Behind the scenes at Cramele Recas: Romania’s remarkable wine success story
Back in 1998, three families decided to invest in a winery in Romania. They started with 650 hectares of scraggly vines and a rusty old winery that previously had been state-owned. Since then this winery has grown to be a major player, not only in terms of Romania, but on a global scale – there are few family-owned operations this big. The winery is Cramele Recas, and they now make 24 million litres of wine a year, and own 1250 hectares of vines. In addition, they have two four million litre partner wineries, and buy in 20 000 tons of grapes. This is an impressive scale.
‘I think it’s getting a bit big now,’ says Philip Cox a little ruefully. He’s one of the co-owners, he’s running the operation. I travelled with a small group from the UK to meet him, visit the winery, and to get a better picture of what is going on in Romania more generally. ‘I’d hoped that it would develop slightly less fast,’ he says, ‘so we could keep up. One customer from the Netherlands asked us this year for four million bottles. That’s like a thousand hectares of vineyards. You can’t just plant it and turn on a tap!’
The two things you notice about Cramele Recas are that (1) despite the scale, the emphasis is very firmly on making good wines, and (2) that they are a rare success in the wine world in that they can’t keep up with demand. They have found a sweet spot in the market: the wines are affordable, and they also over-deliver for their price point. The world needs good cheap wine, and Cramele Recas is delivering it. And it seems that everyone wants what they’re making.
But this direction – making large quantities of affordable wines – was rather forced on them in the early days. ‘We couldn’t get any loans at the time,’ says Cox. ‘The banking system had collapsed. All we could do was sell wine. We had to sell wine to pay the wages. That’s why we always had to be good value for money. It wasn’t something we had any choice about: we had to do anything we could to sell wine. We’re not like some son of some Château owner.’
After some time in the vineyards (well managed, clay/loam soils, no herbicides for a few years now), we looked around the winery, which is on a grand scale. At one end, a crane was putting some extra tanks into place, which is pushing it fine considering that vintage is well underway and they’ll soon be needed. Those of us who felt brave enough climbed up the gantry to the top of the tanks, from where the view is quite impressive.
One direction that has surprised many has been that Cox has launched some natural wines, first an orange wine and second a ‘Glou Glou’ red, both of which are made from organic grapes without any additions. Cox says that they are now probably the biggest producer of natural wines in Eastern Europe. ‘Making orange wines is a great way to combat people’s negative ideas about big wineries,’ he says. ‘This is a family-owned winery.’
They’ve been making natural wines for four years, and production of the orange wine is now 150 000 bottles. Some of the blend of these wines goes into Arte Nova terracotta amphorae, which look a bit incongruous dispersed through the enormous stainless steel tanks.
But the release of the orange natural wine was met by some resistance from the natural community. ‘We think it fulfils all the criteria for natural wines,’ said Cox to me last year when we talked about it. ‘It is made from organic grapes with no additives and the SO2 is under 30 ppm. There is no filtering.’
A film of the visit:
One of the features of the winemaking here is that the wines are centrifuged after alcoholic fermentation, removing the lees. This helps keep fruit purity, and also does away for the need to fine the reds. Whites are fined using plant-based products. All the wines are Vegan.
The two partner wineries are in the east of Romania, and we visited one of them. It’s an impressive operation in its own right, called Crama Saidia Pestera.
These wineries harvest grapes and then either make the wine, or send the juice up to the main winery in Recas.
45% of sales are domestic, making Recas one of the biggest players here. They produce a broad range of wines, with different wines for each of their markets. They also have
130 wine shops which are run on a franchise business. Cox is keen to move increasingly to alternative packaging like bag-in-box. ‘I’d do anything to get rid of glass bottles,’ he says. The UK used to be 75% of exports in 2016, but now it is just 10%: since the Brexit vote Cox decided to limit his liability there. The Netherlands and Germany are the biggest markets.
‘In 2015 we sold 11 million bottles,’ says Cox. ‘This year it is going to be 30 million.’ It’s a remarkable story.
Cramele Recas Orange Wine 2020 Romania
Japan and South Korea are big markets for this wine. 3 week maceration, 10% in amphora. Lovely freshness with some table grape, tangerine and lemons. Has a bit of grip. It’s really fruity and fresh with nice brightness and a touch of nice bitterness. 90/100 (£10 Tanners)
Cramele Recas Curious Parallel Feteasca Regala 2020 Romania
Fruity and bright with lovely pretty bright citrus and pear fruit and a touch of table grape. There’s a touch of apricot too. Very attractive with nice purity. 88/100 (£9.99 Virgin Wines)
Cramele Recas Paparuda Chardonnay 2020 Romania
This has nice pear and peach fruit with a touch of cedar and clove. It’s fresh with nice richness and freshness to the fruit. Ripe but balanced. Lovely fruit here. 86/100 (£7.49 Adnams, Tanners)
Cramele Recas Calusari Reserva Chardonnay Feteasca Regala 2020 Romania
Lovely fruit here – the two varieties work well together with nice bright pear and citrus fruit, and a good acid line. Juicy and showing nice concentration with some subtle spiciness. Very attractive. 88/100
Cramele Recas Viognier 2020 Romania
Fruity and lively with nice pear and apricot character and a touch of sweetness. Has some mandarin and spice, with great balance and volume. Finishes sweet. Very appealing. 87/100
Cramele Recas Wildflower Cuvée Blanc 2020 Romania
Blend with Chardonnay, barrel fermented. Fresh and linear with nice bright citrus fruit with mandarin, peach and pear. It has some grapey richness and a touch of cedar and clove, with lovely pure fruit, finishing with some sweetness. 87/100 (£11 St Austell)
Cramele Recas Wildflower Pinot Grigio 2020 Romania
11.5% alcohol. This is fruity and bright with nice citrus and pear fruit and a touch of grapey richness, with a touch of sweetness on the finish. Nice fruity style. 85/100 (£5.50 Spar)
Cramele Recas Wildflower Sauvignon Blanc 2020 Romania
12.5% alcohol. Fruity and lively with nice pear fruit and a hint of melon. Broad and with some tropical notes. Not typically Sauvignon but very appealing and fruity. 84/100
Cramele Recas Calusari Chardonnay 2020 Romania
13.5% alcohol. Really fruity with banana and pineapple, as well as a touch of cedar and coconut. Fruity and rounded with good concentration, and a touch of sweetness on the finish. 86/100 (£6.99 in the UK, agent is Alliance Wine)
Cramele Recas Calusari Pinot Grigio Rosé 2020 Romania
12% alcohol. Very pale pink in colour. Rounded, fruity and textured with a hint of creaminess and lovely pear and mandarin notes. This has a smoothness to the mid-palate and there’s also a little bit of sweetness, but it stays fresh. 85/100 (£6.99 in the UK, agent is Alliance Wine)
Cramele Recas Sanziana Pinot Grigio Rosé 2020 Romania
3-4 h in the press. Bright, fresh, textured and showing nice mandarin and pear fruit, with a touch of cherry. They make 2 million bottles and it sells out: they can’t get enough. So appealing. 86/100 (£7.99 Corney & Barrow)
Cramele Recas Incanta Pinot Noir 2020 Romania
Very fruity and appealing with soft red cherry and strawberry. So supple and fruity with lovely balance. Soft and textured with a touch of sour cherry on the finish. A real bargain. 87/100 (also sold as the Wildflower Pinot Noir) (£6.49 Majestic)
Cramele Recas Solevari Pinot Noir 2020 Romania
Juicy bright and cherryish with some bright plummy fruit supported by a touch of cedar spice. Fruity and well balanced with plummy berryish fruit. Stylish. 88/100 (£9.79 Alliance)
Cramele Recas I Am Pinot Noir 2020 Romania
12.5% alcohol. Supple and ripe with sweet cherry and strawberry fruit, a soft, friendly mid-palate and a touch of sour cherry. There’s a fresh fruitiness here with smoothness but also nice brightness on the finish. Very appealing. 88/100
Cramele Recas Richig Lecker Merlot 2020 Romania
13.5% alcohol. Ripe and sweetly fruited with some cedary, spicy undertones and sweet strawberry and cherry fruit. There’s nice richness here with a touch of sweetness on the finish. Very sweetly fruited and accessible, showing pure fruit. Good concentration. 88/100
Cramele Recas Richtig Fett Red 2019 Romania
Pinot Noir and Feteasca Neagra among others. This is rich and dense with lovely sweet blackberry and cherry fruit. There’s a bit of grip here, with some clove, and the emphasis is on sweet fruit. 87/100
Cramele Recas Curious Parallel Feteasca Neagra 2020 Romania
Juicy, bright, fruity and spicy with nice cherry and berry fruits. Has lovely intensity of fruit with some nice structure. Finishes a bit sweet. So nice and fruity. 85/100
Cramele Recas Dragon Hills Syrah 2020 Romania
Lovely fruit here: juicy and bright with cherries and plums. Lovely brightness here. Has some structure and a hint of pepper, as well as a hint of clove and spice. 87/100 (£9.99 Virgin Wines)
Cramele Recas Solomonar Red Blend 2020 Romania
Sweetly fruited with ripe, smooth cherries and berries, with lovely ripe fruit and some noticeable sweetness. So smooth and ripe and pure, with some spicy hints too. 85/100 (£7.99 Majestic)
Cramele Recas Regno Recas 2020 Romania
Negru de Dragasani. Complex, supple and bright with sweet cherries and plums, and nice blackberry notes. Juicy with some sour cherry hints. Very stylish. This is a cross of Saperavi and Negru of Vartos developed in 1993. Has a nice green hint. 89/100
Cramele Recas Selene Feteasca Neagra 2019 Romania
Ripe, sweet and bold with nice sweet strawberry and cherry fruit, and some fine spicy cedary notes. There’s a touch of sweetness here, with some grapey richness. 86/100
Cramele Recas Cuvée Uberland 2019 Romania
This is the name of the hill in Recas. Concentrated and structured with sweet cherry and berry fruit, a touch of blackberry and also some cedary spicy notes, finishing with some clove-like characters. There’s some cane cutting here to concentrate the fruit. Very dense and impressive with a long spicy finish. This is sold at Philip’s aunt’s shop (she’s 92) in Bristol, the Little Tipple. 90/100
Cramele Recas Conacul Ambrozy Late Harvest Sauvignon 2018 Romania
This is rich and fruity with some grape and apricot fruity notes, as well as lots of sweetness. Very lively and showing some complexity, with good acidity. 88/100
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