There are some jobs you just can’t turn down and a film on wine pretty much tops that list for me. France, Italy maybe even California popped into my mind. Moldova certainly did not. But that’s what I love about this job. It never fails to surprise and educate.
And so off we went to Moldova, slotted in between Ukraine and Romania, it’s not your classic image of wine-growing terrain. In the capital of Chisinau the legacy of the Soviet past is evident throughout. The oppressive tower blocks are hulking grey structures on most streets.
However, venture a little further out and it all begins to look much more like the lush land of vine and grape more traditionally associated with wine production. In fact, this beautiful countryside has the highest density of vineyards in the world.
Like many countries which were once part of the Soviet Union, Moldova has struggled to find its post-Soviet identity. Many Moldovans are leaving the country, and those who remain, find themselves pulled between East and West. Russian language and culture is still an integral part of the nation’s DNA.
However wine-making is also in this country’s DNA and so it is using the skills of the past to secure its future. I was struck by the huge pride there is for wine, a historic affinity and an absolute belief that things are going to be different now.
After Russia twice-banned the import of Moldovan wine, the industry was decimated and yet there is little bitterness - just an understanding that trade needs to be with a wider world. The old motherland no longer has the same power but wine is still a political business.
As the Moldovan prime minister acknowledged, it seems Russia has tried to stop the shift towards the West using wine, but now with the industry growing elsewhere, building a relationship with Europe is key to their future success.
We visited Chateau Purcari, a 200 year old vineyard, to sample their 'Freedom Blend'. It’s a wine made from vines and grapes from Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova. It’s meant to celebrate post-independence unity, though wine enthusiasts joke that instead, it represents lands denied independence in the past thanks to Russian incursions.
At Cricova, a Soviet-built underground maze of cellars, you get an idea of just how closely politics and wine are interlinked. This is where Vladimir Putin had his 50th birthday and stores a private collection - it’s directly across the cellar from former US Secretary of State John Kerry and up from German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Maybe if they could all visit at the same time and raise a glass together Moldova’s wine would secure a very unique place in world history.
- You can watch On Assignment on the ITV Hub here