Often, the first thing people think of when hearing the word Transylvania is of scary vampire stories or Count Dracula. However, this area of Romania is a centuries-old wine region and was already famous for its wines during the Habsburg monarchy before many of these tales even existed. Romania has been cultivating wine for more than 6000 years and is one of the oldest wine countries in Europe. The wine was loved and written about as far back as Ancient Greece and later influenced by the Transylvanian Saxons and the Austrian empress Maria Theresia.
The Transylvanian climate is perfect for white wines. The Carpathian mountains surround Transylvania and extend from the Northwest until the center of Romania. This mountainous and versatile landscape remains untouched in many places and houses some of the last natural forests of Europe. The natural setting makes a perfect climate for cultivating the vines.
Alongside the indigenous grape varieties like Feteasca Alba and Feteasca Regala, winegrowers also use well-known varieties like Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. During the planting and growing process, the soil is kept organic which allows the vines to prosper and creates a pleasant, fruity note. Lately red wine is also growing very successfully, although the best area for red wines is the Southern part of Romania because of its warmer climate.
Some of of the best Romanian wines come from Transylvania and numerous foreign investors have supported the flourishing wine-making culture in the last few years. One of these vineyards is Liliac, which in Romanian means “the bat. It was purchased in 2010 by Austrian investor Alfred Beck. At the time, his company amb Holding already held investments in agriculture and forestry, but during a visit to the vineyard he asked about an opportunity to purchase and immediately felt enthusiastic about the idea. Since then, the winery has grown and now cultivates grapes on about 79 acres. For now he’s done expanding and the maximum yield will be no more than 500,000 bottles so the number one priority can remain the quality of the wines.
The winery gets additional support from Austria from Willi Opitz of Illmitz, a dessert wine specialist, and the winemaker Rudolf Krizan from Burgenland, a famous Austrian wine region. Together with the Romanian team they produce excellent wines which have received several international awards. In the fall they hire seasonal workers from the region for harvesting which creates many job opportunities. The vineyard not only creates jobs in the area but helps the region thrive from the profits the investments have brought to the infrastructure.
In the beginning of October we finally got a chance to visit Liliac. We reached the low-lying vineyards in Batos, near the city Reghin, after an hour and a half drive from Cluj-Napoca through the beautiful Transylvanian landscape. The cultivation and ripening process of the grapes is influenced by the big temperature difference between day and night in the area. The processing takes place in their newly built wine cellar using the latest techniques and best winemaking knowledge.
Liliac’s second vineyard is located close to Batos, on the hills in Lechinta. The vines profit there from a very favorable microclimate and the light, sandy ground, with not too much loam in the soil. This provides the best conditions for creating especially fruity wines. Besides the autochthonous grape varieties, Liliac produces excellent white wines like Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and an outstanding Rosé Pinot Noir. One of the most special wines is their dessert wine, a Muscat Ottonel, which they call the “Nectar of Transylvania.” This wine is a product of Willi Opitz and his Schilfwein method. The grapes, picked by hand, are displayed on mats in the fall, where they air-dry for several months. Through this procedure, known since the ancient world, the concentration of sugar and flavors grows. Willi Opitz improved this method by placing reed mats on top of long wooden shelves for hygienic reasons. This method produces a sweet wine with an unbelievable taste experience that is a must-try. You can also taste all the other Liliac wines in Batos.
If you are searching for more adventure and action, you can book an off-road tour with a jeep in the Carpathian mountains which includes a visit to the winery at the end (www.Karpaten-Offroad.de). You can relax in the comfortable lodge or, if the weather is nice, on the terrace. The great wines are even more enjoyable when paired with the stunning view over the vineyards. The region is also known for its special cheese types like Branza Telemea which pair with the wines beautifully. If you want to fully experience the area, you can find local accommodation in the village for a very good price.
We spent a wonderful afternoon there with friends and our favorite Liliac wine, Feteasca Regala. I definitely recommend a wine tour in Transylvania because it combines a breathtaking landscape with good food, excellent wines and friendly people.