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As Their Reputations Grow, Moldovan Wines Gain Market Share in the China

www.globalatlanta.com by Phil Bolton02/02/2018  

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Jason Glover, Victor Postolachi and Lilia Postolachi-Glover

For many centuries Moldova has been a major producer of wines appreciated locally as well as by the country’s trading partners, primarily Russia and European countries, These days, however, its wine business is benefiting from a growing global reputation with new markets opening in both the United States and China.

Former Moldovan diplomat Victor Postolachi, who lives in Atlanta, has been a pioneer in opening the U.S. and China markets for his country’s wines having been encouraged to do so by family members also living in the U.S. and through his relationship with Fang Li, China’s ambassador to Moldova whom he met during a reception held at the Ukrainian embassy in Chisinau, Moldova’s capital.

Often described as even having the shape of a bunch of grapes, Moldova, which is located between the Ukraine and Romania along the Black Sea,  has been the site of vineyards for thousands of years, dating as far back as the 7th or 8th centuries BC. Viticulture is deeply ingrained in its culture taking firm roots there because of its dark, rich earth.

Mr. Postolachi told Global Atlanta that the German army, envious of the soil’s fertility, even took some of it back to Germany during World War II. Like that of the Ukraine, Moldova’s soil is full of nutrients deposited during eons as it lay at the bottom of a prehistoric sea.

Even the tsars of Russia were fans of Moldovan wines, but it wasn’t until after 1940 that the wines began to be mass produced. As one of 15 Soviet Socialist Republics, Moldova became the USSR’s biggest source of wine responsible for half of all the wine consumed there.

During the 1960s vast underground cellars for millions of bottles were built to store its extensive production. One abandoned limestone mine was transformed into the Milestii Mici wine cellar stretching for 150 miles with temperatures consistently in the mid-50s Fahrenheit, the perfect humidity for aging wine. It became globally famous when the Guinness Book of World Records listed its two million bottles as the largest wine collection in the world by the number of bottles.

With alcoholism rampant throughout the Soviet Union in the mid-1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev introduced an anti-alcohol campaign raising the prices for wine as well as vodka and beer, which not only curtailed Moldova’s production of wines but served as a blow to the union’s tax revenues.

Once Moldova became independent in 1991, however, winemaking revived, aligned itself with international standards and began to compete for sales elsewhere in Europe. Still dependent on the Russian market, it suffered a severe blow when Russia placed a ban on wines from both Moldova and Republic of Georgia in 2006 and then again in 2013 when Moldova announced plans to sign an association treaty with the European Union.

Moldova has been aggressively marketing its wines to the extent that last year the capital’s main airport formerly known as Chisinau International Airport had its name changed to Wines of Moldova Airport.

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As a result of its campaign, the Milestii Mici wine cellar has attracted leading world figures including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, former Chinese Premier and President Jiang Zemin, Russian President Vladimir Putin and former Secretary of State John Kerry.

Moldova’s dependence on its vineyards has been apparent to Mr. Postolachi since his childhood in the village of Pelinia where his family grew their own wine. While he spoke in Romanian at home, his schooling under the Soviet system was in so-called Moldavian. He also learned English and Russian enabling him to become a professor of foreign languages.

His days as an English professor evolved into a career in the Soviet army in Germany as a translator, which eventually enabled him to move to Cairo, Egypt, to work in the Soviet embassy.

Upon his return to Moldova, he started a career in local government as general manager in the education department of the Moldovan city of Bender. Once the city’s education system became recognized as one of the top five in the country, he was tapped to join Moldova’s Foreign Economic Relations Department in 2001.

Three years later, he was appointed deputy minister of Moldova’s reintegration focused on Transnistria, a breakaway territory that has been brought back into the country.

He also completed a four year term involved in this reconciliation work following which he was promoted to serve as Moldova’s ambassador to Austria, the Slovak Republic, the United Nations and the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) based in Vienna, Austria.

It was during this period that he developed his friendship with Mr. Li who introduced him to Chinese authorities responsible for the wine trade which was taking off. Since Moldovan producers were barred from sending their wine to Russia they were looking for new markets in Europe as well as China.

At the TopWine China exhibition in held in Beijing in 2015, Moldova wines became the unexpected stars of the show, according to trade publications, and Mr. Postolachi is convinced that the market for his country’s wines will grow in China exponentially.

Meanwhile, his daughter Lilia and son Alex moved to the United States where they are encouraging local distributors to expand the market for Moldovan wines.

Mrs. Postolachi-Glover served for six years at the World Trade Center Atlanta first as the director of new membership and international services and then as general manager, and her brother Alex racked up degrees from Georgia State and Kennesaw State universities in accounting, marketing, economics, business and finance.

Unlike China where doing business generally is a hierarchical affair, Mrs. Postolachi-Glover told Global Atlanta that the wine business in the U.S. is highly regulated with various licenses required and is highly competitive as well.

Nevertheless, once she was introduced to a distributor through contacts at the Export Import Bank, the Postolachis considered selling wine in the U.S. to be a promising business idea. They then decided to focus on Georgia and began working with Andrey Turea, the owner of Moldova Deluxe, a Chicago-based wine  importer who imported 240,000 bottles of Moldovan wines into the U.S. last year.

In Georgia these wines are sold by the Bacchus Distributor Corp. in Suwanee. Mrs. Postolachi-Glover encourages wine connoisseurs to sample the large variety of Moldovan wines, which she said are viewed favorably by local and international sommeliers including Nance Donaldson, an international wine judge and president of the Buckhead Wine Club.

She also said that Moldovan wines are especially affordable at current prices and may be found at the Buford Highway Farmers Market.