“When you think of Moldova, you must think of Moldovan wine,” my tour guide said. I’d come to this Eastern European country with no research and little knowledge; it was just one of four countries in Europe I’d not yet visited and I was curious. Whenever I mentioned the name of the country to anyone, I received a blank stare in return. No one, absolutely no one, had heard of Moldova. My guide explained that grapes have been grown in Moldova for thousands of years. The low rolling hills and Bordeaux-like climate make it the perfect location for wine production and today it is the the most important industry in the country.
I wasn’t terribly interested. I don’t drink alcohol and am not well-versed in viticulture. Even after I learned that Moldova’s Milestii Mici Winery holds the Guinness World Record for having the largest wine collection and biggest wine cellar in the world, with 125 miles of underground tunnels, I wasn’t particularly impressed. But my guide was not to be deterred. Without asking my permission, he drove nine miles out of the city to Cricova Winery, tracked down a friend who worked there, and received permission to drive me into the tunnels.
Once we descended into the dark maw of the tunnel, I began to understand how truly impressive the Moldovan wine industry is. We drove past huge wooden barrels and side alcoves stacked with thousands of bottles. Deep within the cellars, he parked and led me into a series of wine tasting rooms, each decorated in a different theme. My favorite was the “undersea” room in the above photo. It felt like I was riding in Captain Nemo’s submarine. Even though I couldn’t taste the wine, I thoroughly appreciated the opportunity to see the Cricova complex, which is the second largest winery in Moldova and should be on any tour of the country.