TrueWines - about wines from Georgia and the Republic of Moldova - Horațiu Filip interview

TrueWines - about wines from Georgia and the Republic of Moldova - Horațiu Filip interview

I have known Horațiu Filip from tourism industry for several years now, I knew his passion for wine and when I found out last year that he launched a wine project - TrueWines - I was curious to find out more. He told me then that he was bringing wines from Georgia and the Republic of Moldova to Romania and over time I tried a few wines from his portfolio.

Time passed, I leisurely got to know some of the TrueWines wines and even organized a wine tasting with Georgian wines. Since spring TrueWines is present with the online shop in Winesday App.

I recently spoke with Horațiu about the TrueWines project, about its concept and about the wines he brings to Romania and which seem to be very successful. In the following article  you can find the interview given by Horațiu. If you want to know the wines he has in his portfolio you can find them here.

Carmina Nițescu: Hi Horațiu. I'm so glad you took the time to talk about TrueWines.
Horațiu Filip:
Hello, Carmina! I know how busy you are with Winesday App project, which is in steady development and since autumn is the season of wine festivals, I'm  more glad that we were able to meet.

Carmina: Please tell me where the name „TrueWines” comes from, when did you come up with the idea for the project and when did you launch it on the market?
After a lifetime of Research & Development and external cooperation in several fields, I decided in 2018 to start a personal, entrepreneurial project, in which I would integrate the accumulated experience with the desire to make it easier for Romanians to visit some wonderful places and get to know some wonderful people from the neighborhood of our country. The legislative changes that appeared in tourism delayed the launch of my project and made me focus on the medical equipment sales area throughout the pandemic, which helped me meet a lot of beautiful people here, interested in visiting neighboring countries, especially of those outside the EU.

The link of this interest was the quality wine produced in these countries. The Georgian friends through whom we integrated top wineries into travel circuits, under strict bans during the pandemic, proposed that in the given situation, in which Romanians' access to wineries was almost blocked, their wine with a history of millennia should be imported to delight the Romanians at home. From here it was only a step until we launched an in-depth research to identify and expand the portfolio with boutique wineries in the Republic of Moldova, Serbia, Bulgaria, to mention only the main countries where we negotiated. In all this chaos, the idea from which we started the wine business was to bring authentic, correct wines to Romania, created by responsible, honest, big-hearted winemakers. After many years, I understood that I was not wrong, beautiful wines are created by skilled winemakers with beautiful souls, wineries with owners who want happy customers to meet their wine and who are not just looking for immediate profit. Satisfied customers are the essential capital of the sustainability of the winery, the wine is the calling card and most of the time the marketing budget loses its relevance in front of the educated customers, the wine lovers. The marketing team I collaborated with at the beginning understood my desire to bring an authentic wine to Romanians' tables and that's how we launched "TrueWines" as a brand on the market.

Carmina: How do you differentiate yourself from other importers on the market? What do wine lovers know about TrueWines?
The main distinct notes that differentiate our customers are the quality of the wines (which makes them perfectly functional the day after a tasting or a party), the stories behind the wines, which bring unknown histories into the Romanian imaginary and the hospitality specific to the peoples of these wines, which we were trying to bring to tastings, festivals, but also to everyday life. Perhaps some identify us as eccentric since we bring wines from lesser known countries in an international wine market dominated by the old world vs. the new world. We bring the creative humanity of wine that unites people around a glass and an abundant meal, we promote the wine of friendship and especially the wine of the ancestors, without which  would have no identity. In my opinion, an importer is like an explorer from the beginning of history who goes in search of people with beautiful souls who make a tasty wine, wine brought along with its history of people and places. By knowing the other better, we understand ourselves better, by knowing the past we understand our present and prepare our future, and good wine is the perfect binder.

Carmina: TrueWines is basically an importer that brings special wines to Romania. From which countries do you import wines and which wineries do you have in your portfolio?
Horațiu: TrueWines is an importer who, with great audacity, also distributes the wines. In these 3 years since we have been active on the market we have managed to bring the wines of 6 wineries from the Republic of Moldova (among which we mention the NOVAK Winery , one of the most innovative Moldovan oenologists, Andrei Novak, as well as the sparkling Mied of the renowned sommelier and internațional tasterMihai Druță), 5 small and medium-sized wineries from Georgia (BATONO, DEKANOZISHVILI – these two newly medaled at VINARIUM 2023, VAZIANI, VICTORY and KAPISTONI). We are also very close to bringing the former royal winery, which currently serves the presidential administration, ALEKSANDROVIC from Serbia.

Carmina: How do you choose the wineries and wines to include in your portfolio? What criteria do you have?
Horațiu: The basic filter is the honesty and responsibility of the winemakers and the shareholders of the wineries from which we bring the wines. Medium, premium or superpremium wine is just a shelf labeling based on price. For us, authentic wine is the result of work in the vineyard, continued with correct harvesting, honest vinification, bottling and correct storage. The initial criterion was the identification of wineries that have a vineyard, own or contracted, winemaking unit and own winemaker and especially a patronage that has a vision and an honest positioning on the market. If we respect the winery and its products, we request reciprocity from the producers. This is a criteria to remain in our portfolio. We believe that we have an obligation to make an honest selection of the wines proposed to our customers and their first tasters are those from the TrueWines team.

Carmina: From the Republic of Moldova you have many wines from Novak winery, which is a winery less known in Romania. You have brought several ranges of this winery. Please tell me which were the most loved by your audience?
Novak winery is a medium-sized one, with about 65 ha of vineyards, located in Valul lui Traian wine-growing area, southern Basarabia. Its engine is the people, Gagauz people who have constantly amazed us with their diligence, inventiveness, honesty and hospitality, and its heart is one of the most innovative and honest winemakers, Andrei Novak. All this made NOVAK the top winery of the Republic of Moldova in our portfolio. 

We managed to bring all the ranges and some all their products into our product portfolio:
  • We have the WHITE range, entry into the premium area, with wines from local varieties, our friends are already familiar with Floricica, Alb de Onițcani, Legenda, Răra Neagră, and recently we brought one of the oldest local varieties - Copceac. 
  • The CRÈME range is a range of lightly oaked white monovarietals and blends, among which we mention Rkatsiteli and Alb de Onițcani & Rkatsiteli. 
  • The BLACK range is the superpremium range of the winery, an international business card through the number and constancy in acquiring renowned international awards, we mention here the monovarietals that spent one year în oak barrel - Saperavi 2017, Pinot Noir 2018, Rara Neagră 2019, but also the star blends Red Blend #2 and #1. 
  • By blending these star monovarietals, with an average aging of up to one year, the newest premium range, FOLKLORE, was created, with all three existing blends present in the portfolio, namely Floricica&Alb de Onițcani, Syrah&Copceac and the star Saperavi&Fetească Neagră. 
What is interesting is that all NOVAK ranges have acquired multiple international awards. I mentioned the stars above but also the other wines in the portfolio have conquered the senses of many wine lovers. I don't want to leave out the  SPARKLING wines, Brut made of 4 types of grapes and Brut made of 3 types of grapes, recently entering the portfolio and Brut made of 2 types of grapes, the last two created using the Charmat method.

Carmina: Since we have wines from the Republic of Moldova on Romania’s market, wines from Georgia are a bit harder to find. Please tell me a little about the wineries and wines you bring from Georgia and how the public reacted to Georgian wines so far.
The story of Georgian wines can begin with the idea of a wine shop owner from the Capital, who placed them on the shelf at the American wine area, California, which makes us always specify, with humor, the fact that we import wines from Georgia neighboring the Black Sea, not the Atlantic Ocean.

I had the privilege of getting to know Georgian wines in a gastronomic pairing, at my Georgian colleagues and friends working in the West. During the long, cheerful evenings full of lively stories, when it seemed that the dishes would never end, Georgian wine, especially the traditionally vinified, was the bond and energy of these friendly meals. Sometimes we, the guests at the Georgian table, joked that we could feel history reviving in the wine glasses. Some of the brought wineries were found during the time when we were building the tourist circuits, another part is represented by those created by corporate friends who left their computers to work in the vineyard, at home in Georgia, where top winemakers arrived.

One of the wineries, the newest, found out about us at an international wine fair and managed to convince us to include it in the portfolio, given that we had numerous requests from other wineries, declined after applying our selection grid .

The reaction of the quality wine-loving public was extraordinary, the tastings were sold out and the listings and sales followed a promising course, which reinforced our belief that the public in Romania deserves the best.

There were also some tensions or difficulties specific to bringing a new terroir and way of winemaking. It should be mentioned here that în Nicolae Ceaușescu's Romania did not import Georgian wines, which makes us not have that generation of connoisseurs, existing in the other ex-socialist countries. Another problem with traditionally vinified white wines is the recommended serving temperature – qvevri vinification is similar to the European one for red grapes – 17 degrees Celsius being far from our serving custom. I end with the flavor competition of the Georgian varieties cultivated in the Republic of Moldova, the first to enter the market, which formed the tastes of a generation - we have reactions like "Yes, this Georgian Saperavi is good, but the ones from Moldova are smoother", speaking here of a Saperavi-Merlot blend that is sold under the name Saperavi. The Georgian terroir is much different from the Moldovan one, the origin being more mineral, with notes of spices. In the same way, the Georgian winemaking style is oriented towards as little residual sugar as possible, the Georgian standards being at the lower sugar level, which makes a famous Georgian demi-sweet - Kindzmarauli, to be located in the area of the upper limit of demi-dry according to European standards.

Carmina: It is said that Georgia is the area where the first traces of wine production in the world were discovered. Georgia is also a country with a lot of local grapes. Saperavi is the best known, but TrueWines also presents in tastings wines from local varieties such as Chinebuli, Rkatsiteli, Kisi Mtsvane or Goruli Mtsvane. What is people's reaction to the names of the grapes from Georgia?
: People's reaction to the names of Georgian varieties is directly dependent on their willingness to explore other places and cultures, wines in this case. A man who looks exclusively to Paris and New York often forgets that an entire world map is behind him. I recently received a spot for the presentation of a Georgian winery, in which the background music had exclusively the names of some Georgian varieties as lyrics. Currently, 525 local varieties of grapes are grown in Georgia, while in 1985, before Gorbachev's order to eliminate the vine, there were 826 varieties. In response to the curiosity of some sommeliers from the Republic of Moldova and Romania, we brought a blend based on the European method Saperavi&Cabernet but all the other more than 30 Georgian varieties are exclusively from local varieties.

The European method of winemaking - technological line of fermentation and storage in stainless steel tanks today - was brought to Georgia in 1835 by Prince Alexander Chavchavadze. Since then it has been used în parallel to the traditional method of fermentation and maturation in clay vessels, large amphorae , buried in the ground, over 8,600 years old - a fact certified in 2013 by UNESCO and included in the world heritage as the oldest identified winemaking technique, which is why we rightly call Georgia the homeland of wine, the place where the beautiful story of winemaking began. Suddenly, the old Western world of winemaking becomes extremely new, and the new world innovates to gain its identity. Let's not forget that a sediment of grapes was found on a vessel of the Cucuteni culture, in Ungheni, 7200 years old. Somehow we find ourselves in the starting place of this liquor of the gods, wine.

I will tell the story of a restaurant owner impressed by the aromas of a modern Mukuzani: he invited his accountant, an energetic lady over 60 years old, to taste it blind, the lady being from Chisinau, her reaction being tasty - "Ohoooo, that's Mukuzani of Georgia, good, very good!" Memory and olfactory-gustatory education play an important role and the gastronomic assortment is essential. The rules for properly serving a Georgian wine: together with friends, around a table with selected dishes!

Carmina: I know you want to expand your wine portfolio. Do you have any news about that?
Horațiu:  We are waiting to complete the final steps to introduce the premium wines of the Aleksandrovici Winery, the former winery of the royal house of Karadjordjevic, with the mention of two royal blends based on the original 19th century recipe - Trijumf Selection and Regent Reserve - and a famous local variety, Prokupac , one of the fathers of the old Romanian variety Iordan. They are historical wines, with old recipes preserved in the Serbian winemaking tradition, a kind of Eastern wines to the west of us. Apparently they are recent, from the beginning of the XIX century, but since then the selection and respect for tradition has been sacred. That's why we also bring a Pinot Noir that is vinified a few years after the harvest, the oenologist establishing the harvest in which the grapes have the necessary quality to delight us with the wine in the glass. From Georgia we are also waiting this autumn for a superb wine from the Batono Winery, Qvevruli Antoki, a premium Saperavi from the Mukuzani microzone, vinified exclusively in qvevri and without barrel, a wine that has already conquered perhaps the toughest audience, the Georgian one.

Carmina: Lesser-known wines from wine-producing countries less present on the market here have a great chance of being discovered in tastings. I know you guys are used to hosting wine tastings, we even hosted a tasting together in the spring. Where do you have tastings in the next period and with which wineries?
Horațiu:In 2022, Georgia was on the 19th place as a world exporter, the Republic of Moldova on the 24th place, Romania on the 32nd place, and Serbia on the 43rd place. Initially, the main customers of Georgian wines were expats who already knew them from the big capitals of around the world, found in Caucasian restaurants, accompanying exuberant Georgian dishes, but gradually domestic wine connoisseurs introduced them among their favorites. In parallel, the number of Romanian tourists in Georgia is also increasing. Fortunately, since last year, we also have two Georgian restaurants, Taverna Georgia in Bucharest and Dze Best in Brașov; during November we will organize gastronomical tastings în both of them.

Also, some of the Georgian and Moldovan Saperavi wines, Batono and Novak, will take part in a more extensive tasting of Saperavi Republic of Moldova & Georgia wines at WineWithMe in Bucharest on Wednesday, November 15th.

As always, we will organize the welcome tasting of the wines newly entered into the portfolio. For the wines of the Aleksandrovici Winery in Serbia, I estimate the beginning of December. Also during the same period, we will give a warm welcome to Batono Qvevruli Antoki, along with the new wines  from Victory and Kapistoni, a traditional Georgian qvevri tasting.

For the end of October, we are preparing a tasting of the NOVAK novelties - Spumant Brut 2 Soiuri, Alb de Onițcani 2022 and Copceac 2022 - at Wine Fields in Bucharest. All events appear on TrueWines friends Whatsapp group, on WinesdayApp, as well as on TrueWines Facebook and Instagram pages.

Carmina: Apart from the one-off tastings you organize, where can we find TrueWines wines? On the website for sure, but I would be happy if you could give me a list of restaurants/wine bars that have listed TrueWines wines in Bucharest and in the country.
I have already mentioned the two truly Georgian restaurants in Romania - Taverna Georgia in Bucharest and Dze Best in Brașov, where we have numerous varieties and winemaking methods, but we are also present in Moldovan restaurants - Vatra Neamului in Balotești and Basarabia in Bucate from Brașov, as well as international ones - Restaurant Vie in Bucharest, Esplanada in Constanța, Rm. Vâlcea - Le Bistrot Club, Barko, Arbusto, City Garden. We just passed 100 HoReCa customers, but like any business they have their life and course. That's why I will only mention the premium wine bars and wine shops where we have a large number of wineries and varieties listed:
  • Bucharest – WineWithMe, Raftul cu băuturi, Iubesc și Vinul, LaSpritz, I-auzi una, The Green Hills; Basarabia; Cramele Moldovei; Privee Art&Wine; 
  • Iasi – Hora Wine, Vin cu Dor; 
  • Cluj Napoca – Vinoteca Basarabia; 
  • Constanta – Vinvico; La Crame; 
  • wine subscriptions – Dor de vin
We decided to keep some assortments on eMag for a while, to ensure national accessibility.

Horațiu, thank you very much for the interview and I can't wait to try some new wines from TrueWines. See you at the next tasting!
For me this meeting was a joy which allowed me to revisit key moments in the history of TrueWines. The joy shown by the participants at our tastings, at the moment of tasting the wines and learning their stories, make us continue the TrueWines story. The beautiful people we met, many who became good friends, give us the energy to continue the search and bring authentic wine to Romania. It's a fight for normality!

Carmina Nițescu & Winesday App

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