With more than 20 years of experience in the wine industry, she is ADAR’s (Romanian Authorized Wine Tasters’ Association) secretary-general and wine ambassador. Diana Pavelescu represented Romania in several international juries and is the founder of the Romanian Wine Academy, one of the 3 schools in Romania WSET accredited – The Wine & Spirit Education Trust – the biggest global organization that offers certifications in knowing the wine world for both professionals and amateurs. Business Review talked with Pavelescu about her biggest passion, Romanian wines- trends and myths, the pandemic and the challenges of the current situation.
By Romanita Oprea
How did you discover your passion for wine?
Well, I’ve been in contact with wine since I was a child. My grandparents had vineyards and my father and I used to spend time together while he was occupied with artisanal winemaking. That is how I learned what wine means, so my passion for wine has somehow always been there, I just fully discovered it when I graduated university and I began to work. I was involved in a company that was selling enzymes and yeast for the beverage industry and the wine department was on its way to be developed, being a small segment in comparison with other sectors, like beer or spirits. I was assigned to develop it and, starting from there, I began to learn more about wine, I wanted to pursue education in that direction so I took some training courses abroad, and then I attended the tasting course at the Research and Development Institute from Valea Călugărească, the wine and spirits course, and after that I fell in love with wine and I wanted to be more involved in this field. Thus, I became a member of the Romanian Association of Authorized Tasters, where I am currently Secretary-General. Tasting wine, spending quality time with people from the world of wine, learning more about this fascinating world, I think my passion is more related to the people from the wine industry.
When did you know that you want to do more with the passion and what were the first steps you took?
After graduating university, as I’ve mentioned before, I started my studies by attending the wine and spirits courses, and then I began to be part of the jury at wine competitions, first nationally, then internationally. An important step was, of course, WSET – the most important global certification in wine and spirits studies, the WSET qualifications being globally recognized as the international standard in wine and spirit knowledge.
How hard is it to become a Sommelier and what does it take?
Well, I don’t think I can give my point of view on this, because I am not a Sommelier, definitely. I am trained for tasting wine in a professional way, but not to pair wine with the food in a way that a sommelier does, for example, in a restaurant. I have the knowledge for pairing, of course, but not at a sommelier’s level, for sure. But I can say that working in the wine industry is not easy, whether we’re talking about being a sommelier or a wine expert or advisor. You must be trained, you have to know everything about wine and be up to date with what is new in the market, what are the trends. And of course, you have to do tasting sessions on a regular basis.
How competitive is the market in Romania, in your opinion?
The market here is as it is all over Europe. It’s very competitive, it’s an open market, everybody can be here, the problem is to gain the customer’s interest and to meet their needs. So, Romania is not different from any other country, Romania is in the same trend with the other countries, so it’s definitely a challenge to be present on the Romanian market. On the other hand, the Romanian wines are exceptionally good, very interesting, although not sufficiently known, but oh well, the wine industry in Romania is at the very beginning. It started to develop after 2005, when the European funds began to be available, and since then there have been a lot of investments in the wine industry in Romania. It developed incredibly well and, from day to day, the wine industry in Romania is coming to meet the customer’s expectations and requirements, so indeed it is an industry that never stops, it’s in a continuous development. After doing all the investments in refurbishing, in modernization, in the reconversion of the vineyards, the wines have also gained the investment of a more intense promotion, if I may say so.
How do you position yourself?
Regarding the wine industry, I’ve been part of it for 20 years already, I began my career by working for that company, as I’ve mentioned. After the moment when I decided that the sales period was enough for me, I decided to become a Wine Educator and I pursued an education in this direction. At the same time, the social media trend started to grow on me and I began to promote the Romanian wines. As a Wine Ambassador, I had various collaborations with different brands and, at the same time, I managed to open a wine school. I have a license for WSET for wine and, starting with this year, also for spirits, because spirits are winning their fair share of the market.
What are your favorite wines and why?
It’s a trend also with the wines, and right now I do love to enjoy a very nice sparkling and I serve the sparkling at any time of day, no matter what. I prefer some red wines as well, with high acidity and elegance, like Pinot Noir, for example. I also love to check the rose market at all times, because they are in trend, and the wine producers bring something new to the market, such as different kinds of winemaking from the traditional ones.
Is it really true that Romanian wines are some of the best in the world?
Yes, it is true that Romanian wines are some of the best in the world, and this changes from year to year. Last year, for example, it has been Fetească Regală 2009, which is an old Fetească Regală that has been awarded the Grand Gold Medal at Concours Mondial de Bruxelles, and this year was Fetească Neagră 2016, that got this year’s Grand Gold Medal. Romanian wines are particularly good and what is much better is that the Romanian sorts of grapes are very well appreciated. If you take a look on my blog and what I wrote about Concours Mondial de Bruxelles and the medals, this year, you will see that the tasters appreciated also Tămâioasa Românească, a lot of Fetească Neagră, Fetească Regală, Fetească Albă as well, I think we are on an uptrend regarding the wine quality and yes, Romanian wines have a certain place in the world, which should be underlined and we should be proud of them.
What are the main myths about wine and how would you deconstruct them?
Well, I think that, in Romania, the main myth is that wine could be made from pills, and that is totally wrong, there is no such thing, because overall in the world the wine is in overproduction. There are a lot of wines with a very low price, imported from Spain, for example, that can enter the Romanian market with this price, and people think that if the wine is cheap, it isn’t good or real, and that is not true. For the price of 10 lei, for example, you can find some qualitative wines, I try and I check in the supermarket this kind of wines and up till now, I’ve been pleased with what I’ve found, actually. You can find wines with incredibly good price-quality ratio. Of course, expensive wines could be better and should definitely be better, but you can also find qualitative wines with a low price.
How do we deconstruct these myths? I think we should educate the population, the consumers actually, and I think we have to develop some programs that should help people understand what it actually means to make a wine, how a wine is made, and to learn more about the Romanian wines, because Romanian wines are particularly good, although they are not many. We should teach people what a good wine is. I mean, if on the label you can find the DOC or IGT certification label, this means the wines are certified, that a committee evaluated the wine and agreed that that wine is certified and is in accordance with the requirements from the region where the wine is produced. This has been taken very seriously as soon as we entered the European Union and since then, all the wines are certified with the nomination of origin and geographical indication. I am extremely glad that along with the wines that are going to enter the market, we also started to have DOP and IGP products in Romania.
What were the main challenges brought to you and the Association you are secretary for, by the pandemic?
We stopped working and stopped meeting during the pandemic. For the association, meeting and visiting areas in Romania and tasting the new wines are a way of training for the members, who are mainly winemakers from Romania and this gives an overview about the Romanian wines and industry. And of course, from the winemaker point of view, it is an inspiration for every winery, it helps them find out solutions and ideas that can be put in practice in their own wineries. For me, personally, the pandemic meant growth, people started to be more present in online, which was very good, and I started to make some online tastings, and in this direction I collaborated with wineries from Moldova and we organized together some nice tasting sessions. People understood that this can also be done in online and it was a relief, because, at first, in March, I felt a little tense, being a completely new and unusual situation for each of us. I tried to go with the flow and be present. The pandemic didn’t stop the wine world, it remained in constant motion. Part of my motivation to continue and to not let the pandemic stop or slow me down is my current position as a Counselor of the Minister of Agriculture in this sector, regarding wine, because it is a sector that can definitely contribute to Romania’s development and that can promote Romania everywhere, practically. Romanian wines can be the best ambassadors for Romania.
How did you adapt to them?
Well, I sat down, took a deep breath and I tried to find solutions, to see what should be done to minimize the losses. What was bad, during this period, was that we could not travel, and even now we travel too little, but even like this, we succeeded to hold the competition last year in Brno, in September, and then I went this year in Luxembourg, for Concours Mondial de Bruxelles. I took the vaccine and I didn’t need any PCR test, that was a relief, and I think we’ve already adapted to pandemic changes in this way. We are definitely not going back to what was before, so we have to be present here, on the market, to promote our products.
What is your main target for 2021 personally and for the Association?
My main target for 2021 is to start a project, to continue to promote the Romanian wines, first among the Romanians, and we are working on something official with the Minister of Agriculture. I hope that by the end of September I can have the plan ready and start to implement the project. For the Association, I hope that we can start to organize meetings more often and I plan to affiliate it to the international network, I would love our association to be part of the International Association of Oenologists, because this is our positioning and going there would be somehow an additional recognition and it could bring more opportunities.
How would you say that the pandemic impacted the wine industry for long run?
People switched from drinking in the restaurant, in HoReCa, to drinking at home and throwing parties at home, so drinking remained a strong habit. People started to buy more wine, but mainly to buy wine online and that makes a difference. The big key accounts, supermarkets, are more or less on the same level, and this is the main change during the pandemic. And of course, people are looking for some dedicated wines, for something personal, some premium wine, the trend of going premium is very clearly defined right now and the pandemic accentuated this trend.
What trends do you see in the wine industry these days?
As I’ve previously mentioned, one of the current trends is going premium, another one is sparkling, there a lot of bubbles on the market, the rose is also on an uptrend, during these times, and wineries are focusing more on wine trips – visits of the wineries, tastings, direct sales from the winery, which is very good.
You founded the Romanian Wine Academy. What were your objectives at the beginning and how have they changed in time?
Since I’ve founded RWA, the objective didn’t change much. The main objective is to educate people, to have more people interested in tasting wines, and also in the spirits starting this year. I don’t think that my objectives have changed in time, it is a wine school, founded on the idea of learning about wines. WSET courses provided by Romanian Wine Academy help students accumulate knowledge and experience in a professional, organized and pleasant way, studying the basics of information about viticulture and winemaking, main international varieties, styles and types of wine, correct and interesting pairings and, most importantly, the students develop a systematic approach of wine tasting and international standardized wine language. Of course, discussing and assessing wines is very subjective and it is prone to each one’s imagination, culture.
What is your wish for Romanian Wine Academy for 2021-2022?
My wish is to educate as many students as possible, of course, to introduce more and more people in the fascinating world of wine and to teach them how to fully enjoy not just a glass of wine, but the whole experience that a wine can offer. I also wish to offer the WSET accredited courses for spirits starting this year.
What are your favorite places to travel to and to which wines do you associate them and why?
I don’t think I have a favorite place; I am in love with Italy and I haven’t been there for a long time and I’d love to go back there. Other than that, I love to discover new places, new locations, new people. And I always associate every place that I visit with the local wine, because, this way, every journey becomes memorable. I am a curious person and there is always so much to discover in the world, and also places nearby us, which we don’t know about, and when you discover them, it is always a pleasant surprise.
What brand of wine haven’t you tried, but you wish to and why?
There are plenty of wine brands that I haven’t tried yet, but I cannot recall now a particular one. I would like to go to United States and to discover the wines there. I did taste a few ones from US, especially from Oregon, Pinot Noir. I would like to go to South Africa as well and discover some wines and small wineries there, as I’ve responded to the previous question, I believe there’s a lot to discover.