Soviet Vinters Claim to Match France's Best : Moldavia: Winegrower for the Kremlin

Reuters

Moldavian officials boast that the wines in this little Soviet republic of 4 million people bordering Romania probably match the best France can produce.

Even a French ambassador, visiting from Moscow, agreed that Moldavia's smooth red Kaberne is comparable to France's Bordeaux--but only after a few glasses, the officials joke.

The Moldavians, whose language is virtually to Romanian, have made wine for thousands of years. It is a cornerstone of their economy as an export and favorite tipple.

To keep the alcohol flowing--they make cognac, sherry and Madeira as well as dry wine--the state funds 13 special colleges to teach winemaking and viticulture.

In this village, about six miles from the capital of Kishinev, 850 students live at a college with 7,400 acres of vineyards and orchards and a wine factory.

Winey Atmosphere

"The pupils feel the atmosphere of production from the very first day," deputy director Vladimir Gusak told Reuters.

Apart from normal lessons for younger pupils, there are special classes in anything from mechanics to accountancy, all applied to the wine industry in which most of the graduates later work. The college was founded in 1842.

"We cover the whole process," Gusak said. The factory turns out 1.27 million gallons a year, using grapes from the college's vines and from other collective farms.

Wine tasting forms a key part of the course. But it is imbibed only in small test amounts, Gusak said.

"We teach them how to evaluate wine and not to abuse it."

At Kozhushna, another college-farm some 45 miles southeast of Kishinev, deputy director Vasily Kuzmich leads visitors through a labyrinth of wine cellars holding over 1.5 million bottles to two large underground tasting rooms. One is like a banquet hall and the other full of rustic furniture.

Women's Favorite

"Let's start with Dnestrovskoe. It is a fine white. Dry, very fresh. Women love it--although men don't object," he said holding a bottle up to the candlelight.

Next he selected a two-year old Kaberne, and paused.

"This is a serious wine, worthy of serious discussion," he said and took a pensive sip. "It's good for the organism and filters out radioactivity. That's why our cosmonauts drink it."

The final choice was a sweet dessert wine called Lidia, which Kuzmich described as smooth and elegant but not to the average Moldavian's taste.

"In the south (of Moldavia) they like red and in the north white, but always dry. We send the sweet to Moscow," he said.

Moldavia exports about 10% of its wine, cognacs and sparkling wines to dozens of countries, including the United States, West Germany and even a small amount to France.

It exports 2.19 million gallons each year, mostly in barrels and with a supply of its own labels bearing the stork-and-grapes crest which has become the symbol of Moldavian wine.

Kremlin Supplier

The labels also depict some of the 250 gold and silver medals Moldavian wines have won at international events.

"It goes without question that we supply the Kremlin," Kuzmich said.

Moldavians also buy the mass-produced wine, enjoying a bottle of ordinary which has not been laid down or of vintage which is rarely more than two years old. Kuzmich said the wine does not mature appreciably after that.

But many Moldavians grow their own grapes and make their own wine. Vines hang from most balconies even in central Kishinev.

"I make about 500 liters (109 gallons) and it does me for the year. I know how I like my wine, why should I pay for it in the shops," one middle-age man said.

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