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February - 2005


Local wine faces a dry period

Tough competition from the EU and the new world hreatens the domestic wine market, especially as Europe lacks a sweet tooth

Local wine producers could experience a bitter harvest in 2007, as the opening of the European Union borders means greater competition at home and further challenges abroad.
This is further troubled by the European palate's favour for young, dry and fruity wines, while the Romanian variety is, on the whole, sweet. “Many wine producers who are not using modern technology will fail,” says trade association National Master of Vineyards and Wines (NMVW) general manager Ovidiu Gheorghe.
Development of Romanian wine is patchy due to the lack of investment and modernization, argues Stuart Walton,
British wine critic and author of the World Encyclopedia of Wine'.
But it is not a lack of industrial ability that is a problem, says Catalin Paduraru of Vinexpert. “Whoever says we don't have modern technology is a liar,” he adds, “maybe we have better technology than other European countries.”
For Romanian wine, the chief export markets include the ex-Soviet Union,UK and Germany, says Paduraru. The USA may be a highly competitive market, but it is also a viable place to do business. Red wines are popular worldwide but in Romania now, older white wines are the most popular.
But expanding into these export markets will not be easy. “Romanian wine hasn't a hope of competing on the UK market against the likes of Australia and Chile,”Walton tells The Diplomat but some of the red wines are frankly better than much of what is coming out of Bulgaria now, and given the climate, should be able to match those of southern France.”
Walton says Romania excels in Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and also in Pinot Noir: “Some of which are as good as many a mid-priced burgundy.”
Such views have inspired traditional white winemakers, such as Jidvei, to enter a new phase. "We intend to produce red wine and rose,” says Dr. Bula Ioan, manager of Jidvei, who has created a Pinot Noir - a red and sweet wine with a high quantity of alcohol.
The biggest domestic producers, such as Murfatlar, Tohani and Reces, are also trying to follow the trend of producing young, fruity and dry wines and Tohani says exports for the first nine months of this year have risen by 25 per cent. On the domestic market, Paduraru says most of the imported wines are “no name, brought in Romania on price criteria. In a few years maybe competition will exist.”
But it is hard to tell what will happen in 2007 as he says the market is confused. “What the Romanians chose as wine is humiliating,” he adds. “Of course there's a certain group of Romanians who are obtaining good wine, but the majority are making disappointing choices.”
White wine is where Walton and his international critical fraternity cite as Romania's weakness. This could be hard for companies such as Jidvei, the leader on dry white wine, and Cotnari, the leader on sweet white wine, as the advent of the European Union could mean a flood of similarly priced brands from southern Europe onto the market, as well as little hope of strong export potential.
“We don't have a fear regarding the EU,” says Jidvei's Ioan, who, on the whole, is sticking to the white side. “We don't have to follow the trend, because we are guided by what is grown on our vineyards. 20 years ago the
world's preference for wines was semi-sweet, so we started producing it and we will maintain the white grape predominantly."
There are also other money-making solutions. “It would probably pay (and I say this with a heavyish heart) to develop Chardonnay for its cash-crop potential,” says Walton . “Also, i f the winemaking can be cleaned up and the price is right, there may just be a niche market for those rotted dessert wines we have all heard of. If Austria and the southern hemisphere can sell these wines at affordable prices, why not Romania?"
Local firms have attracted EU financial interest, such as German company Schloss Wacheniheim, which bought out Bucharest-based sparkling wine firm Zarea in spring 2004.

An infusion of German discipline hopes to give the firm better leverage in foreign markets, and the first step is exporting the fizzy wine to Poland. Emil Popescu, general manager of the firm, says that Zarea has no competitors in Romania, but has to look our for threats from France, Italy and Spain. But he does not see that 2007 will be problematic. “Big things won't happen because the customs tax for wine no longer exists and the markets are open,” he says. A producer that has found success abroad is Carl Reh Winery, with its premium brand La Cetate. Reh Kendermann, the owner of the brand and one of the largest players in Germany's wine market has invested in the first organic wineyard in Romania. Advances in production mean that Romania must speed up its development of wine in order to retain a competitive edge in markets abroad, particularly on massproduced and popular brands from the new world.Gheorghe says only 50 of the thousands of Romanian wine producers on the market are strong. And as the competition thrives and the turnover and the exports become more significant, only ten of them will become important players. In the rest of the world succesful wine markets can be established either in small or large business formats, such as the French method of private producers maintaining quality control on small plots, and another is through large landowners consolidating vast areas of land under one brand, such as in Australia and
"To compete with the large wine brands abroad small producers will have to organize in cooperatives and invest in small vineyards of a surface area over 20-30 hectares, in quality and technology," says Gheorghe. He adds that profit can come from smaller surfaces that are producing a consistent quantity that is sold at a higher price.
Romania's neighbours are also finding it less than easy to compete abroad. Bulgaria, with 400,000 acres of vineyard, half of which is black grapes and 25 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, has found it hard to maintain its position in the 1980s as one of the top five wine exporters to parts of western Europe, particularly due to the New World threat. Hungary, with 110,000 hectares of vineyards, has also witnessed a decline in its wine production of one per cent, year on year, between 1998 and 2003. However it is seeing growing investment in its own brand of sweet wine, Tokaji, which thrives over a 4,000 hectare vineyard. This is, however, an acquired taste that could prove a template for how Romania could market its sweeter varieties.

Michael Bird


Workers sacked over electoral pressure

Workers at a factory owned by the wife of a local Valcea county PSD leader were sacked after speaking out against a perception of large-scale electoral fraud centred on the factory staff.
Members of the board of the Uzina Mecanica factory, Valcea County are alleged to have asked up to 400 employees in the factory to act as electoral observers”, but at the same time encouraged them to vote PSD.
“We were told by the board to be at the factory on the day of the first round of elections and to vote for the PSD because it's in the interest of our factory,” fired worker Gheorghe Prodescu told The Diplomat, following the first vote.
“We were all given press badges from three local newspapers, phone cards, money for food and gas,” he added. Then we were dispatched to different towns and villages in Valcea, to present ourselves as observers of the elections.”
Some of these “observers” were PSD campaigners and were engaged in an activity for which they were untrained, it is alleged. There are also concerns that these observers” were not observers at all, but were hired to make multiple votes.In the elections voters were able to peel off a sticker that indicated one had voted, thus enabling multiple voting to take place.
When The Diplomat confronted Maria Tudor boss of the Uzina Mecanica factory and wife of local PSD figure Ion Tudor, on the issue of whether electoral fraud had taken place, she chose to invoke her divine status.
“Maria Tudor is a religious person,” she said of herself. “Maria Tudor goes to the monasteries and prays to God and
to Our Lord's Mother”.
“It is not true that the workers of Uzina Mecanica influenced the elections in any way, they are decent people...”, argued Bogdan Hodoroaga, general director of Monitorul de Valcea, one of the three papers that donated the press badges so that the machinists could act as democratic observers.
“There was cooperation between us and Ms. Tudor of Uzina Mecanica, as we were both worried by the possibility of
defrauding the elections.”
After Prodescu voiced his concerns to electoral watchdog Pro Democratia, his boss fired him. Since then another worker has also been sacked.

Anca Pol


Journalists clash with bosses over right to write

A well-renowned investigative reporting team has been ripped apart by claims of editorial interference.

Swiss media group Ringier has hit back at allegations that it interfered in the editorial direction of its investigative daily Evenimentul Zilei, following the departure of its editor and 35 of its staff over the issue of journalistic independence. Since 1992 Evenimentul Zilei(EZ) has built up a reputation as a crusading anti-establishment paper that has seen it capture around 85,000 daily readers, while owner Ringier has a large swathe of Romanian press, including tabloid Libertatea , business weekly Capital and Pro Sport.
“They wanted journalists who can be manipulated,” ex-EZ staffer Andreea Pora said of the Ringier management, “who answer to orders without putting any questions and ask for no explanations. I think that removing us was part of a script that concerned the modification in the structure and line of the paper.
In his last editorial from 24 December 2004 called: 'Why?' outgoing editor-inchief Dan Turturica attacked the paper's
own bosses in an unprecedented attempt at newsprint hari-kiri: "Why do [Ringier's] people say they will respect editorial independence as long as they do not believe the values the publication is promoting?”
This followed the departure last Autumn of the founding editor, Cornel Nistorescu, although he is still under contract to write columns for the journal.
Turturica later told The Diplomat that his bosses did not censor, “But they put pressure on the content.” The former editor says that he was subject to bursts of violence from the Ringier Romanian boss Thomas Landolt, who would slam his fists on the table if he was unhappy with an editorial decision. “Landolt reproached the tough critics of the PSD on our paper,” added Turturica. “He said that we attacked the PSD too much, but he never explained to us when enough was enough.”
However, when contacted by this magazine, Landolt was defiant. "I don't feel like I don't support my journalists, because I have done in front of lawyers. They have independence in their stories. Turturica always accused me of
interfering in the editorial, but he has no proof.”
Ex-columnist at EZ Traian Ungureanu fought back. “Is Mr. Landolt suggesting that we step into a new era in which Security cameras will be placed into press offices? How else could it be 'proved'?”
However a consistent pro-Government policy was not the case among other Ringier titles, argues Razvan Martin, programme assistant at the Media Monitoring Agency. He believed the management neither interfered editorially nor “carried out a lobby campaign for the PSD”, because there is criticism of this party in Ringier's Capital magazine.
But he called the resignations of the journalists in solidarity with their editor 'remarkable'. “They stepped into this
fight with good intentions,” he added.
“They can't be suspected of sabotaging Ringier. Their only aim was to protect the freedom of the press.” New editor of EZ Razvan Ionescu, a former editor of sports journals, said: “I regret that EZ has lost important people that we will always need.
On whether the scandal would affect the health of the paper he said: “Definitely… but how much we will find out in a few months. It has created a kind of confusion about what is really going on here. Allegations have also surfaced that the paper wanted to capture more Government advertising and an obstacle to this aim was the journal's campaigning stance.
“In 2003 we had half a million Euro governmental advertising and, because of our policy, including attacking the PSD, the budget was retired, ” said Turturica,“We lost a lot back then, but we recovered with commercial advertising.”
There is also confusion over the terms of Turturica's departure. Landolt told The Diplomat that he did not fire Turturica and the two came to “a mutual agreement”. Turturica says that he did hand in his resignation. But this followed an assignment in which he was sent to Moldovan town Bacau for two months as a chief editor of a local edition of his paper, while Ionescu took his place. “I refused to go to Bacau because this was a way of estranging me from Evenimentul Zilei”, he said.“It is Ringier's right to appoint its editorial staff,” adds Martin. “But what Thomas Landolt has done wrong is the way he acted with Dan Turturica.”Aware of the outcry at founding editor Cornel Nistorescu's semi-departure in October, Martin says Ringier should have better justified its actions.
Ungureanu has seen this as part of a wider campaign to change the focus of the paper: “Ringier cannot possibly admit what everybody in his right mind sees as a mission to destroy the most critical and well known journalistic team in Romania,” he said.
In his near-suicidal editorial, Turturica asked Ringier, a firm specialized in tabloids, why the bosses were “trying to destroy” a principled newspaper. In reply to whether EZ would “go tabloid”, Landolt told The Diplomat EZ will remain a reference news paper. “[Turturica] agreed with me regarding the policy of the newspaper, so how can I transform Evenimentul Zilei into a tabloid? It is stupid!"
But an ex-member of the team said that the appointed of Ionescu, with his experience in tabloids, “strengthens” the suspicions that the line of the paper will adopt a more tabloid focus.
Evenimentul Zilei now has a new team, while some former journalists and Turturica have signed up with Global Media, who run dailies Ziua and Independent, as well as Realitataea TV.
According to the Media Monitoring Agency in 2004, Evenimentul Zilei was the fourth largest newspaper after tabloid Libertatea (265,000 copies per day), Jurnalul National(130,000) and Adevarul(120,000).

Ana Maria Smadeanu