“Welcome,” says energetic Lorena Deaconu Stoian, Chief Winemaker at Cramele Halewood, who is pictured to the right. It is a beautiful sunny afternoon as Lorena welcomes us to the gorgeous manner house called “Conac” in Romania, near the Carpathian mountains, where we will experience their sparkling wine facility and spend the night.
Halewood International was founded in 1978 by the late John E. Halewood, and rapidly grew to become the largest independent alcoholic drinks company in the UK. In 1987 the company began importing wines from Romania, working closely with Dan Muntean to source the wine.
Ten years later, John and Dan formed a partnership, founding Halewood’s first Romanian subsidiary, and becoming the largest exporter of Romanian wine to Britain. Today, after an investment of 10 million Euros, the company owns four subsidiaries in Romania, and is one of the largest wine exporters in the country, distributing some of the most prestigious wine brands. I was pleased to see them at the recent 2015 London Wine Fair a few days ago. Investment has been made in expanding and planting over 350 hectares of vineyards, strategically placed in Transylvania, Dealu Mare and Murfatlar – the best sites for vineyards. The creation of a sophisticated winery and bottling plant has provided the framework for a highly successful wine operation.
Lorena led us through the tasting in two stages: the first stage were technically perfect wines for the mass market, the majority international varieties. The second stage were the higher-end wines and really showcased Lorena’s skill as a winemaker. The best of the wines had excellent concentration of fruit and balance. The Syrah, in particular, was spectacular, with a lot of finesse and depth of flavor. I also loved the Feteasca Neagra, a local red variety (which translates to “Black Maiden Grape”) which I now call one of my favorite grapes. It is a red, spicy variety with lots of fruit that tastes as festive as it sounds.
That evening, after a long ride up to the Carpathian mountains, we met at the winery to see the sparkling wine production. Here, the wines are created from mostly international varieties and riddled by hand. My favorite was the dry Pinot Noir – very crisp and elegant. Other styles for the Romanian market had more residual sugar. After an extensive tour of the winery, built at the top of the Carpathian mountains near a ski slope, Lorena and her team treated us to an elaborate dinner with Romanian typical dishes and some of the premier Halewood dry wines, including a very elegant Cabernet Sauvignon. Lorena is certainly very well qualified for her job … she is a professional member of the Romanian Authorized Winetasters Association and a member of the Wine Industry Inspection Board for the Romanian Ministry of Agriculture.
Looking back at the visit, one of the most remarkable things was the passion of Lorena and other members of the team. As she was presenting her wines in the afternoon, Lorena almost had the emotion of a mother sending her children off on stage, one by one. She was justifiably very proud of her wines and wanted them to show at their best. And to their credit, the premier wines were just great.