Few people have heard about the forgotten nation of Moldova. And even fewer people know that this country produces some of the world’s best wine and stores them in a 350km network of tunnels underneath its capital city Chisinau! And now you can run and drive a car through them…real Moldovan kickassness!
Moldova is a small country, tucked in between the Ukraine and Romania close to the black sea. Its fertile lands make it specifically well for wine growing and that’s what they have been doing for many many years.
350km of Moldovan wine tunnels
The country’s biggest wineries Cricova and Milestii Mici store their wines right underneath Chisinau, country’s the capital city. Cricova has created a wine cellar tunnel network of over 200km while Milestii Mici keeps it at a ‘modest’ 150km. They make for the world’s largest wine cellars and you can take guided tours through them by by car!
If you have your own car the guide will hop aboard and guide your on a tour through the extensive wine tunnels which ends with a delicious wine tasting.
At Cricova half of the tunnel network (about 100km) is used for wine storage with each side tunnel being named after the wines they store. This “wine city” has its warehouses, tasting rooms and other facilities underground. It goes down to 100 metres (330 ft) below ground and holds 1.25 million bottles of rare wine. The oldest wine dates back to 1902. The temperature is maintained at about 12*C (54 *F) all year round (which is perfect for wine).
The tours are highly popular and need to be booked in advance, notably on weekends. The reason is that Moldovan wines have long been famous in the days of the USSR and hence many Russian and Ukrainian tourists know all too well about the great Moldovan wine tunnels.
Vladimir Putin & Yuri Gagarin Wine parties
Not surprisingly Vladimir Putin celebrated his 50th birthday with an underground Moldovan wine tunnel party. And also Yuri Gagarin, the world’s first Cosmonaut, after coming back from outer space, disappeared for three days underground in the Moldovan wine tunnels! He was famously said with regard to the Cricova wine tasting tunnel rooms: “It is harder to leave Cricova then to leave Earth”.
Running the Moldovan Wine tunnels
If you want to explore the Moldovan wine tunnels in a different way you have a chance by signing up for the annual Cricova wine run.
The first run was organised on the 25th of January 2015 with 50 participants running a course of 7km through the Cricova wine tunnels. The race started above ground in freezing and snowy conditions but once the runners entered the caves they could happily enjoy the +12 degrees year round conditions so perfectly suitable for wine storage.
In 2016 the race was organised again and this time 200 people – including participants from Brazil, the USA and Finland – ran 10 kilometers through the Cricova tunnels.
Participants wore head torches to help them navigate the darker sections of the tunnels, but even the winner found the conditions tricky. “It took me 30 minutes. It was very difficult because of high humidity. I ran 500m more than I should have because I got lost, it was dark.” said Liviu Croitor.
Running the “Strada Chardonnay” and “Sauvignon Street”
The runners had to run along famous wine tunnels with the names of “Strada Chardonnay” and the “Merlot alleyway” and “Sauvignon Street” to make it to the end of this kickass wine race.
While some participants found being 100m underground disorientating, for others the lack of fresh air was a challenge. “You could smell the wine,” one runner told Jurnal TV. “This makes the things a little bit more complicated – it is more difficult to breathe.”
To make the winery tunnel race even more fun the organisers deployed a person dressed up as the Grim Reaper – complete with scythe – to “hunt” participants around the tunnels.
Appropriately, all the participants received a glass of wine after having completed the race.
Given the fact the 10km race covered only a fraction of the 200km Cricova tunnel network we would suggest organising an ‘ultra wine marathon in the future’