General Description / Cultural Significance
There is a saying shared jokingly by locals in the country of Moldova that when God divided the earth among people, Moldovans showed up late and were therefore given a very small patch of land, compensated for by incredibly rich soil. It could not be truer that despite the country’s size, Moldova’s fertile land and mild climate has brought forth an incomparably profitable and rich tradition in the form of the Grape, Vitis. The strong vines of the Grape wind up trees or vertical structures and bring forth clusters of large berries with firm flesh and tough skin. Red Grapes are planted in the south while white Grapes are reserved for the north. The country’s varied topography allows for many different varieties to flourish. Moldovans typically take to the vineyards for harvesting from late August to early October. Table Grapes– larger, juicier, and a rich-blue color– are also grown throughout the country, fruiting around the same time. Moldova celebrates National Wine Day annually, commemorating the importance of the Grape with a festival of dancing, music, folk traditions, and plenty of wine drinking.
Nearly every Moldovan family makes their own wine, and whether or not they serve a large commercial winery or a small business, Moldovans never finish a day without sitting down with a glass of homemade wine. Due to its prevalence and significance beyond its intoxicating effect, wine is not legally considered an alcoholic drink in Moldova and can be sold and consumed in any place at any time. Locals tout the drink for its nutritious iron and high antioxidant levels. Grapes contain powerful phytochemicals that have been scientifically proven to reduce the risk of chronic disease, inhibit cancer cell growth, and lower cholesterol. Vitis skins and tannins contain resveratrol which has proven to increase the human lifespan and strengthen the cardiovascular system. When consumed responsibly, the drinking of red wine reduces the risk of arterial disease. Studies have linked a decrease in risk of colon and prostate cancer with moderate red wine consumption.
Moldova has made wine for millennia and is now home to more than a hundred thousand hectares of vineyard. That is more land dedicated to Grape growing than any other country in the world, relative to size. Fossils of Vitis were found in the Moldovan village of Naslavcia, revealing the presence the Grape as far back as a million years ago. Moldova stood nearby as the first wine-making traditions emerged from the Black Sea region and it is thought that the country began cultivating their indigenous varieties of Grapes around 3000 BC. Traditional production methods, such as crushing Grapes by foot, persisted until the Soviet era brought industrialization to the country. Though the wine industry modernized, Soviet rule kept the taste and economic potential of Moldova’s Grape hidden from the world and limited the Grape growing to the classic varieties of Russian taste.
Since winning independence, Moldova has worked hard to broaden the country’s Grape growing to both international varieties and local varieties. Today, local traditions are still held dearly by the Moldovans who cultivate wine. Though essential for the evolution of Moldova’s wine industry, contemporary development into the genetics of viticulture has restricted the use of indigenous varieties of Grape and caused the extinction of some altogether. This is proving a dire oversight by viticulturists as global warming brings about weather unpredictability and an increased need for hardier, native flora, better suited to face the climate changes to come.
Climate Change / Conservation Status
Climate change scientists have projected that Moldova will be subject to increased droughts, floods, severe weather, earthquakes, and landslides. High vulnerability to natural hazards could have a dire impact on the country’s agriculture, an overwhelming source of livelihood and income for the people and economy. Late spring frosts will become more common and could cause a loss in three percent of Moldova’s average annual gross domestic product. A 2019 study discovered that rising temperatures and decreased precipitation in Moldova is changing the chemical makeup of the Grape resulting in particularly high levels of sugar and less acidity in recently produced wines. This jeopardizes the quality of Moldovan wine, whose distinct profile and flavor has been regarded by some as the finest in the world, and serves as a greater reflection on how climate change is slowly changing the molecular makeup of the aromatic plants we used to recognize so well.
Based on international taste, wine developers are limiting the use of indigenous Vitis varieties in Moldova. Not growing these plants and eventually allowing them to disappear is a mistake as these varieties of Grape are unique in their ability to thrive in unfavorable conditions and in the face of disease. For example, varieties known as ‘Coarnă neagră’ and ‘Coarnă roşie’, among many others, are much more resistant to frost, drought, and diseases than the more common varieties prioritized through genetic modification. Furthermore, the indigenous varieties of Moldovan table Grapes are better for long-term storage, allowing them to be preserved for consumption in the winter. Though the world-wide wine markets may not have the necessary demand, these wild Vitis varieties are important components of the original Moldova environment and are shareholders in the country’s biological history, traditional knowledge, and culture. As climate change interrupts global temperatures and weather patterns, the loss of indigenous varieties, which are better suited to variable elements, will only harm the wine industry of Moldova. The survival of the country’s native flora and the intangible, national identity of the country are at stake. After all, what has become a massive industry today first originated from family-based traditions, proving that our most fruitful relationships to aromatic plants stem from traditional knowledge and shared joy.
General Description / Cultural Significance
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