Member in Focus
Q&A with Thomas Brandl on the bulk wine market in Moldova
By Cruz Liljegren
VINEX talks to Thomas Brandl, a journalist and entrepreneur with extensive knowledge of the Moldovan wine market. He is the founding director of a PR-agency with clients such as Wines of Georgia, Wines of Turkey, Wines of North Greece, Wines of Bulgaria – and Wines of Moldova. This puts him in a unique position to compare and elaborate on the wines of eastern Europe.
Moldova with more than 112,000 hectares of vines are suffering from the lowest yields in Europe. A result of the fact that there’s still a lot of old vineyards dating back to Soviet times. Moldova, apart from its urgent necessity to find new export markets, is the wine producing country with the most acute need of vineyard management.
Despite this, it’s impossible to ignore the presence of `Wines of Moldova´ on the major European wine exhibitions. They have tripled their participation at ProWein in a few years, in 2018 we counted 38 wineries at the common booth of Moldova. An impressive evolution well worth exploring further.
In all walks of business there are those companies, businesses and brands that are forever seemingly out on a full on PR drive, maximising any opportunity to get a plug here, or a mention there. The business version of turning up to the opening of an envelope.
Then there are those organisations that quietly get on with doing what they know is right, and rack up just as much, if not more success, but in a lot more subtle, dignified and respected way.
Thomas, what attracted you to wine in the first place?
I was lucky enough to come to France in pupils exchange at the age of 15 years. It was in Burgundy – and it has marked me deeply! So we can say that my entry to the world of wines was on top level. Afterwards I visited Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece – and became a journalist and wine writer.
Tell us briefly about your business?
The last 20 years I’ve been working on PR and marketing side, starting with Intervitis Interfructa, a technology show of Stuttgart International Trade Fairs in Germany with exhibitors and visitors from all around the world. Promoting Intervitis Interfructa, together with ProWein Dusseldorf, led my to all major wine countries on five continents thus creating a global network. Of course, the uprising Eastern European countries were an important focus for both shows. So I travelled a lot and in 2011 I decided to quit my job as Communication Director of Messe Stuttgart and founded my own agency `Xenos-comm´. Since then I’ve worked for Wines of Georgia, Wines of Turkey, Wines of North Greece , Wines of Bulgaria – and Wines of Moldova. Parallel to these activities I’m judging in many international wine competitions and work as Ambassador of Concours Mondial de Bruxelles for Germany, Austria and all Eastern European countries; for World Bulk Wine Exhibition Amsterdam I do about the same thing – thanks to my contact network especially in Eastern Europe.
How come you’re an expert in the Moldovan wine market?
There’s not so many people who have been to such a completely unknown country like Moldova for about ten times. I have visited the wineries, travelled around the country and learned a lot there. Moldova was the “wine barrel” of the Soviet Union, with more than 200,000 hectares of vineyards when communism broke down. There was a huge mass production for the Russian market, but the qualities were very poor. So the whole Moldovan wine industry had to be re-invented and re-structured, which caused some hundred millions Euros investment by Russian and European capital mainly after the year 2000. A politically motivated Russian embargo in 2006 – because Moldova orientated itself strongly towards the west – and a second one in 2013 brought the little country with its 3 million people to its knees. But thanks to financial support by USAID programme and more and more EU money the Moldovan wine industry has shifted towards a better future now! Since 2013 we have wines of geographical indication and protected origin and the EU legislative system has been implemented in the Moldovan wine industry.
Share your thoughts on Moldovas marketing efforts/program
National Office for Vines and Wine with its brand “Wine of Moldova“, is getting more and more successful as a PPP, being present at all major wine shows in Europe as well as in China for example. They do many presentations in important target markets like Poland, Czech Republic or Romania.
This year, 2017, we have a serious global shortage and prices are going up across the board. Did we see the same in Moldova?
Different to traditional wine countries as France, Italy and Spain all Eastern Europe did not face a shortage in wine, which led to the fact that Moldova participated at the World Bulk Wine Exhibition Amsterdam. The 2017 fair was the most successful so far. Many buyers from all around the world were desperately seeking good quality bulk wines for acceptable prices. That was the moment for Moldova. I hope that the majority of the “new friends“ of the country will stay in fidelity.
What is the USP for Moldovan wine as an export product?
Moldova offers a wide range of well made wines in all price categories, mostly based on common varieties like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc etc. But the growers they are planting more and more indigenous grape varieties e.g. Feteasca Alba, Feteasca Regala. Rara Neagra or Feteasca Neagra. They urgently should follow this path in the future in order to have products to offer that not everybody can sell. Otherwise you get replaceable by anybody producing cheaper.
Is there any exportation of wine in bulk from Moldova?
Of course. Despite the fact that “Wine of Moldova“ is marketing the country mainly as a producer of quality wines filled in bottles, bulk still plays an important role, as the Russian market has partly shifted to other destinations. Moldova needs to find new markets and there is a growing number of small and medium size companies, so the Moldovan bulk wine is gaining ground. In my opinion the country offers a value for money that is very hard to beat.
The Russian wine imports from Ukraine has largely stopped, do you think Russian wine buyers will look for low-priced Moldovan bulk wines next?
The Moldovan people have understood that their traditional dependency on the Russian market will not lead them into a bright future, although it will always remain an important pillar of their business. That’s a bit similar to Georgia. But the Georgian wine has always been higher rated than the Moldovan. Quality wise I see the two countries getting closer and closer to each other.
And finally, what general trends do you see in the Moldovan wine market?
As I said already: more indigenous varieties, often vilified in attractive blends, more smaller wineries – and a clear orientation towards new markets.