Moldova is well known for its wine, one of the country’s main exports. And as the industry revives and redefines itself in Moldova, interesting opportunities have arisen for first-mover investors in the sector, especially in association with the country’s untapped tourism potential.
Wine production and tourism to Moldova have blossomed in recent years. However, both sectors have huge space for growth, especially in the form of premium and authentic products.
Moldovan wine is growing in quality and international acclaim. The country had about 170 international awards in 2016, but now boasts 799, according to Moldova's National Office of Vine and Wine (NOVW). Meanwhile, National Geographic stated in 2018 that Moldova is amongst the ‘top 10 places that deserves more travellers’.
A taste of success
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the land covered by Moldova’s vineyards has shrunk consistently due to abandonment, natural causes and political disruption.
Once one of the USSR’s largest wine producers, Moldova’s production volume and exports are a shadow of their former selves. Things worsened in 2006 and 2013, both following a Russian embargo on Moldovan wine exports in retaliation for the country’s growing EU alignment.
Nonetheless, Moldovan vineyards boast excellent soil conditions and 30 grape varieties, covering 128,000 hectares – the world’s 14th largest surface coverage and the highest density of vineyards per capita, according to Moldovan consultants Business Intelligent Service (BIS).
Volume of production has increased strongly and consistently since 2014, now equal to the pre-embargo year of 2005, shows the NOVW. However, over the past five years, Moldova has shifted focus to higher value-added consumers in the EU and elsewhere, from whom demand has increased non-stop since 2014, according to Irina Bistritchi, deputy director of the NOVW.
Indeed, the average cost per litre of Moldovan wine has been steadily rising, while in 2018 export revenues from the EU had the highest share of wine exports for the first time, followed by the Commonwealth of Independent States, according to BIS. Wine now accounts for 7% of Moldova’s total exports.
An opportunity uncorked
Overseas investors have already stepped in, with 22% of Moldovan’s wineries being fully or partially owned by foreigners, according to BIS.
“The opportunity for foreign investment is in small to medium-sized wineries, both in terms of processing and production, because we inherited 180 companies from the USSR…The majority of active wineries have out-of-date equipment; updating these and/or replanting shrinking vineyards could yield high rewards. Buying land requires a joint venture, [which is] a simple process,” contends Ms Bistritchi.
Horizon Capital, a UK-based private equity firm, did exactly this with family-run Purcari Wineries, turning it into one of Moldova’s largest and most renowned producers. Meanwhile, Moldovan-owned Et Cetera winery has successfully merged wine production with premium ‘experiential’ tourism.
Moldova’s potential is widely seen as lying in wine tourism and local hospitality. If properly supported, research from the Moldova Competitiveness Project claims the tourism sector could grow tenfold in the next 10 years, contributing up to 5% of Moldova's GDP.
While Moldova's tourism numbers have been rising since 2015, the country remains off the radar for most travellers. “Moldova has great tourist potential. It has authentic, unspoiled living culture. Done carefully, one can [commercialise] this; turn peoples’ passion for their culture, food, music or outdoor activities into authentic experiences, not mass tourism, which is so in demand now,” says Jack Delf, a tourism strategy specialist and founder of adventure travel specialist company Black Mountain Montenegro.
Opportunities for large-scale investments also abound, since Moldova’s only major hotel chains are a Radisson Blu and Marriott hotel.