Wines of a new small producer – the peasant household Gherghelejiu Serghei Ivan – Hagimus, named after its founder, a former employee of the criminal investigation department, have been released into the big life. He used to catch bandits, and now – harvests grapes. Despite the harshness of his former profession, Serghei Gherghelejiu is a great romantic at heart, and winemaking allows to fully reveal this.
The village of Hagimus, Căușeni region, during the Soviet era, hoseted very good vineyards that belonged to the kolkhoz “40 years of Victory”. The vineyards were located on the Suvorov Hill (named after Alexander Suvorov, who fought in these places during the Russian-Turkish war). Its southeastern slopes had 12 terraces with scarce soils and were exposed to sun light all day long. Here the grapes ripened two to three weeks earlier than usual, whereas the produced wines were considered special. At the foot of the hill, next to the vineyard terraces, there was an entrance to a huge old cellar, built by a local landowner by order of the Russian army in 1831 to store various supplies. The Soviet kolkhoz has built a wine processing unit above it, in which the grapes were pressed, and the must was lowered into the basement for fermentation and storage in barrels and tanks. As a boy, Sergei was running around in these places, observing the kolkhoz farming life and often looking into the historical basement, which, unfortunately, in the 1990s, was dismantled stone by stone by local “barbarians”.
In 2004, while still working in the police, he planted 8 hectares of vineyard in the upper part of Suvorov Hill: Sauvignon Blanc on red clay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and 35 ares of Chardonnay on clay-sandy soils. The former detective has mastered the wisdom of an agronomist. A neighbor helps him manage agricultural machinery in the vineyard, and he invites seasonal workers to harvest the yield.
I gave my first grape harvest in 2008 to pay for the seedlings to the winery,” says Serghei Gherghelejiu. “There was a separate bunker for grapes from Hagimus at that enterprise, they especially liked my Sauvignon. At this winery, Victor Guțanu worked as a technologist, with whom I became friends and who initiated me into many subtleties of the winemaking profession. Since 2011 he has been working at a large winery in California, but I continue to communicate with him. In the early years, I didn’t have the capacity to process the harvest by myself. In 2014, I retired and devoted myself entirely to this new business. Victor via Skype advised what to buy for the winery”.
New life in winemaking
The Gherghelejiu family built a production facility in the courtyard of their home in Bender. To begin with, they bought four Italian tanks (500 liters each) made of stainless steel with a floating lid, a crusher with a stem separator, and ordered a 7,5-ton stainless steel basket press at the Bender ship repair plant. Afterwards, gradually, new additional tanks were bought. The first wine was produced in 2015. But it is very difficult to equip a winemaking production, even a small one, on one’s own and without side support.
I addressed to the Moldova Competitiveness Project (funded by USAID and the Swedish Government) and asked for help to upgrade my production facility and assist me in placing the wine on the market,” says the winemaker. “In 2018, donors purchased for us two stainless steel tanks with cooling jackets (6 tons each) and a refrigeration unit. Now our tanks storage capacity is exceeding 26 tons of wine. Due to the “cold” the fermentation of white wines is carried out at a controlled temperature not exceeding 18 °C.
We also expanded the number of oak barrels. By ourselves we bought seven barriques from Carpathian oak, and donors bought the same amount from Hungarian oak. We are currently waiting for the arrival of a pneumatic drum press for 900 kg, which was also purchased by MCP. This press crushes the grapes more gently than the one we have. We will use it to make white wines. We have our own filling machine for two bottles and a capping machine. When we join the Association of Small Producers, we will be able to use some of the common equipment that the “Moldova Competitiveness Project” equipped it with. Specifically, we need a node for label application. When we’ll bottle in larger quantities, it will be possible to use a filling line and a capping machine.
In addition to equipment, we were provided with the services of a winemaking consultant. For two seasons our mentor is Ilie Gogu. And Victor, who is strong in some nuances, also helps me a lot. I think we make good wines”.
Despite the fact that Sergei Gherghelejiu is still a young winemaker, he already has his own specialties. Its undoubted advantage is that the vineyards are located 1.5 km from the winery. White grapes are harvested in cates of 12-14 kg, brought to the winery and loaded into the refrigerator, where these are cooled until morning to +13…14 °C. Then, grapes are destemmed, crushed, the mark is clarified, stays in contact with pulp for 6-8 hours, pressed, fermented, etc.
In the production of red wines, only stem separation is performed, and the berries of red varieties are pierced without crushing. And fermentation takes place in berries – in fact, this is the technique of carbon dioxide maceration. Fermentation lasts for 18-19 days. First wine is gravity drained, the remaining pulp is pressed, but the press fractions are not mixed with gravity drained, it is sold separately on tap. In the technological production process of red wines, sulfites are not added, except at bottling, in very small quantities.
The grapes of the 2019 harvest were processed with selective yeast, because there was a high sugar content,” explains Sergey Gherghelejiu. – On one batch of Merlot, due to the high sugar accumulation, the strength turned out to be 16,1%. And in this case wines could have not ferment to its full. Ilie said that only selective yeast should be used. In 2018, I tried to make wines with wild yeast. But there is a risk that they may “wake up” in the spring and create problems”.
What’s in the name?
Only on the 16th year after planting the vineyard it was possible to bring the wines of this peasant household to the market. Many small producers cannot achieve this on their own. The Gherghelejiu family was also helped by the “Moldova Competitiveness Project” by covering the services of the PromoMedia marketing agency. Its experts came up with the Terasele Hagimus trademark, because below the Gherghelejiu’s vineyard on Suvorov Hill there are the remains of unique terraces, at least some of which Serghei dreams of restoring. Also, the agency’s designers have developed labels for this series of wines.
Each label is a reproduction of a painting, painted on site and modified with computer graphics. One (Merlot) shows the terraces themselves, the other (Sauvignon Blanc) – a spring located next to them, which Serghei restored at his own expense in 2005, the third (Merlot – Cabernet Sauvignon – Saperavi) – a view from the terraces to the Bender Fortress… The creative idea was that when these bottles are side by side, they unite and present the overall landscape of the place.
Terasele Hagimus Sauvignon Blanc, 2019
Wine color is light straw, with a shine. The first nose of Sauvignon Blanc wines is usually without aroma. The wine needs to “breathe” (remove the cork and put the bottle in the refrigerator for an hour and a half). In the aroma – “duchesse” pear, white currant berries, ripe gooseberries, fresh citrus notes, elderberries.
Silky texture, well- pronounced refreshing acidity. On the palate – citrus notes. The aftertaste has a hint of lime zest. The alcohol content is 12,6%.
Even before the official release, this wine is actively bought up by people who personally know the winemaker, coming to his home.
Terasele Hagimus Merlot, 2019
The color of the wine is very dark for the Merlot variety. Around the edge of the glass – dark red. The first nose is lightly boiled overripe black berries. The aroma reveals blackthorn, dried cherries, dried sour cherries, pine nuts, dried plums.
Soft, silky texture. On the palate – light astringency, dried black cherry. The aftertaste has a coffee tint, which suggests that the wine was in contact with oak. Strength – 14,8%.
These wines did not come into contact with oak at all,” the winemaker assures. – A hint of coffee in the taste comes from ripe grape seeds. The wine was only in stainless steel. I greatly limited the load on the bush, the grapes ripened early, and I overexposed them. Sugar was 260 g/l, quite a lot for Merlot. On September 14, the seeds were dark. The mark was on the pulp for 17-18 days. Then I drained gravity mark, and it fermented to its full. My consultants said that my grapes are very good, they don’t need an oak barrel. The second batch of Merlot was collected with even more sugar in the berries, it was poured into barrels, because the strength of the wine was 16,1%. High alcohol needs to be balanced with tannins. This wine will be available for sale by the end of the year”.
Terasele Hagimus Merlot – Cabernet Sauvignon – Saperavi, 2019
This blend has the following ratio of varieties – Merlot (50%), Cabernet Sauvignon (25%) and Saperavi (25%). The latter variety is not found in the vineyards of GT Gherghelejiu Serghei Ivan – Hagimus, it was traded with one producer for his Sauvignon Blanc in the same region Ștefan Vodă.
The wine is very dark in color, dark cherry on the edge of the glass. The first nose has overripe black berries, jam tones. In the aroma – blackthorn, black ashberry, black currant, dried plum, tree bark, dried cherry, dried sour cherry. A little later, shades of jam appear.
Silky texture, light astringency, moderately astringent taste. In it: black bitter cherry, in a long aftertaste – a coffee shade turns into dark chocolate. After aging in a barrel, this wine will be richer and more rounded.
I must admit that this is a very good debut for a young winemaker. It will be interesting to get acquainted with the wines after aging.
To uninitiated it may seem how great it is to arrange tastings for people, treat them to good wines, and hear compliments for them. What a pleasure making wine. But behind this there is a lot of hard work, sometimes associated with losses.
In 2009 and 2013. Merlot and Sauvignon vines are frozen because French seedlings cannot withstand a frost of minus 21-22 °C. When the bushes were small, we covered them. We have not done this since the fourth year. After freezing, I had to do the shaping again. Now we leave the vine to be replaced. If it freezes, we start up a new vine. And in 2016, the entire crop was damaged by mildew and rain. Yearly we invest $ 10,5-11 thousand in the maintenance of the vineyard, and then we have not received anything back from it.
I want to make wines in the old style, high quality, astringent, with pronounced tannins. Let it be a little stronger than usual. I think that a small producer should have three or four wine styles, but good ones. We will have four labels – that’s enough”, Serghei Gherghelejiu said.