ATU winery finds its “trump card” – Codrinschii variety

by Anghelina-Taran
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ATU young winery was the first to produce a wine from the new grape variety of Moldovan selection named Codrinschii, thus paving its way to the world. Most likely, the wine will become the calling card of this winery, as Codrinschii will be primarily associated with it. For almost half a century, this variety has been waiting for two young people to believe in it. What are the qualities of Codrinschii and who these enthusiasts are?

The son of the king of red varieties

This variety was created by Valentina Vedeneeva in the Selection Department of the Moldovan Institute of Research in Viticulture and Winemaking, by having crossed the old local variety Rara Neagră with Cabernet Sauvignon. Codrinschii was planted in an ampelographic collection of the Institute’s varieties, being registered in 1967. The oenologists of the Institute started to study it only in 1980. Subsequently, small experimental plots of Codrinschii were planted in the centre and south of the country. During the period 2009-2017, the oenologists of the Institute have been studying the particularities of processing this variety and developed a technology that enabled maximum extraction of phenolic and colouring substances from must. In dry wines produced from Codrinschii, the content of anthocyanins, which give the wine its red colour, is similar to the one in Merlot. Its titratable acidity is higher compared to Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot wines. Last year, the wine of this new variety was placed on the market for the first time.

We have produced our first wine from Codrinschii grapes, grown in the south of Moldova, in a small peasant enterprise,” Vlada Balica, Director and Co-owner of the winery, said. – The vine was planted more than 20 years ago. As ATU is a new brand on the market, and Codrinschii is not a well-known variety, we did not dare to propose a varietal wine, not knowing what the reaction of customers would be. Thus, we decided to produce a blend of Codrinschii (70%) and Saperavi (30%). Nonetheless, the wine was very well received. In fact, an unknown variety attracts the consumers’ attention and arouses their curiosity. Therefore, we will endeavour producing varietal wine from Codrinschii grapes, using the 2019 vintage.”

Frankly speaking, it is surprising that the local winemakers have not discovered it yet. If its French ‘father’ is a King, and its ‘mother’ is a sweet Moldovan Lady, then their son would undoubtedly be a Prince. Codrinschii has a great potential for the production of quality wines and, of course, can beautify the offer of Moldovan winemakers to the world to uncork.

ATU Saperavi & Codrinschii, 2018

The wine was bottled in May 2019, prior to that being kept in bottles for one year. It has a rich ruby colour. I poured the wine into two glasses: one – for a standard tasting (filled up to the wide part of the glass), and the second (filled just a little bit) – for comparison, putting it aside.

The first glass, the first nose – overripe sweet black berries. Pure flavour of berries – black currant, blackberries, plums, crushed pomegranate, black sour cherries, then come the notes of black currants with sugar and tree bark. 30-40 minutes later I enjoyed the flavour of the second glass. It is very interesting that the amount of wine pour also matters, as I found spice flavours in that “just a little bit.” Shades of vanilla, distinct aroma of freshly grinded black pepper, hints of ginger and nutmeg could be traced. This is unbelievable, as the producer mentioned, the wine had not come into contact with oak wood. The alcohol content is 13.5%.

ATU Saperavi & Codrinschii 2018 is a young wine and will keep its freshness thanks to its high acidity. Still it has passed malolactic fermentation, it has a slightly astringent taste, with shades of coffee and bitter dark chocolate, which passes into a long aftertaste. Its texture is silky, but the tannins are still “naughty.” I guess a quality barrel would have made a perfect choice.

ATU Saperavi & Codrinschii 2018 won the gold medal at Mundus Vini Spring Tasting 2020 international competition.

And now from the barrel…

As Codrinschii is still just an exciting experiment for the producer, the main winemaker and co-owner of ATU, Victor Vutcărău, decided to let half of the wine product mature in new Romanian Carpathian oak barrels to assess this variety’s ageing potential, because it is unknown yet. Saperavi has also undergone maturation. The wine was bottled 12 months later.

I had the opportunity to taste ATU Saperavi & Codrinschii barrique 2018 before its release. It should be noted that after bottling the wine is stressed and needs a few months to recover. Therefore, the assessment I make of this wine refers specifically to that time. After two or three months, the wine’s organoleptic characteristics will further improve.

Its colour is darker than that of its brother, closer to sour cherry colour. There are dense legs on the sides of the glass. The first nose – less intense aroma of black berries, shaded by spices. Mature wine needs time to breathe, so it can be aerated/decanted. The notes of berries are somewhat mitigated in its bouquet. Among the aromas mentioned above, that of tree bark is more clearly distinguished. Instead of crushed pomegranate, pomegranate peel appeared, as well as hints of coffee beans, a light morocco shade. When the glass contained only two more sips distinct glimpses of burnt wood could be traced.

Maturation was undoubtedly to the benefit of the wine’s taste. It has become softer, with a silky texture, revealing a juicy taste of sour cherries and black currants. In the long aftertaste one could feel a bitter taste of dried sour cherries, then the taste of dark chocolate. With no doubt, this wine will get its true place. In general, the maturation was very delicate, which is the sole merit of the winemaker. 

A total of 1,700 bottles of ATU Saperavi & Codrinschii 2018 and the same quantity of ATU Saperavi & Codrinschii barrique 2018 were produced.

How much does it cost?

This wine can be bought for 170 lei/bottle either online, visiting the winemaker’s website, or in situ, at the winery. During the crisis associated with the coronavirus pandemic, it is on sale for a discount price of 150 lei. The partners sell it for about 200 lei/bottle.

ATU Saperavi & Codrinschii barrique 2018 will be sold by the producer for about 200 lei/bottle.

Where to buy it?

In the wine.md wine shop and tasting room, at the Em-bar-go and Carpe Diem wine bars and in Vincuvin.shop.

What are the “trumps”?

The name of the winery – “ATU” – comes from the word “atout,” which means “trumps” in Romanian and French, Vlada Balica explained. – In a figurative sense – it’s about what makes you different from others. What is your trump? Our trump is that our company – East Euro Vitis – has a vine nursery. We also produce vine cuttings; therefore, we have a full production cycle – from cuttings to wine. In other countries, many vine nurseries also have their own wine. In such a way, they demonstrate the quality of the cuttings. We also embraced that approach. After tasting the wine, many of our customers decide to establish their own vineyard with that variety. Starting the next year, we intend to produce Codrinschii vine cuttings and plant a vineyard of this variety.”

Along with the logical continuation of the business, the launch of the wine production also stemmed from Victor’s passion for winemaking. Every autumn, he used to make his own homemade wine and proudly offered it to his friends, who enjoyed it, praised it and kept telling him: “You have to set up your own winery.”

In 2016, the spouses Vlada Balica and Victor Vutcarau started the construction. In October 2017, the first ATU wines entered the market. Within a year, they managed to export some wine to Romania. Nowadays, they supply it to Germany and China. The first delivery to Japan is on its way in June. At the same time, negotiations are underway with one of the Scandinavian countries. So far, the winery produced 30,000 bottles of wine.

Instead of a fish, they were given a fishing rod

At the beginning, we intended to make certain investments – Vlada recalled. – But our endeavours to create something original – both a winery and a product – were noticed by the Moldova Competitiveness Project (funded by USAID and the Swedish Government), and it provided us with development assistance. The aid was channelled into different directions. Initially, the Project helped us buy three stainless steel tanks, then gave advice on branding issues. As we had so many questions about the winemaking technology, MCP together with the National Office for Vine and Wine, rendered us consulting services throughout a year, as part of a mentoring programme. The well-known winemaker Vitalie Băbănuță was our consultant. The donors purchased some furniture made specifically for the wine bar and tasting room to help us develop the hospitality component. To this end, we conducted an urban culture festival and invited graffiti artists, giving them the opportunity to create. The winery exterior walls are also the outcomes of their work. In the spring of 2019, we hosted the first tourists.”  

Overall, the financial support provided by the Moldova Competitiveness Project accounts for 30% of the total amount of investments in the ATU wine business. In addition, the winery makes use of a bottling and capping machine, purchased by the donors for the Association of Small Producers.

In addition to funding, the guidance on investments, on the right field to invest, provided by the Project experts, was extremely important, the winery Director mentioned. – For example, in terms of branding, we received guidance about the steps we needed to take regarding these services, what achievements we should expect. In fact, they taught us how to fish. And we can witness the results of this collaboration. With the MCP and NOVW support, we take part in international exhibitions and competitions, and this helps us grow as a producer and as a brand.

For us, winemaking has become our lifestyle. It gives us pleasure, as well as status, as it has brought so many interesting people into our lives. Since the time we built the winery, we have got more acquaintances and new friends, acquired new interests, and our life has become more intense.”

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