This innovative family business is seizing a chance to make history
Wednesday 15 September 2021
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When Constantin Gîrboiu bought the former ‘Farm 16’ from the heir of the Zamfirescu Family in 2005, the estate in Cotești, Vrancea, was home to 45 hectares of compact vines and its former winery was semi-derelict. Extensive replanting began almost immediately in 2006, with a focus on noble Romanian and international varieties, most notably the Șarbă grape which is specific to the Vrancea region, and which has become emblematic of the winery. Completing the picture, the vineyard’s dilapidated former winery building was demolished in 2007, to make way for a state-of-the art facility, built with 50% European funds worth 2.4 million euros, and with a processing and storage capacity of 1.5 million litres.
Just one year later, Constantin and his team launched its first wine under the Varancha brand. It wasn’t until 2009 though, that the winery was re-christened Crama Gîrboiu, taking the family name, and things really began to take off.
“Investing in vineyards was a natural step but also an opportunity to show our ambition,” says Livia Gîrboiu, executive manager and Constantin’s daughter. “This is how Crama Gîrboiu was born, and the reason we were the first in Romania to give the family name to a wine business. Years of good wines, international medals and a steady growth in sales of premium wines followed. We’re constantly striving to become better too. That’s why we experiment with everything from terroir, to grape varieties, to winemaking styles, to different technologies. Without trying you can’t achieve perfection, and that’s our destination.”
A major step along this road was undoubtedly the 2018 hiring of the renowned winemaker Giovanni Menotti in a consulting role. With more than 30 years’ experience of winemaking both in the Friuli area and internationally, Giovanni quickly made his mark with modern, non-invasive vinification methods, greater respect for the plant and the grape, and crucially the design of some really special wines.
The following few years saw a slew of successful and inventive wines, garnering an impressive collection of international awards, which only added to Gîrboiu’s growing reputation for innovation. It also saw a major further €1.6 million upgrade to the winery, for modernisation and an increase in processing and to 2 million litres. Today, the vineyard comprises around 200 hectares of native vines such as Șarbă, Plăvaie, Fetească Regală, Fetească Albă, Fetească Neagră, as well as international ones like Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling Italico, Muscat Ottonel, Gewurztraminer, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir.
“Our philosophy is to create wine that expresses both the terroir and the character of the Gîrboiu family,” continues Livia. “We are experimenting all the time and I think that gives us an added value as well as a competitive advantage. Every year we experiment on Romanian, local varieties because we firmly believe they are our future.”
Gîrboiu has clearly benefitted considerably from European funds in developing the infrastructure side of its business, as have many of the country’s wineries. This has levelled the playing field in terms of opportunity, argues Livia, so it is incumbent on individual wineries to stand out from the pack in other ways.
“Everyone has technology; the wine sector is the only one in Romania that has really taken advantage of European funds,” she says. But premium wine means more than that. This is where the expertise of the specialists comes into play, from sustainable methods in the vineyard to the final wine in the bottle, including branding and marketing elements.”
Like her peers, it is also clear that Livia has grown frustrated at the lack of strategic leadership behind Romania’s wine renaissance.
“Romania has a great handicap, and that is called politics! There has not yet been a Minister of Agriculture who has paid a minimum of attention to the wine sector, unfortunately. We don’t have an image as a producing country, we don’t have a brand and we don’t know how to sell ourselves. The lack of producer associations goes hand-in-hand with the incompetence of the authorities. The funds allocated for promotion are almost non-existent, and I think it is recognised as a wine producer only through international medals or through the weak, existing export.
“After the fall of Ceaușescu’s regime, the culture of the vine has returned and the tradition is being revived, with small but sure steps. Romania is at the beginning of the road. We are at the point where we are replanting, discovering the terroir, and selecting the right grape varieties. Technology is advancing rapidly, thanks to investment fund projects, and famous oenologists from countries with tradition like France and Italy come to Romania to create new classics. The culmination of all these advantages is a chance to create history. We must seize it.”
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