As Prowein 2022 gets set to return after two years absence, Caroline Gilby profiles Château Purcari, the Moldovan estate that is exhibiting with the aim of bringing more of its wine to the UK. Purcari is at the forefront of reviving Moldova’s indigenous grape varieties, such as Rara Neagra which is a key part of the iconic Negru de Purcari cuvée, as well as producing Freedom Blend, the wine aimed at raising money for refugees that have flooded across the border since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“Château Purcari claims to be the world’s most awarded winery in 2021, based on its 333 gold and silver medals at global wine competitions,” writes Gilby.
The tiny country of Moldova (officially the Republic of Moldova) has been in the headlines recently for its efforts to support refugees from the war in Ukraine, taking in proportionately more per head of population than any other country on the Ukraine border. People here are conscious that they could literally be next in the firing line as Odessa is just a short distance away, and the Russian-leaning breakaway region of Transnistria within Moldova’s borders is a huge cause for concern.
But there are more good reasons to pay attention to Moldova – for both its warm-hearted people and its wine. Grape-growing and winemaking is a hugely important sector here – indeed Moldova may be the most reliant country in the world on wine with more grapevines per person than any other country. And even though it has 62,500 ha in commercial production (which is far more than New Zealand’s 42,000 ha), it’s barely known in Western Europe.
The Purcari Wineries Group wants to change all that and bring its wines to a wider audience in the UK. The group is Moldova’s leading exporter of bottled wine, and its flagship estate is Château Purcari, which is based in the country’s south-eastern Ștefan Vodă region where the Black Sea moderates the continental climate. Château Purcari claims to be the world’s most awarded winery in 2021, based on its 333 gold and silver medals at global wine competitions.
The winery dates back officially to 1827 when it was declared the first specialist winery in Bessarabia (in the then Russian Empire), though it’s probably older, based on a document from 1817 that refers to vines here. It won its first global medal at the Paris exhibition in 1878 – this was for Negru de Purcari, a wine that has become rather an icon for Moldova.
Since the early 2000s when Château Purcari was privatised, it has become a beacon for quality. CEO Victor Bostan is a trained winemaker, so he understood the need to put quality at the core of the business from the start. Today the winery has 300 hectares of its own vineyards, thanks to Victor Bostan’s belief that owning his own vines was the best way to ensure the quality of the fruit. It continues to monitor its vines plot by plot, so after nearly two decades it has a good understanding of what each patch of land can produce.
There’s also a new sustainability project in development, headed by Professor Gheorghe Arpentin, with the aim of converting 30% of the vines to organic production within five years, and exploring the opportunities for working with resistant varieties to reduce the need to spray. Even though Victor Bostan is a winemaker himself, he has always been open-minded about seeking help where required. Jerome Barret from Champagne provides external guidance for sparkling wines, while Federico Giotto of Giotto Consulting is closely involved with still wines. He’s also supported the brand-new Purcari Academia project which includes orange Viorica (an aromatic Moldovan white grape) and amphora versions of local grape varieties including Feteasca Neagra, Rara Neagra and Saperavi (not quite native but long since adopted in Moldova).
Château Purcari has been at the forefront of reviving the country’s indigenous grapes, especially Rara Neagra as a local flagship. It was originally planted as it’s an important ingredient for the winery’s famous Negru de Purcari blend (along with Cabernet Sauvignon and Saperavi), but the winery has identified that it also has potential as a pure varietal wine. It’s a grape that is a bit tricky to grow and is relatively light in colour and tannin structure, but with bright acidity and generous red berry fruit. It’s been overlooked in the past when inky dark colour and big tannins were equated with quality in red wines, but as consumers move towards more elegant and fresher styles, this grape is rapidly gaining new friends.
For buyers and consumers looking for the next big wine story, this little country built on vine roots is well worth a closer look.
A selection of Château Purcari wines is available in UK at: Transylvania Wines, 8wines.com, North & South Wines, Best of Hungary and other independent retailers.
For trade, Château Purcari will be exhibiting at Prowein 2022, Hall 11/Booth F39