Most years, come August, I’m ready to go back to school. I’ve spent time with family and friends, caught up with hometown gossip, hugged my niece a thousand times, and even squeezed in a road trip or two. This August, however, things are different. No trip back home, no face-to-face catch-ups, no hugs. And despite an amazing road trip through northern Greece, the idea of hopping back on Zoom to teach teenagers has my skin crawling.
Online orientation starts next week–a chance for teachers to reflect on our successes and failures during the last three months of last school year. We’ll talk about how to virtually engage 15-year-olds, how to keep their spirits up. The director will share their reopening plan once case numbers start going down. I’m sure there will be a scheduled “Zoombar” happy hour.
Luke and I feel fortunate to have our jobs and know how important it is for the students (and for us) to get back into a routine, but we don’t feel ready. We don’t feel prepared. In June, the school year ended without fanfare–online goodbyes and a virtual graduation. Dear friends and beloved students said teary-eyed farewells via Flipgrid videos. None of it felt real.
A few days ago, I decided Luke and I needed to do something fun to officially mark the end of summer. And what better way than to spend a few nights at a winery?
Our accommodation: Vinalia Conacul in Ceptura de Jos, an hour-and-10-minute drive from Bucharest.
A Little Info on Romanian Wine
Chances are, if you haven’t visited Romania, you haven’t heard of Romanian wine. I know I hadn’t. But the country actually has a long history of winemaking, and is one of the largest wine producers in the world–the fifth largest in Europe (after Italy, France, Spain, and Germany). The only difference is that Romania doesn’t export its product. In fact, Romania Insider reports that only 3.5% of the country’s wine is sold internationally.
This is mostly due to the fact that modern winemaking didn’t really take off until after the fall of communism, in December 1989. The country is still, in many ways, reeling from the effects of the oppressive regime, and without reliable transport infrastructure or postal service, it’s no surprise that wine export hasn’t taken off–which is a shame, because it’s pretty good.
The country’s climate is well-suited for producing a variety of grapes, but since it’s situated on the same latitude as Bordeaux, the red varietals are better than the white (in my opinion)–especially Romania’s famous fetească neagră: a fruity, easy-to-drink wine that would do very well as an export (again, in my humble opinion, but it’s a real crowd pleaser).
Our wine tasting at Rotenberg, a small winery within walking distance of Vinalia Conacul, specializing in merlots.
Wine Tasting in Dealu Mare
There are quite a few wine regions in Romania (click here for a map), but Dealu Mare is the most convenient to visit from Bucharest. It took us about an hour and ten minutes to get to our accommodation; and from there, most vineyards are within walking distance or a short drive–all located along the foothills of the southern Carpathian mountains.
The most popular wineries within the Dealu Mare region are Lacerta (in Buzau County), Serve (Prahova), and Licorna (Prahova). Note that most Romanian vineyards require advanced reservations (Serve even requires five days in advance!) and are more costly than you might expect–between 59 lei (approx 12€) and 150 lei (approx 30€). Our experience was that the price gets cheaper the more people are in your group, and the pours are quite generous. Most are paired with a small cheese platter.
Since we didn’t feel like driving, we opted to walk to Rotenberg–a small winery in the center of Ceptura de Jos. Our tour and tasting was led by an older Romanian woman who didn’t speak any English, and we loved every moment of it. She was patient with our clumsy sentences and mispronunciation and laughed every time we used Google Translate. The vineyard grows mostly merlot grapes, and a 6-varietal tasting costs 90 lei per person (18€), which includes a large cheese plate and very generous pours.
A look at the small town of Ceptura de Jos: wandering into old cemeteries, attempting to chat with locals, and admiring traditional homes on side streets.
Spending the night in Ceptura de Jos
Sure, you could do a day trip to Dealu Mare, but what’s the fun in spitting out all that good wine and driving back to Bucharest? Some friends had recommended a B&B called Vinalia Conacul–a place with its own small vineyard, restaurant, and pool, at 128€ for two nights, including breakfast.
I would recommend staying here to enjoy the great food (especially the fried eggplant, the polenta with wild mushrooms, and the pork ribs) and the fetească neagră wine. Skip the winery tour and the tasting and just order a few glasses at dinner–then take a dessert wine to-go, to enjoy while frolicking amongst the vines at sunset.
Tell me: Have you heard of Romanian wines? Or, if you’ve been to Romania, what’s your favorite winery? Would love to hear your comments below!