This past weekend was WineFest or Ziua de Vinuri. This holiday is celebrated all over Moldova in almost every raion center and city. The largest of these celebrations is by far Chisinau’s. The entire center part of the city is closed down and every major winery (and even most of the smaller scale commercial productions) set up booths and promote their wares.
I was excited to attend this year, since last year I arrived late after a long goodbye lunch with friends who were heading back to their sites after conferences, and then had to leave early. The time I had spent last year, I had enjoyed – it was a chance to learn about the various wines Moldova had to offer and taste some of the lesser known, less available and probably best wines in Moldova.
When I arrived this year, I went straight to the booth to buy a tasting glass – you can get a plastic one for 15 lei ($1) and a glass one for 60 lei ($4.25), which allows you unlimited tastings and almost everywhere has tastings, or at least they did last year. This year however it was different. There were some booths that offered zero tastings, and these were booths where last year you could taste every single wine there. More than that, the booths that were offering tastings had small ones, of maybe one of their vintages.
The booths were also significantly more commercial than last year. The festival itself was more commercial. There were screens next to the stage playing advertisements, the booths had private tasting areas and spaces to buy food and wine pairings and enjoy some peace and quite at an adorable table, inside the booth, separated from the outside crowds.
If an event like this became so commercialized so quickly in the US, I would be really annoyed and don’t get me wrong, I was also annoyed by the lack of abundant free samples, but in Moldova, I could only think, we’ll good work team. To have Moldovan businesses begin to figure out ways to make this festival more commercial, to offer only small tastings, (I am still not a fan of the booths that choose to offer no samples – it’s still a wine festival after all) and to offer exclusive areas for higher tier customers at an event that attracts a significant number of people with the wealth and desire to buy their way into these sections; was like seeing a bird begin to fly.
As I stood watching the concert at the end of the evening, a really famous Moldovan group called Zdob si Zdub, and saw another advertisement of the screen bordering the stage, for a bank no less, a PCV next to me turned to me and commented on this same thing. Anywhere else it would be annoying, here, at least they’re starting to do some marketing at what should be an at least somewhat commercial event.
The contributions of the US Government and our taxpayers were all over this festival. The Festival was co-sponsored by USAID and several Peace Corps Volunteers over the years have worked with individual wineries, as well as with the Wine Industry of Moldova, in various ways to build capacity and hopefully create better products, that are able to reach a larger market.