Three weeks after Putin’s tanks invaded Ukraine the world looks on appalled and wonders what next? In the former Soviet republics of Moldova and Georgia it is more a question of who next? Region expert Caroline Gilby MW has just returned from Moldova where camaraderie and humanity is at an all-time high and almost a quarter of a million refugees have been welcomed in from Ukraine. At Vinaria Purcari it has also given the winery’s Freedom Blend an added significance, as Gilby explains.
“Humanity must prevail. We all can contribute that this is so. All of us, helping in every way we can those that are escaping this war,” says Purcari COO Eugen Comendant.
It was only a few weeks ago that I stood in the vineyards at Vinaria Purcari. Less than a mile away, a line of trees marks the border with Ukraine while the red and white towers of Transnistria are visible just a little further into the distance. Today the winery (and many others in Moldova) has opened its doors to offer food and hot drinks, accommodation, SIM cards and practical support to refugees escaping the horror in Ukraine.
“I stand by the Ukrainian people. Purcari stands by the Ukrainian people. And the world stands by the Ukrainian people,” COO Eugen Comendant said on social media, “We at Purcari are trying to do our share to support those fleeing this unjust war.”
So far Moldova has helped at least 230,000 refugees – nearly 4,000 for each 100,000 inhabitants – relatively more than anyone else on the Ukraine border. People here are conscious that they could literally be next in the firing line. Odessa is just 70km away and the situation is made more precarious by the Russian-leaning breakaway region of Transnistria within Moldova’s borders.
Many in the wine industry remember all too well the pain of Russia’s past economic bullying to bring Moldova back into the fold. The brutal Russian ban in 2006, blocking all wine from Moldova, cost the industry most of its exports, an estimated $200 million US dollars, and caused widespread poverty. In 2005 before the first embargo, Moldova exported 85% of its wine to Russia, and wine was worth over a quarter of this tiny country’s export earnings.
That cruel embargo prompted Victor Bostan (CEO of Purcari Wineries Group) to turn towards the west and seek other markets, as well as focussing on producing quality dry wines rather than the cheap semi-sweet stuff that had been the mainstay of Russian sales. A further Russian ban in 2013 coincided with Moldova turning towards Europe and signing a free trade agreement with the EU. Wine and politics are never far apart in this corner of Europe.
Victor Bostan and Chateau Purcari first created their Freedom Blend wine in 2011 and launched it in 2014 (after Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine singed an association agreement with the EU). It commemorates 20 years of freedom from the Soviet Union for these three former republics of the USSR.
Freedom Blend is a blend of Bastardo from Ukraine; Saperavi whose homeland is Georgia and Rara Neagra to represent Moldova – in the winery’s words, “A courageous blend, full of character, from three indigenous grape varieties. It has the heart of Georgia, the terroir of Moldova, and the free spirit of Ukraine.” It became even more poignant when Putin’s tanks first rolled into Crimea in 2014, and even more so today.
Moldova is an amazing country, full of welcoming people and with increasing numbers of wines well worth exploring and I genuinely hope that I can share some of these positive stories and great wines before too long.
Final words from Comendant, “Humanity must prevail. We all can contribute that this is so. All of us, helping in every way we can those that are escaping this war. Individuals, businesses – we must all get involved. Because I believe above all, Ukrainians fleeing the war right now need a sense of care, a sense that they are not alone while away from home.”
The author is donating her writing fee to the humanitarian effort in Moldova