Compared to the main wine producers in France, Spain and Italy, Romanian wineries are still owned by a first generation of entrepreneurs. The explanation is simple. It was only in 1991 when formerly state-owned vines were privatized, and the oldest private winery in Romania dates back to 1993. In comparison, some Spanish wineries reached the 10th generation of owners, and in France, there are 1000 years old wineries.
It is well-known that, in the wine-producing countries mentioned earlier, leadership is passed from parents to children, generation by generation. Today, we witness the first coming to power of a second generation of winery owners. The first sign that the Romanian wine industry is on the right track.
It is strange that, although in countries with wine-producing tradition, it is normal that leadership is passed "from father to son", Romanians see this as nepotism. This is what Victor Deleanu was accused of when he became the President of the Administration Council as majority shareholder and the General Director of Cotnari Wine House, premium division of the well-known Cotnari wines. At the tender age of 25, Victor is backing up a small empire of wines, and he is trying to build a new one.
It's amazing that we assist to the first change of generation in the history of Romanian wine-making, and instead of supporting it with hope, we accuse it with jealousy. Victor, son of Constantin Deleanu - founder of Cotnari winery, is one of the first Romanian descendants to take the direct lead of a winery.
Vines at Cotnari Wine House were planted in 2007, and the first harvest was in 2011. The real productive crop, though, was harvested by Victor Deleanu in 2014, when he took over a new winery of 350 ha, which produces around a million bottles.
Victor, do you have a favorite wine at Cotnari Wine House?
Victor Deleanu: No, I don't, but there is no Cotnari wine that I dislike.
People say that, being so young, you won't keep up with this function for too long.
VD: What? I've just started. I need at least one year just to put all my ideas on paper. Things will change.
Who is Victor Deleanu and what is he doing?
VD: Tall guy, graduate of an economic high school and Alexandru Ioan Cuza law faculty în Iași, currently a second year horticulture student. Ambitious, with the desire to change some current preconceptions about the youth and about Romanian vine varieties.
How do you fight with preconceived ideas about young people?
VD: With a young team. Most of them are not even 30 yet, we will demonstrate what we can do. There are many things we will change. We are more motivated and we have different ideas. We will grow together. Between my team and I there is no middleman. We always communicate directly although there are 15 people in my team.
When did you become the General Manager of Cotnari Wine House?
VD: March 2014. We have a clause that whoever is the President of the Administration Council automatically becomes the General Director as well. After a year of working as an exploitation technician, wearing boots and working in the vines, and another year in wine-making, I overtook the leading position in this winery.
What exactly did you do for the wine-making process?
VD: I contributed to all the wine-making stages, from harvesting to bottling, and I started working in the winery in 2012.
Did you dream to work in the winery ever since you were a child?
VD: I never wanted to work in the wine industry, I wanted to be a lawyer. But slowly, I started to like the world of wines, and when it strikes you, you can never go back.
How did your father know you were prepared to take over the winery?
VD: I wasn’t ready. I had no idea what sales were, but I wanted to be involved and learn on the way.
At this moment, you are the youngest CEO of a prestigious Romanian winery. How do you handle it?
VD: It gets easier. We had neither workforce nor suppliers to work with us. It wasn’t the most pleasurable moment. But at this moment, after a lot of work, we have 10 salesmen, national coverage, and in certain months we had 500% growth, while the lowest were 100%.
How did you do that?
VD: From March to December I was home for only 3 days, rest of them I spent in hotels around the country. Until I finally formed the team.
Which were the main challenges you faced? How did you manage them?
VD: When I took the leadership, all the wines for sale were from 2011. I took them all out, and replaced them with wines from 2013. They told me I was crazy.
I can imagine why you did it, but I’ll let you explain.
VD: It was an old batch and I had other better wines for a replace. Even if we would lose financially on short term, I knew we would gain on long term, quality-wise.
What is Cotnari Wine House and how are the wines different from the ones we are used to from the main producer?
VD: The biggest problem we have right now is that people confuse the wines. Cotnari Wine House has different vines, a different winery, a different wine-maker. We do not produce more than 6 tonnes/ha. It is practically another winery. We planted Busuioacă and Fetească Neagră, which were not available at Cotnari. Another difference is that the average age of our workers is below 30 years old.
Why did you keep the name?
VD: Although we knew our wines would suffer on a perception level, it is a historical name that we care about and under which we want to produce the best that Cotnari can produce.
Do you allow tourists at the winery? If not, is there any touristic interest in the future for Cotnari Wine House?
VD: The space is not yet prepared for tourists, we are still building. We would like that, but for now, we continue to invest in the quality of wines, and after that we would take care of making the place appealing.
How were the premium wines of Cotnari Wine House received? Are you fighting with the image that Cotnari built upon their wines, which is white, easy to drink, and accessible wines?
VD: At first, our wine was received with reluctance. After they taste it, though, our clients give up on preconceptions and they become open. The only tool we have is to convince people to taste the wine, there is no other way.
What would you change right now in the Romanian wine market?
VD: I do not think I would change anything, I would just merge. I would like it if producers, either small or major, militate together for the education of consumers and, especially, for Romanian wine as a country brand.
In your point of view, what qualifies a person to call him/herself a wine lover?
VD: Openness and willingness to learn. They learn by trying and listening, then they can form an opinion.
What do you want for the future?
VD: A growth in the retail sector, increasing number of quality wines. Now we work at the premium retail range, and that’s because you can have good wine at good prices. We also want to develop on the sparkling and the distillated wines market. Regarding the wine tourism, Vlădoianu Castle will become a four-star hotel. And in the future, maybe, we will even increase our harvesting surface, but only with Romanian varieties.
What about the near future?
VD: Lately, I’m a bit more technical, preparing meetings with the sales team and analysing the numbers.
How should, in fact, a CEO be?
VD: Well, I’ll be different.
You mean a drama artist? I cannot think of the opposite of a technical man.
VD: It would be great if I were perceived as an artist…[laughing]
And with this memorable line we end the interview with Victor, not before I ask him to fill in the survey below.
Cotnari Wine House promises a lot, not only through wine, but also via the team. A team full of determined people that want to show that things can be done, despite the negative advertising they have to face each day. Even if the name does not always help them, Cotnari is their legacy, the land where they grew up and which they harvested, the reason why, today, they make better and better wine, 100% Romanian.
Short survey for Victor Deleanu:
*white: Grasă de Cotnari, Dry
*red: Fetească Neagră
Favorite harvesting area: I like them all if they are from Romania
Keywords for wine: Art, passion, innovation
Favorite part of the job: Results
Romanian wines are… underappreciated
The Romanian wine consumer is… more and more curious.
The Romanian wine industry is… more developed than people think it is.
CrameRomania.ro is… an initiative that needs to be supported
Tell us a fun fact about wines, in general, that the audience at large does not know: Same wine, in different barrels, evolves differently.
23 March 2015