The quality of Romanian wine may have jumped leaps and bounds in recent years, but that has not been matched by its perception amongst premium wine buyers. Philip Cox, co-owner of Romania’s largest exporting wine producer, Cramele Recas, sits down with wine consultant and broadcaster, Joe Wadsack, to talk through what they see as the country’s biggest potential and what Cox is doing to help the country achieve its goal of being a primary source for premium wines.
If the huge rise in Cramele Recas’ exports over the last two years is anything to go by then Romanian wine is very much on a roll as the world’s leading wine buyers start to recognise the potential it offers. But as co-owner Philip Cox explains to Joe Wadsack, there is so much more to achieve.
You have seen your imports into this country double over the past two years – has this pattern been duplicated in other key export territories?
Yes. We have seen strong growth in many markets – over 100% in Japan, and above 20% in our largest markets Netherlands, Germany and Romania. It will be a record year for us with our highest ever sales and I think we will hit 30 million bottles sold for the first time which is pretty amazing as we only sold 15 million in 2016.
What do you put the huge increased interest in the UK down to?
The situation in the UK was influenced particularly by our decision two years or so ago to go direct to most customers and work with a dedicated UK sales director – Matthew Johnson. The UK wine market also suffered very badly in 2020 from the pandemic – worse than other countries we work with – so the opening up during the first part of 2021 of the on-trade has pushed growth more than we expected. We are hoping that new developments with the virus, don’t cause too much trouble for 2022.
What trends are you seeing coming out of the UK market as a key exporter?
I would say overall prices are growing strongly, but at the same time costs are also growing strongly – particularly glass and packaging materials due to the transport and energy price rises. So, overall we are about the same.
Do you still have outstanding ambitions in the UK market?
I still see a good future, particularly developing new opportunities in the off-trade, and with more premium wines. Romania has suffered for decades from a rather negative image for wine, but I think that has changed a lot in the last five years. This is making the market more open for our more premium wines which still offer outstanding value for money and a good point of difference to wines from other regions.
It’s 30 years since I started in the wine business in Romania and I am still ambitious to get Romania more recognised as a producer of serious premium wines, and to get them into the top Horeca outlets in the UK is a key goal of mine.
Can you give us an insight into the big issues and problems you have faced as a wine producer in these tumultuous times?
Well it’s not got any easier that’s for sure. It’s obviously much better to struggle to make enough wine to keep up with demand – rather than having too much wine and being forced to sell it at low prices. I am always exhausted and fed up by the end of each vintage, but usually by spring I am more optimistic. That’s when I start working on plans to make the next vintage easier and better. Or should I say better – it never gets any easier.
We are working hard with our grape growers to plant more and to improve existing vineyards to satisfy demand, and we are working tirelessly in our three wineries to expand the team of workers and winemakers and do more training to enable further expansion.
We do, though, if we can, find the time in 2022 to slow growth somewhat to give us time to catch up.
You have had the same winemakers for nearly two decades. Do you think it is a combination of good winemaking and brand development (you) that has been the key to Cramele Recas’ success?
I do honestly think our wine quality and style is the main reason for our success, but obviously linked to the commercial proposition and price positioning which is something we work very hard on. Our winemaking team is great – particularly chief winemakers Hartley Smithers and Nora Iriate, but also Elena and Alice who have been with us for three to four years now, and of course the huge team of cellarmasters, workers, bottling crews, vineyard teams without which the winemakers can’t do their jobs.
Can you ever see yourselves leaving Romania and living elsewhere?
I can see myself having to go somewhere else for schools – when my kids start at secondary school for a few years, but I think I will probably end up coming back to Romania. I like it here. I am very sad about how the UK has evolved over the last 10 years or so and honestly it’s not a particularly attractive option right now even though I do go there from time to time to see my family. There are lots of other places in Europe with way better weather which are much more cheerful and optimistic than the UK.
What do you most like about the city of Timisoara where you are based?
Timisoara I like Timisoara because it’s big enough to be a proper city with a fairly effervescent city centre, but small enough to drive around easily without the awful traffic some big cities have – like Bucharest. It’s safe, inexpensive, relaxed and friendly.
If you could be responsible for making one wine, or taste one more wine before you die, what would it be and why?
I am a bit obsessed right now with perfecting the perfect Viognier and Feteasca Regala blend. I just think both varieties are very interesting and our vines are improving as they get more mature, and I think they work together very well so one day soon I think a mega blend of these two.
Finally, what is your overall pitch for why trade wine buyers should buy more Romanian wine?
People should try Romanian wine as it offers something different fresh and interesting at bargain price points. It doesn’t have the fame or image of other wine regions around the world – but that works clearly in favour for the consumer as you are paying 100% for great value wines rather than paying extra bucks for scarcity or history.
- You can find out more about Cramele Recas here.
- Cramele Recas is a partner supplier of The Buyer.