In Moldova the term Divin (distilled wine) is used to denote a local cognac made by the classical French production process (a method of double distillation of wine in Charentais pot-stills) with obligatory ageing in oak barrels. Since the term cognac is copyrighted by the French, no other nation has a legal right to call its product by this name, so the word divin has become a Moldovan synonym for cognac. The word divin has double meaning: in Romanian and French languages it means divine. Yes, the pun is intended, but how did this product end up so far from its ancestral home?
Moldova sits in the South-East of Europe, its shape on the map ironically resembles a bunch of grapes, and, suitably, it has over 100 thousand hectares of vineyards with more than 50 grape varieties growing there.
The viticulture and the winemaking on the lush banks of the Dniester exist from immemorial times. It is not possible to know who was the first to bring the vine onto this fertile soil, but the historical mentions of grapes being frown in this region can be found in many sources. Legendary Odysseus, setting off on his journey, had taken good wines with him. In the same poem by Homer an eleven-year-old vine is mentioned. But where had Odysseus headed? In one of his voyages he reached the banks of the river Tiras (which the ancient Greeks called the Dniester).
It was probably then when the vine and the wine first made it onto the territory of present -day Moldova, approximately in the 8th to 6th centuries B.C. At that time, the left-bank of Transdniestria was partly under Greek colonization, and was coupled with an intense settling of handicraftsmen. However, the Greeks had not come into an empty place. Before the settlement in the Black Sea coast area they had already known the local territory – in the second millennium B.C. they mentioned them in their myths.
By the time Odysseus arrived at the Black Sea coast area, the Scythians had already established their empire. Ancient Greeks used to dilute wine with 2/3 parts of water, but having become acquainted with the Scythians, they were surprised that the latter drank undiluted wine. After that some Greeks began to adopt the Scythian custom at home.
After the formation of the Moldavian Principality in 1359, new European varieties of grapes were introduced, autochthonous varieties, and high quality wines were created in landlord and monastery estates. Wine became part of the Holy Communion and a religious symbol.
At the beginning of the 19th century, Russian aristocrats made a fashion out of cultivating vineyards, where they grew the best foreign and indigenous varieties of grapes with the help of experienced specialists from France and Germany. Several wine microzones with remarkable potential were developed: Camenca, Purcari, Lapusna, Bulboaca, and Romanesti. Moldovan wine turned out to be prestigious at the Tsar’s residence, as well as in Europe, which at that time was short of wine because of the aftermaths of the phylloxera epidemic.
One of the best known winemakers of the left bank of the river Dniester was the Russian Field-Marshal-General of the second half of the 18th – early 19th centuries, Prince Peter Wittgenstein, Count Zey von Berleburg. Having settled in Camenca (Transdniestria), he created an industrial vineyard there – the best European vines were brought from France and from the banks of the Rhine and planted on the terraces on the slopes of the surrounding hills. The success of Prince Wittgenstein, who was the first in the region to successfully develop viticulture and winemaking on a scientific basis, found followers among the large farmers and landowners of Moldova.
At the end of the 19th century several industrial enterprises specializing in the production of wine-distilled spirits were established. These were six major distilleries in Calarasi, Lapusna, Chisinau and Tiraspol, and a few small houses. During the WWI and the Civil War only three distilleries remained. Factories were plundered, deserted and burned to the ground. The restoration of the main plants of the industry took decades.
In 1937 in the magazine “Red Basarabia” there was an article, “Winemaking in Moldavia in the third five-year-plan”, which read: “In 1934 in Moldavia an independent wine trust is founded… A large part of Moldvintrest products are taken out far beyond Moldavia… A large conveyor is put into operation at the Tiraspol winery & distillery…”
But the updated and reconstructed factories were not given the opportunity to put their plans into practice. WWII erupted and after the War Moldovan manufacturers focused their efforts on increasing production of varietal wine-distilled spirits in order to improve the quality of their young and fine divins.
By 1970s four distilleries in Tiraspol, Chisinau, Balti, and Calarasi were producing approximately 10 million liters of divins in total, thus giving Moldova the status of one of the leaders in industry among the Soviet republics.
Since 1996 Moldovan brandy has officially been named divin – it is not just a product name, but also a national brand, a Protected Geographical Indication. Nowadays there are over a dozen manufacturers of divins, made by a classical production process from wine-distilled spirits aged from 3 to 60 years.
What attracts amateurs and connoisseurs of noble drinks the most? Divins feature a golden to amber color, a complex and refined flavor with floral and fruity vibes, and a velvety and rounded palate. What makes these beverages so special is that each blend contains spirits made both from French varieties of grapes and local Moldovan grapes. Divins are inimitable masterpieces with a subtle national trait so valued by consumers in the countries of the CIS, EU, Africa, America, and Asia.
Text by Oleg M. Baev, D.Sc., professor, is the Director General of the Tiraspol Winery & Distillery KVINT. He started his career at this factory in 1967 as an ordinary worker in the wine-blending cellar. Oleg Baev is the author of divins “Tiras”, “Victoria”, “Tiraspol”, “Suvorov”, “Prince Wittgenstein” and more than a dozen other strong alcoholic beverages. He wrote several books on oenology and viticulture.