When did you discover your passion for wine and what is your first dear memory about this so loved beverage?
My passion for wine comes from my interest for the gastronomic culture and simply speaking from my passion for culture! Wine is a cultural object, surrounded by history, natural sciences, Physics, Chemistry, Philosophy, Literature, other arts including culinary art…
I graduated Mathematics and did some Engineering studies, while my former background was literary, so it is normal that the sum of these brought me to wine!
What made you choose to follow this path professionally and what is the motivation that keeps you prospering in this domain?
As a former competitor in various fields during secondary school in Romania, I had been thrilled by the existence of Sommelier competitions. I could have naturally taken the path of oenology considering my scientific background. However, my dream was to one day become World Champion! With my highest position ranking 5th in the Best Sommelier of the World 2013, my dream hasn’t come yet true and maybe will never come. Or maybe it will…The true heritage of this path is that I have always been updated through competitions and numerous diplomas such as the DipWSET, added as milestones on this path. I might one day take up oenology or enroll in the MW program to fulfill my dream. Nevertheless, I will always be competing at least with myself, to stay up to date, preserve my motivation and offer the most relevant information to my students and people I address to.
When was your first encounter with Prince Stirbey and what was your impression?
I would quickly mention my very first visit at the cellar around 2008, at the beginning of my career. A very friendly visit together with my dad, a Stirbey wines´ lover and customer. However, my first professional encounter with the estate was in 2015 after having experienced some visits on various wine fairs where Stirbey Winery was present. I remember one snowy March day, with its dull and grey sky mirrored by the even duller Olt river. However, Oliver Bauer knew how to warm up our spirits and cheer the atmosphere with his welcoming nature and professionalism. My husband and I were literally puzzled by the quality of the wines and thrilled to experience such a rich tasting, visit and explanations.
How would you describe Prince Stirbey Wines?
Wines display varietal purity, while faithful to the vintage character and expressing the best of each plot, through respectful winemaking techniques. Oliver only accompanies the grapes from the vine to the bottle, creating a style that is both variety and terroir driven.
You recently visited Stirbey Winery in Dragasani? How was this experience for you?
We have recently been at the Stirbey Winery in August. Consistency should be the word; the level of quality is constant, and the vines have now reached a considerably age that insures depth of flavours and concentration. The balance between the different ages and essences of oak barrels has been perfectly established over the time. The clones are also adapted to the style of the wines and each grape variety is looked after with such care, from the choice of the clone, rootstock, plot to the winemaking process, whether using selected yeasts or not (in most of the cases) and finally up to the maturing. Speaking about the post-fermenting process, the lees maturing appears as a signature that helps enhance the density and offers that savouriness of the wine, together with very clean reductiveness.
As you have a complete view on the wine world, what do you think is the potential of Romanian wines on the international market?
I genuinely believe in the potential of our local grapes. We still need to better work on the varietal definition (which Stirbey Winery perfectly does), before launching signature wines. Few wineries really excel in international grape varieties without producing simple copies of the foreign equivalents.
Reds are the new signature of Romanian wine. We globally have the potential to market tremendous reds, but few whites can express depth and lots of personality. Romania produces mostly easy-going, enjoyable whites, very few of them age worthy. Moreover, global climate change pushes the reds naturally. However, when it comes to white wines, Drăgăşani excels in providing a true signature thanks to local varieties and some cooler spots depending on altitude and exposure. The most planted Romanian white grape variety, Feteasca Regală is also one of the most interesting, a „chameleon” grape, also found in Drăgăşani and sometimes pushed to the pinnacle as reflected by Stirbey Winery and Oliver Bauer´s creations. Local Crâmpoşia Selecționată is a and the Drăgăşani 104- clone of Tămâioasa Românescă are other examples of competitive expressions when it comes to showing our wines in the international market.
Romanians have almost forgotten the sweet wines, but still search for this taste throughout dry wines…looking for over-ripen character, high alcohol, over-extraction and over-oaking process. I strongly believe that we should focus on continuing to produce some sweet wines with great balance, rather than copying the mellow character through body- built offdry-ish wines, to better educate the taste for sweet. Renewing this tradition through top quality naturally sweet wines, is what the consumer needs, both in the local and in the international market.
There is another borderline category: sparkling wines. I do not believe Romania should focus on sparklings, but some areas really have potential both in terms of the climate and specific grapes. There are too many cheap copies of prestigious traditional methods from Europe, using Champagne grapes harvested at elevated potential abv. level, with diminished acidity and most often accompanied by at least 10g/l of dosage on the finished sparkling wine. Lees contact is usually too short, at a minimum of 9-12 months and few autolysis occurs. There is a demand for that kind of sparklings in the local market, however, when it comes to export, I believe Romania should focus on local grapes and cooler climates for its bubbles: Feteasca Regală, Crâmpoşia Selecționată, Frâncuşa, Mustoasa de Maderat… More neutral harvesting window where autolysis can stick better, provided that the wine stays enough long on the lees, higher acidity imposed at harvest time or a cooler climate and eventually, a lower dosage, these are all quality factors when it comes to offering sparkling wines to the international market.
Our unique selling proposition (USP) would be either an authentic Feteasca Neagră at the country´s scale, or the rich array of local grapes from Drăgăşani. I hope that soon the producers start understanding Feteasca Neagră better and push it to the pinnacle, so that it will become our real USP and even a flagship variety.
Regional catalogs of native grape varieties are based on the tradition of what we used to call “sortiment”, a kind of either field or vat blend coordinated by the needs of each zone. This was mostly lost around the turning point of the 19th century due to Phylloxera, but some areas are moving backwards trying to revive the tradition. As some of the varieties had been lost or became difficult to readapt after grafting, some regions started thinking of which among the international newcomers could replace them. Some regions also created crossings based on the old varieties that either became less competitive or were on the edge of extinction. Novac and Negru de Drăgăşani are 2 successful examples.
I also think that Romania’s most planted grape variety, the Feteasca Regală is very exciting and has such a terroir footprint besides its own varietal definition, that it can be a second choice for an USP or flagship grape, especially that it is now the first Romanian grape variety to have an International Day, recently declared – the 3rd of June.
How would you describe Romanian wines in three words?
Identity, tradition, originality
What do you think are the future perspectives for the Romanian wines in the wine world?
We Romanians have passed so many years under Communism, that we have become too selfish and individualist refusing any idea of cooperation. We now must understand how to work, learn, and grow together as a team. Each region should build a kind of inter- professional committee, like in France. Cooperatives should exist again to help tiny producers and prevent them from making bad-quality home-made wine and sell in plastic jugs on the roadside.
No matter what political colour the mayor of a viticultural village has, he/she should promote his/her producers without regarding their convictions. Vinicultural villages and towns need to better promote their local wines and producers through festivals, celebrations and with the help of traditional restaurants, taverns, commerce. It is unthinkable that for the harvesting festival or the flowering feast people drink beer (do not misunderstand, I am a beer enthusiast too), which happens very often!
People in the wine business should act more friendly ones towards the others, energies should be put together and oriented towards the wine world. The Wine producers ‘Association from Drăgăşani, the Dealu Mare Association are few examples that should boost the others react in the same direction.
Relying on your own market as a self-sufficient consumer is not the best idea and pandemic unfortunately left many producers with unsold stocks. Romania is rather performant in selling inexpensive acceptable to good wine to the export but does not yet excel in promoting its top wines in the international market, due to a lack of national branding policy, few literature and communication accessible in foreign languages, few Romanian experts, a shy representation on wine fairs and few common interest or efforts both from the authorities and the producers´ side.
Romania has its one place in the wine world and simply needs to show a strong identity, with original grape varieties and its tradition reborn.