A few of the early vintages of Vampire wines were made from grapes grown in, appropriately enough, Transylvania, Romania.
I remember those wines, and on the 100-point rating scale I’ve used in my wine columns through the years and that Vinesse uses today, I would have given them scores in the low 80s — barely average. That probably would not have mattered to the brand’s founder, Michael Machat, because Vampire wines were pretty much all about the packaging and marketing.
But as the palates of Machat and his wife, Lisa Dominique, matured, they wanted their wines to be better. So, grape sourcing switched to more traditional regions — first elsewhere in Europe, and now in California. All three wines on sale in today’s Vampire sampler from Vinesse were crafted from grapes grown in the Golden State.
I was thinking about that the other day, as the calendar page turned from September to October — the month of Halloween and all things spooky. If Machat were just starting out today, he might well be making wine in the land of the vampires.
Ask almost any wine expert who has been there in the last five years, and they’ll tell you that Transylvania has the potential to produce some scary-good wines.
Now that we have the obvious Halloween-time pun out of the way, we can tell you in all seriousness that the Romanian wine region of Transylvania is making very good wines now — after making decent wines since before World War II.
In those days, Transylvanian villages were sprinkled with small vineyards; nearly every property owner grew grapes. However, after the war, when communists confiscated and nationalized the lands, the private vineyards gradually wilted away, and Transylvanian winemaking began a phase of decline that lasted until 1989, when communism fell in Romania.
Today, Transylvania’s vineyards produce high-quality white wines, combining local traditional methods with new technology, mostly from Germany. The wines produced are both noble and original, some possessing nuances of taste and smell you won’t find anywhere else in the world.
Transylvania is situated in the center of the northern half of Romania, most of the territory being represented by a wide plateau surrounded by the Carpathian Mountains. The sloping hills seem endless, just waiting for an influx of vineyard plantings.
Local residents hope a Transylvanian wine renaissance will be ignited by a return to its pre-World War II tradition, when individual property owners grew their own grapes. Then, from there, cooperatives could be formed to produce wines in quantities suitable for commercial distribution. After that, additional family-owned wineries could be developed as additional vineyards are planted.
That is the vision. Whether it will come to fruition is anyone’s guess. For now, Transylvanian wines are good but still relatively rare in the United States — which means they won’t be taking a big bite out of the American wine market anytime soon. (Sorry, we couldn’t help ourselves.)