I first read about Moldova’s ancient winery history several years ago in an inflight magazine while jetting over the skies of Finland somewhere. The thousands of years of wine making history certainly appealed to me as well as the fact Moldova is home to the largest underground wineries in the world. While stumbling through the streets of Chisinau after being dropped off by the bus from the airport I spotted a little tourist office called Simgal Tur. The owners turned out to be the nicest people creating a day’s tour experience focusing on wineries and monasteries (two facets of the country that Moldova is known for).
We arrived at Milestii Mici Winery by car and then pulled into a parking area once we passed through the gates – at winery’s categorized as “normal” this is the point where you would get out of your car and walk into the winery on foot. Not so here – rather we stayed in our vehicle and drove into the winery! This is not your normal winery – it is the world’s largest underground winery – with 200km of tunnels of which only about 60km are currently in use. As a result, having a car to explore this vast labyrinth is really quite necessary.
This winery also boasts the largest collection of wine in the world – coming in at over 1.5 million bottles!
Large wooden casks hold much of their wine and line many of their tunnels in all directions – these date back several decades so for some of their wine they use oak staves to somewhat simulate a much newer oak barrel. Some of the varietals are kept aging in the casks for up to 9 years – and we saw some of their dessert wines were kept up to 20 years before being bottled and then were in bottle almost another ten years. Some of their main tunnels are named after wine varietals. Visit: www.milestii-mici.md
Then it was on to the wine cellars of Cricova which ‘only’ has 120km of wine cellar tunnels. Some of these tunnels were dug out in the 1500’s – they have functioned as a winery since the 1950’s. While Milestii Mici is somewhat rustic Cricova has lots of flash including some very plush tasting rooms and a well decorated interior.
A tour is via a train that whips through the cold tunnels stopping in parts for the guides to provide wine eduction – including a visit to some of their racking tunnels for making sparkling wines. One million bottles were in racks being riddled (turned) at intervals by 6 women employees, each of which can hand turn 35,000 bottles a day!
The collection here is merely 1.3 million bottles (compared to the 1.5+ million at Milestii). Several tunnels contain extremely rare wines – including some 1930’s Mouton Roschild, some still full bottles dating back over 100 years and Vladimir Putin’s private collection (numbering about 100 bottles) – he celebrated his 50th birthday deep in the cellars inside the Presidential Tasting Room.
I was told there are several hundred other wineries in Moldova – most very small family owned and operated. These two wineries are both run by the state of Moldova. During my next trip to the country I will have more time and plan on exploring some of these smaller wineries.