For years, we had our sights set on participating in a grape harvest. As the golden months of the summer of 2014 dwindled, and Europe’s grapes grew plumper and riper, we decided to meander to Moldova to meet the newest vintage. It’s said that a whopping 25% of Moldova’s working population is involved in winemaking, and we instantly sensed this upon our arrival in the Eastern European country. Much of the autumnal landscape was dotted with vineyards, grape motifs favored heavily on the village architecture, and winemakers of the amateur and professional sort abounded. One of our first nights in the country, locals spotted us strolling the streets of a quiet village, and asked us if we wanted to try a glass of wine at their home. (Of course we said yes!) This warm extension of hospitality would continue for nearly one month, even as we hopped from locale to locale. Sometimes we were offered golden bunches of grapes, while at other moments we were given a generous glass of homemade wine.
Moldova has a history of winemaking that spans nearly five millennia. Upon arriving here, we yearned to discover the perfect blend of familial tradition and modern winemaking techniques. My husband, Shawn and I found this ideal combination at the Et Cetera Winery in the southeastern part of the country. We spent three days with a winemaking family, the Luchianovs – a Moldovan bunch who have built their business from scratch. Spanning several generations, the visit reminded us why we’re so fond of family-run enterprises. From the grandparents cooking delicious, hearty fare and constructing new structures, to their children making magic with the grapes and entertaining their domestic and international guests, the family exuded passion, an attention to detail, and a desire to help their country flourish, despite its economic challenges. The Luchianovs also exhibited another trait that I’ve come to respect greatly – they are mostly autodidactic. I never would have guessed that they were largely self-taught, because what they produce is exemplary.
As we entered the Et Cetera Winery grounds in Crocmaz, not far from the Ukrainian border, I had flashbacks of Napa, Italy, and even Burgundy. We’d already seen some of Moldova’s most celebrated monasteries, toured two of the country’s well-known wineries, and mingled with locals in a tiny village, but now we were ready to slow down a bit. Here, we would focus on nature and the behind-the-scenes activities that make a winery tick.
One afternoon, Shawn and I stared out into the vast vineyards, with garnet-hued, first-rate glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon in our hands. During another sun-drenched hour, we harvested grapes alongside Luchianov family friends. We also watched the Luchianov matriarchs whip up Moldova’s beloved Plăcintă, a multi-layered Phyllo-dough pastry, like pros. The ladies gently mentored young staff members from the neighboring village, and mischievously called us over to capture the blanket-like layers being placed into the iron pans.
Other moments found us shadowing with winemaker Alexandru and his brother, Igor, as they checked in with the grapes and the guests. We mingled with their wives, Daniela and Olga, who are skilled in the culinary arts and public relations. Daniela whipped up all types of memorable dishes using locally-sourced ingredients: an elegant parmesan soup, grilled chicken and vegetables, a range of savory and sweetened brie appetizers, pumpkin-cream soup, homemade cookies, bread, honey and preserves. All the while, the third generation of Luchianov girls – perhaps Et Cetera’s next group of winemakers – tinkered about outside. They rode a scooter, created chalk masterpieces, hugged the family kitten, Tom, and napped as their grandparents looked on. As Daniela so aptly said one night over dinner, “This isn’t our job; it’s a lifestyle.”
Since Et Cetera is one of a few wineries in the developing southeast of Moldova, we felt lucky to have seen the winery in its early days, before the region booms. Over the course of three days, we’d chat with the Luchianovs to get a feel for what inspired them to open a winery. Those were the kind of conversations that would inspire most anyone to open a winery or start a small business. However, lest I make it all sound too romantic and carefree, let me say that I’ve rarely seen a more hard-working team. Though the operation looks picturesque to guests, behind the scenes the family works like a colony of bees. Their motivational words follow, in interview format, lending our dinnertime and vineyard-side conversations a more authentic air.
Tricia: How did your family decide to open a winery?
Alex: For me, opening a winery was a hobby and a dream. The idea was born for me when I was working in the United States, where I started taking an even greater liking to wine, thanks to some friends from the UK. At one point, I thought to myself, “Moldova is a wine country… I’ll come back home!” I then practiced for seven years before we opened the winery.
Igor: I also fell in love with wine when I was working in the United States. In Moldova’s villages, everyone makes home-style wine. We planted the vineyards in 2003 using grape plants from Italy, Romania and Georgia, and had our first harvest in 2005. We produced 3,000 bottles, even without the technology we have now. We only had one pump and one tank. We then built the winery in 2009. Next year, we’re planning to build a hotel on the grounds, since right now, there’s only one hotel situated between the capital of Chisinau and the city of Stefan Voda.
Tricia: What do you most enjoy about running Et Cetera?
Igor: Our guests say they feel so good here – like they’re at home. They say, “You must be the happiest people in the world. It’s like heaven here.” It is absolutely a lot of fun. They have so many questions for us, and it’s fun answering them. Because this business is a hobby for us, it’s a pleasure.
Daniela: This isn’t our job – it’s a lifestyle. It’s our work, but it doesn’t feel like work because we enjoy it! I get to meet lots of interesting people, and share a part of me. There’s always this feeling of adrenaline, because everything is new.
Tricia: Why the name, ‘Et Cetera?’
Daniela: The name describes our journey. We started with just an idea, and step by step, slowly… we’ve grown.
Tricia: What makes Et Cetera special?
Igor: What makes Et Cetera special is our wine’s quality. If it doesn’t meet quality standards, it doesn’t go to market. We’re also one of the only wineries in Moldova that’s situated in the heart of a vineyard. From the winemaking, to the cooking, and constructing, everything’s being family-run too.
Also, the world needs to know about Moldova. We’re something new – something that’s exciting to discover!
Our visit to Et Cetera Winery was supported by the Luchianov family to which we extend thanks.
To Daniela and Igor, Olga and Alexandru, and their parents, we send out an extra special thank you, or mulțumesc, for allowing us to tell such a fun story.
Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved. Video footage is courtesy of my husband, Shawn.