita wine consumption per year.
With such a long tradition in the field and predicted increasing demand, it is only natural that many countries in Europe have, over the years, mastered the art of wine making and are now competing fiercely on the European and global market. Large or small, wine production in these countries has developed steadily and now, old and new names are both on the market, competing for wine trophies.
Cricova is the biggest wine cellar in Europe. It is also the most prestigious brand, as well as the largest company in the Republic of Moldova. It produces wines according to the classic French method of the famous monk Dom Pierre Perignon – “Méthode Traditionelle”, through a process that involves secondary fermentation in the glass and subsequent cuvée aging for one to three years.
The history of the Cricova Associated Wine Factory begins in 1952. According to their official website, there had been a shortage of facilities for the storage and aging of wines at that time in the Republic of Moldova. Following long searches, two outstanding personalities of Moldovan winemaking, Petru Ungureanu and Nicolae Sobolev suggested that an underground network of cool, dry galleries be used as warehouses for the storage of wine. These hollow spaces had resulted from the extraction of vast amounts of limestone.
Before long, it turned out that the wines produced at the Cricova Associated Wine Factory, and aged in the stillness of these underground galleries possessed exceptional qualities.
This vast land of the wine god Bacchus, covers about 680 hectares in the vicinity of the country’s capital, Chisinau. It is also near some of the most imposing natural and historical attractions – the natural forest reserve of Codrii and the archaeological complex of Old Orhei. The country’s favourable climate, with mild winters and long, sunny summers, have offered Cricova the best production conditions.
The company’s range of products is outstanding, both in terms of quality and diversity. Muscat, Pinot Noir, Cabernet, Sauvignon, Merlot as well as Pinot, Sauvignon, Rkaţiteli and Aligote are all produced at Cricova. The total production is currently around 10 million bottles per year.
But of course, one of the most remarkable products offered by the Cricova Associated Wine Factory is the classic ‘Methode Champenoise’ sparkling wine.
Furthermore, Cricova manufactures sparkling wines obtained by secondary fermentation in stainless steel vats. The resulting sparkling wine possesses a full fruity taste and freshness. This method enables the preservation of all the qualities of a re-fermented wine.
The official website, (cricova.md) goes on to explain that the originality of Cricova wines is due to the conditions of storage in the underground cellars, where the so-called wine-making stage takes place. Cricova cellars provide the ideal conditions for the success of this process in as much as the average temperature is +10°C to + 12 °C and the relative humidity of the air is 97-98% all year round. The latter indicator is of particular importance: the higher the relative humidity level, the lower the risk of wine loss.
Unlike many winemaking companies, Cricova wine storage facilities do not use artificial air conditioning or ventilation systems. A unique microclimate has been created here by nature itself, just perfect for the production and maturation of high quality wines.
The long galleries at Cricova were formed as a result of mining and extraction activities. Many buildings in Cricova, Chisinau, Balti and other towns in Moldova have been built with the limestone extracted here. This activity is still ongoing in some ramifications of the galleries, thus contributing to the ever-growing cellar space.
On a tour of the Cricova cellars, one can easily appreciate that they are truly unique in the world. Believe it or not, they are basically an underground town, covering a total area of 53 hectares. All the old galleries have been transformed into streets, with a total length of 120 kilometres, reaching 80 metres in depth in some places. As in a real town – but a subterranean one – Cricova has streets, traffic lights and road signs, to the immense delight of tourists, some even children, who come to visit. The streets of this original labyrinth have rather unusual names : ‘Cabernet’, ‘Dionis’, ‘Feteasca’, ‘Aligote’, ‘Sauvignon’; each street bearing the name of the wine stored on the sides of the galleries. The temperature and humidity levels in these underground galleries remain constant all year round, thus enabling the preservation and proper aging of the wines which thus acquire their authentic character.
One can also visit the Underground Complex and experience a wine tasting session in one of the five large, spacious and imposing halls, decorated with stained glass, tapestries, and wooden sculptures, combining classic architectural elements with modern ornaments. Whether it is the stained glass windows of the famous ‘European Hall’, which presents the four seasons of the year, the wall sculptures of the ‘Presidential Hall’, the comfort and coziness of the ‘Fireplace Room’, the decorated walls of the ‘Great House’ with traditionally embroidered towels and woven wool carpets, all embellished with geometric and floral elements, or the spectacular ‘Sea Bottom’ room with its limestone ceiling in natural raw form, reflected as in a mirror in the marine decor with blue-green shades and symbolising the depths of the Sarmatia Sea that existed here 12 million years ago, they all attract visitors, whether they be wine lovers or just passionate and curious tourists.
The Underground Town also hosts a museum with exhibits of all times; from ancient Greece and the Roman Empire, describing the history of winemaking in detail. Among the exhibits of the Cricova Museum, there is a vine imprint dating back to the 5th century BC, proof that wine has been produced in Moldova since very old times indeed.
Furthermore, there is a modern screening room on the ‘Lumière Brothers’ Street within the stone tunnels, that can accommodate up to 40 people and where interested visitors can watch a documentary film, presenting the history of the vineyard.
The Cricova cellars host a remarkable wine collection – the ‘Oenotheque’- dating from 1954. The precious wine collection contains almost 1.3 million bottles of wine, each with its own exceptional qualities and particular history.
This liquid treasure has been collected over the years from different corners of the world. But the most special one is ‘Easter Jerusalem’, a red dessert wine. This is the only bottle in the world, out of the 400 initially bottled in 1902, that has survived. Another unique specimen is a Jan Becher liqueur, produced in 1902 in the Czech Republic, containing extracts from 27 medicinal herbs.
The most valuable collection of the ‘Oenotheque’ is considered to be the one that belonged to Hermann Göring, the commander-in-chief of Hitler’s air force. Almost two thousand bottles of premium wines, such as Mosel, Bordeaux, Porto, Tokay and Chablis, produced from grapes harvested in the 1940s had been captured by the Nazi commander in the countries occupied by Germany during World War II. After the war, the wines were first taken to Moscow by Soviet soldiers as a military trophy, who then drank most of it. But the remains of this huge collection can now be found at Cricova.
Cricova has stood out due to its advantages of complete production cycles and its own raw materials. Control at every stage of the production process, from planting the grapes to the delivery of the finished goods has enabled the company to maintain the quality, authenticity and originality of its wines.
Denis Sova, General Manager at Cricova says : “Our oenologists still use the method of manual peeling of grapes for the production of certain types of wines. We also borrowed from the old Italian grape processing method, called ‘appassimento’. It is a meticulous process, where each grape is processed by hand, stored in special boxes equipped with heat, ventilation and humidity regulation. The grapes turn into raisins and catch a noble mold. This way, they lose a certain amount of water and become sweeter, richer in trace elements and flavours. Later on, we turn them into exceptional wines such as Amplius”.
Bio wines are also trending now and Cricova intends to extend production into this market as well.
All these efforts have inevitably brought world recognition: a gold medal in 2020 at the most prestigious ‘Effervescent du Monde’ competition for the Cricova Pinot Noir Blanc de Noirs sparkling wine. A gold medal at the ‘Mondial des Pinots 2021’ for its Grand Vintage, another gold at ‘Gilbert Gaillard International Challenge 2021’ for Cricova Brut. A silver medal at ‘Concours Mondial de Bruxelles 2021’ for Pinot Meunier, a gold at ‘Vinarium International Wine Contest 2021’ for Classic Rose Brut and Rara Neagra Limited Edition. These are just some of the latest achievements.
Meanwhile, Cricova is the first and only company awarded with the highest state distinction, the ‘Order of the Republic’. The company’s motto is in fact ‘Nomen est omen’ meaning ‘the name speaks for itself’.
‘Cricova’ Associated Wine Factory has also been declared a National Cultural Heritage. This honour is fully deserved for a small country such as Moldova, especially in view of the international recognition and fame that its wines have brought home and which have served as a valuable promotion tool for the country. Denis Sova goes on to add : “It is no longer a novelty that the name Cricova is recognised in more than 37 countries. The best example would be the Chinese market, where we are not as well-known as a country, but the wines produced by Cricova are on many tables. Success comes but slowly. It is like wine that matures over time and becomes more intense and aromatic. You just have to be patient.”
Cultural diplomacy is recognised today as one of the most widely used and powerful tools, national branding is of outstanding importance and wine is something that goes rapidly to the hearts of people, when it is of great quality.
As the American poet E.E. Cummings used to say: “His lips drink water, but his heart drinks wine..”