The history of wine and viticulture in Romania

Wine is such an old tradition on the territory of present day Romania, that it almost blends in the history of this region. People have been drinking wine for more than 2,700 years in this part of the world, and even though it has been in a strong competition with other less noble liquors, wine continues its profound relationship with people and it is present in all the important moments of life from the esoteric ones to traditional holidays.

Some historians believe that grape vine planting in the area precedes the first grain, and historical references to the wine of proto-Dacian and Dacian was made ​​by Strabo and Diodorus Siculus.

The importance of the Thracian-Dacian wine area is proven by the presence of god Dionysus (Bacchus in Roman mythology) in Thrace. As a matter of fact, the proto-Dacians had a similar god – Sabazios – who could have been picked up from the Greeks and personified in Dionysus.

Grape vine growing in the region was, let’s say, from the Vitis Silvestris variety, first “domesticated” at the beginning of Neozoic and which was drunk without being mixed with water, in the Scythian manner, at least this is what the legendary Homer wrote, claiming that the Greek warriors found the wine in Thrace.

If we were to position in time wine growing and consumption in the region, there are reports according to which the Agathyrsi – a population which was found in the area of the present day Mures county 700 years before Christ – were renowned for their vineyards.

And in order to give an even more colorful insight into local wine history, Ovid, the poet exiled by Augustus to Tomis – present day Constanta – says that the Getae knew to produce a kind of brandy, concentrating wine through freezing.

The first big event

From the known history of viticulture in this area we can mention the decision of the Dacian king Burebista (82 BC – 44 BC) to grub the vineyards. Perhaps the Dacians drank too much or perhaps he wanted to reduce the neighbors’ continuously temptation of attacking Dacia, famous for its wine. We will never know for sure.
However, Burebista’s measure was only a small obstacle in the development of viticulture, since at the time of the conquest of Dacia by Trajan after two wars, Dacian wine production was booming.

The Romans then minted their own currency with the wine from Dacia – literally – The Dacia Felix coin issued during the reign of Trajan, as well as another issue during the reign of Decius (just before the Romans abandoned the province), Dacia was portrayed as a woman holding two children in her arms, one with a bunch of grapes and the other one with ears of wheat.
After Aurelian abandoned Dacia ( 271-275 AD) the province became a playing field for almost all the migratory peoples entering Europe, and it is believed that grape vine planting went through rough times, though did not disappear.

For almost a millennium, the chaos and the insufficient information regarding the population in this area, do not give us the chance to discover how viticulture developed in the region, nevertheless, as long as the historical names were preserved (Napoca, Olt, Mures) the population and also its habits must have had some continuity.

Especially since in the Middle Ages they frequently mentioned the quality and quantity of the wines produced in all the four future Romanian provinces (Transylvania, Tara Romaneasca, Moldavia and Dobrogea).

Thus there is evidence of consumption of Moldavian wines in Constantinople, Warsaw and Vienna, while the production from Tara Romaneasca was exported to Egypt and the Ottoman Empire (which had not yet conquered Constantinople).

The disaster

It struck in the 19th century. More exactly, it initially struck in Arad in 1880, then in 1884 in Chitorani, Prahova, where there had been reports that in about a decade phylloxera destroyed almost all the local vineyards. That was a bad thing, but somewhat it was a good thing at the same time, because the Romanian winemakers imported noble French and Italian varieties, and even German adaptations.

Ever since then, however, they began the cultivation of hybrid varieties, of poor quality, which are currently posing challenges on the wine market, and these hybrids emerged due to the poverty of some of the farmers who could not afford to plant noble, grafted varieties.

Obviously, while the Romanian viticulture was being brought to its normal state, the First World War started, ten years after there was the Great Depression and then to top it all, the Second World War and the coming to power of the communists.

As a result, some Romanian vine varieties have almost disappeared, while hybrids have thrived in small private property surviving nationalization thanks to their positioning in regions close to the mountains.

Therefore, it is here that we can actually look into the reasons for the decline in wine consumption in relation to other liquors, and the inclination towards ignoble, low quality, but cheap varieties – problems that producers are facing nowadays.