During our trip to Chisinau and the north part of the Republic of Moldova, we had an opportunity to visit a winery. Our Moldovan friends insisted that this is a must-do when in Moldova, so we listened to their recommendation.
Considering Moldova’s long standing tradition in producing wine, there are a few estates that have opened up in a museum style to showcase wine making methods but also their amazing cellars and wine collections. Cricova Winery is one of them.
We visited the underground galleries at Cricova, learnt more about the traditional process of making sparkling wine, saw the National Wine Collection and enjoyed a wine tasting experience. We share more about our experience below.
Overview and History
The pearl of Moldovan winemaking, “Cricova”, is located right in the heart of the Republic of Moldova. The history of the Cricova Winery began in 1952 when the issue of wine storage and maturing facilities arose.
Back then, two prominent Moldovan winemakers Petru Ungureanu and Nicolae Sobolev, proposed that wine is stored in the tunnels where limestone was extracted from.
It was later discovered that this underground storage has unique microclimate, created by nature itself, which is perfect for the production and maturation of high quality wines.
The Cricova wine cellars are Republic of Moldova’s second largest wine cellars totalling 120 km of labyrinth roads, which we had the chance to visit.
Cricova’s vineyards are the largest in the country and cover an area of over 600 hectares (1483 acres).
In addition, Cricova was awarded with the highest state distinction, the Order of the Republic and in 2003 was declared the Cultural-National Heritage of the Republic of Moldova.
So many reasons to go and visit this place, we absolutely had to experience this ourselves.
Cricova wine is also exported to many parts of the world. During your visit, you will see the map (photo above) which shows the countries where wine is exported to.
How to Get to Cricova Winery
Cricova is located around 16km (10miles) away from Chisinau, which makes it easily accessible and easy to get to.
The best way to get to Cricova Winery from Chisinau is by car or taxi, only 20-30 minutes away from the city, depending on traffic. We went there by taxi as we had suitcases and were going to a wedding in the north part of Moldova.
Be mindful that taxi drivers in Chisinau are sneaky and and will always try to get more money from you. Our taxi driver didn’t even bother with the amount shown on the app, he just asked us what he wanted us to pay thinking we wouldn’t cross reference the app.
Perhaps the cheapest way to go to Cricova Winery from Chisinau is by using public transport. You can get bus № 2 from the central bus station. At the time of our visit (September 2022), a ticket was only 6 lei (£0.30).
Once we reached Cricova, we reported to the main reception where we met our tour guide Eleonora and started our journey.
The first part of the tour covered the underground galleries. As we entered the tunnel, we immediately felt the change in temperature. We were glad that we took our jackets, and I even took one of the Cricova vests which they provided.
Apparently during the year the temperature in the underground galleries remains constant, around 12°C, while the humidity of the air is about 97-98%. It is exactly due to these natural conditions that it is possible to preserve and mature high quality wines.
Practical Tip: Dress accordingly – the temperature underground is around 12°C, so if you are visiting during the warmer months, make sure you have a jacket with you. If you are visiting during winter, then it might feel warmer underground in comparison to the outside temperature.
We were taken by a golf car on a tour of this “Underground City”. Yes, I mean a real underground city with streets, traffic lights and road signs.
You will see some of the street signs such as Cabernet, Feteasca, Sauvignon etc. corresponding to the name of the wine that is kept there.
Our first stop was at 50m underground where we had the opportunity to see a lot of wine barrels where wine was maturing. This was the only stop during the tour where we saw the wine barrels, so we had to take a few photos.
We were amazed to learn that the underground city has a total length of 120km (75 miles). Of these, 80km (50 miles) are utilised for wine storage and maturation. How amazing is that!?
The cellars appeared as a result of limestone extraction which was used to build cities like Chisinau and Cricova. In fact, limestone is still being extracted in some branches of the galleries, so this huge Underground City continues to grow!
On the map above, the area in red is 50m underground, the area in blue is 90m underground and the rest (in white) is where limestone extraction is still taking place.
After our tour of the underground city, we were taken to the Cricova cinema where we saw an informative 15-minute movie about the history of wine and Cricova. The projection is offered in both Romanian and English upon request.
Have you been to a cinema 80 metres underground? We can now say that we have. Another similarly interesting cinema experience was the Hollywood Sauna at Therme Bucharest.
The cinema was modern and comfortable and could accommodate up to 40 people. As it was just two of us, we kind of had the cinema to ourselves, a sort of VIP screening if you will.
Before the video started, we were offered a glass of sparkling rose wine. We can’t call this Prosecco (as it wasn’t produced in Italy) and instead it was called “Crisecco”.
Production Process of the Sparkling Wine
Next, we were taken to the area where the famous sparkling wine is produced. Here we found ourselves 90 metres deep underground. This reminded us of our visit to Salina Turda in Romania, where we spent a few good hours 120 metres underground where you can find similar micro-climate conditions.
Cricova is the first company in the Republic of Moldova to produce sparkling wine according to the method of the famous monk Pierre Perignon – “Méthode Traditionnele”.
Although we can’t call it Cricova Champagne as this is purely reserved for sparkling wines made in the region with the same name, it’s as good as any top shelf Champagne.
It was fascinating to learn how this sparkling wine is produced and the method that is followed. From what we heard, although there is a certain level of automation, a lot of the work is done manually.
The traditional method requires a secondary fermentation to take place inside the bottle, which is temporarily capped after sugar and yeast (known as Liqueur de Tirage) are added to the base wine. This then forms a sediment.
Bottles need to be manually turned at certain angle until the sediment sits in its upside-down neck. At Cricova, this process is done by six experienced workers who are able to turn 30,000 bottles per day per person. Wow!
After the sediment is at the right position, the neck of the bottle gets frozen, the temporary cap is removed, the bottle’s pressure forces the sediment out and the final cork is added. The sparkling wine then gets ready to be labelled, packed and distributed.
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Cricova Museum and Chapel
After we learnt how sparkling wine is produced, we passed by the Cricova underground museum. Yes, the Underground City is home to a museum showcasing the history of winemaking.
Here we saw some tools and equipment that were used in viticulture and vinification such as wooden presses and a crusher. You can also see clay amphorae, jugs, wine bottles and even a barrel cart.
Believe it or not, there is even a chapel, beautifully carved in the stones, so many meters underground. This underground church is relatively new and opened in 2019.
The next stop of the tour was the National Collection. At the Cricova cellars, you can find almost 1.3 million bottles of wine. I have never seen so much wine in my life!
The collection represents the wine treasure of the Cricova plant but also Moldova as a whole. This place is absolutely stunning.
You can even see a map of celebrities and world leaders such as Angela Merkel, Vladimir Putin, Georgi Parvanov, Klaus Iohannis and many more who have their wine stored at Cricova.
This was usually gifted to them but they can request a certain amount of bottles to be shipped as and when required.
During our walk, we even saw most precious wine of the collection – a red dessert wine “Easter Jerusalem”.
It is the only specimen in the world that has been preserved from the 400 bottles bottled in 1902. Another unique gem is a liqueur (Jan Becher liqueur) also produced in 1902 in the Czech Republic.
As we finished the tour of the National Collection, our guide pointed out that the corridors where the wine is stored have a unique shape of a wine glass, hence the curves.
Cricova Tasting Rooms
If you choose a tour with wine tasting, you will most likely visit one of the following tasting rooms.
The European Hall – features stained glass windows which create the impression of day light. These showcase vineyards of Moldova across all seasons. The room can also be used for business meetings .
The Great House – this is the traditional hall, beautifully decorated with national motifs and oak furniture. It feels like you are in a traditional house in the rural area of Moldova.
The Presidential Hall – contains thematic images in the field of viticulture and vinification of the Republic of Moldova.
As the name suggests, this is the place where high-level meetings take place. We were told that politicians and celebrities have held meetings and tastings in this room.
Bottom of the Sea – for us, this was the most impressive and romantic room and we were lucky to have our wine tasting here. If you wonder what the name means, it symbolizes the depths of the Sarmatian Sea, which existed here about 12 million years ago.
Here you can also notice the limestone ceiling, in its raw natural form and the decorative aquariums on the walls. We loved the globe in the middle of the room – very appropriate for travel lovers like us 🙂
Wine Tasting at Cricova Winery
Finally, time to sample some wine. As part of our Cricova tour package, we had 4 types of wine, accompanied by some nuts and crackers.
We started with white wine, followed by rose wine, red wine and last but not least we had sparkling wine.
I particularly liked the rose wine (usually not my preferred choice) and the sparkling wine. Paul is a fan of red wine and he particularly liked the one we tasted.
Our guide Eleonora was knowledgeable, professional and conducted the wine tasting in a very engaging way.
We learnt more about the wines, the production process, how to recognise a good quality sparkling wine and a lot more. We even got a top-up on our drinks 🙂
The tour ends at the Cricova Shop from where you can buy wine (obviously) and other souvenirs.
Needless to say that we bought a bottle of red wine and if it wasn’t for the luggage and our onward travel, we would have probably bought more bottles.
You can also buy Cricova wine from supermarkets and shops around the country as this is a well known brand.
Cricova Tours and How to Book
There are variety of tours for you to choose from. You can check the Cricova Tours here including prices, opening times and booking instructions. To book a Cricova winery tour, you can contact the team via phone, email or you can visit the Cricova store in Chisinau to make a reservation.
There are different types of tours to choose from which vary in duration and price. Some tours include wine tasting whilst others don’t. There are plenty of options to suit your taste and preference.
Depending on the type of tour you choose you can pay around 200 lei extra for a souvenir that includes a bottle of classic sparkling wine and a bottle of red wine in a gift box.
We wanted to visit as much of Cricova as possible and wanted to do a wine tasting, so we chose the Business option. We visited at noon and were lucky to be the only ones joining at this time, so technically we had the VIP tour and we loved it!
If you prefer to join an organised tour, here are two options for you to consider:
Overall the visit to Cricova Winery exceeded our expectations. We haven’t been to anything like this before and were impressed by how massive the Underground City is, the enormous wine collection it holds and we got the chance to visit an underground cinema and an underground chapel as well.
We felt safe throughout our stay in the Republic of Moldova and visited Cricova with a lot of pleasure. We believe Cricova is a good choice for couples, solo travellers, wine lovers and anyone who would like to experience something unique (no matter if you like wine or not).
It was a definite highlight for us and we would recommend a visit, especially if you are visiting Chisinau.
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