The Head of USAID Office in Moldova Karen Hilliard: "We promote the idea that winemaking and tourism are integral whole".
Interview of the InfoMarket agency .
The winemaking industry in Moldova is reborn, it is already an obvious fact. Ten years ago the country could lose the wine industry; much has been said and written about this. The revival and transformation of the industry was strongly supported by international development partners - USAID, the Government of Sweden and many others. The InfoMarket correspondent met Karen Hilliard, the head of the USAID mission in Moldova on the National Wine Day of 2017 at the Square of the Great National Assembly in Chisinau.
InfoMarket: Ms. Hillard, USAID project intended to improve the competitiveness of winemaking industry in Moldova, since Russia introduced the first embargo on Moldovan wines in 2006. Ten years is not enough time for winemaking industry. What happened to the winemaking and what was done with the support of USAID to maintain and revive the industry?
Karen Hilliard: We have focused on assistance in the development of the wine industry in Moldova before the introduction of the embargo in 2006 (and later in 2013). The winemaking industry in Moldova practically perished in 2006. The year before the embargo, the export of wine production amounted to $360 million, then a year later the industry losses exceeded $200 million.
InfoMarket: What has been done over the years?
Karen Hilliard: We have changed the regulatory environment of the industry and we are working with the government to change the direction of all the laws relating to wine making to create a friendly business environment. We also transformed knowledge and technology so that winemakers could reorient themselves to produce high-quality bottled wines that could be sold to Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Western countries.
Previously (until 2006), the country exported mostly cheap wine to Russia and it was a reliable market but there was no clear idea of the fault, and no one other than Russia wanted to buy cheap wine. The Russian market has been closed, Moldova was faced a tough choice: either to improve the quality of the wines or lose the industry completely.
InfoMarket: Do you believe in the quality of Moldovan wines; that Moldova will cope and will be able to pass this path from cheap bottled to quality bottled wine?
Karen Hilliard: Of course! We would not have invested money without believe. We’ve had two projects to improve competitiveness, now we are implementing the third with a budget of $21.8 million, which is designed for four sectors. This means that at least $5 million in the form of technical assistance, equipment, training and marketing activities are sent to winemaking.
But that's not all. We support the development of the National Office of Grapes and Wine as a separate project. We started with $1 million and now we are signing an agreement with the Romanian government for a partnership to allocate another $2 million to the National Office of Grapes and Wine.
InfoMarket: By the way, about the Office, it was established only three years ago in 2014. Does it meet your expectations?
Karen Hilliard: Absolutely! It's a fabulous partner. It established a mechanism for communication and consultation with the industry, it finds obstacles that impede the development of the industry in the field of laws and regulation, it appeals to the government with justified initiatives of necessary changes and leads the process of positive changes for the whole industry. Every year, making business becomes clearer and easier.
The Office is the guard of the quality. One of the areas we work together is the creation and promotion of regions with a Protected Geographical Indication. This is what gives the consumer an opportunity to trust the wine even with an unfamiliar name, gives an insight into where the grapes were produced and grown. It also gives the belief that the highest quality standards are observed. The right to use PDO enables the manufacturer to benefit from marketing and to request a higher price for its products in European markets PDO of Moldova is registered and recognized.
InfoMarket: Is it possible to identify some landmark steps that have been taken for the preservation and rebirth industry since 2006?
Karen Hilliard: I would say that our assistance has been provided in the last 2-3 years. We will provide $2 million grant and we are planning to extend the pilot project for the introduction of the Grape and Wine Registry to the entire country for four years together with the Romanian government, the purpose is to track the quality of the wine. It will increase the competitiveness of Moldovan wines, which is an indispensable condition for regional and global markets. This is for the nearest future and from the recent you saw a stand of small producers at the Wine Day. We helped 22 small wineries: technologies, trainings, and in some cases helped to find financing for the modernization of equipment and the start of production of bottled quality wines.
InfoMarket: The volume of Moldovan wine exports totaled $110 million in 2016. What do you think, when Moldova will reach figures of wine exports at 2005 levels? ($360 million).
Karen Hilliard: Oh, it will take some time; because after the embargo the whole sector was decimated, and some wineries are still alone with their problems, and we need to convince them of the need to move on the quality production of bottled wines and help them. Such processes take years, but I am absolutely sure that more and more quality wines will appear in Moldova, we can do it.
InfoMarket: Does Moldovan wine have a taste like any other wine-producing countries and regions?
Karen Hilliard: It is not like other countries. Of course, Moldova cultivates international varieties - Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot ... but in Moldova, there are own Moldovan grape varieties - Feteasca alba, Feteasca neagra, Feteasca regala, Rara neagra, Viorica ...
InfoMarket: Can those wines made from purely Moldovan grapes be recognized in foreign markets?
Karen Hilliard: This is already happening. These wines are perfectly exported to very different countries, such as Estonia, Romania, Czech Republic, Poland, Kazakhstan, Israel, China, Japan and the USA. By the way, Moldova exported $2 million worth of wine to the US in 2016.
InfoMarket: The amount has already mentioned in our conversation with you; it is the size of upcoming grants for the development of the Office of grapes and wine...
Karen Hilliard: Well, we should get at least some benefit... (laughs).
InfoMarket: When your projects to support the Moldovan wine-making can be completed?
Karen Hilliard: None of our projects is closed...
InfoMarket: Well, maybe, when the volume of wine exports from Moldova reaches $500 million...
Karen Hilliard: There is always a possibility, moreover, we hope so. We will not leave this sector until we are sure that it is firmly on its own feet. This is our commitment.
InfoMarket: This means that you are with us for a long time.
Karen Hilliard: Presumably this is so.
InfoMarket: Could you please share your plans for the nearest future?
Karen Hilliard: We want to take steps and efforts to merge the wine industry with the tourism. We began to do it already these days on the Day of Wine. This festival is growing. Thousands of people come to visit this festival every year. We are expecting at least 6 thousand tourists from Europe, Japan and other countries. We began to promote the idea that winemaking and the tourism are integral whole.
InfoMarket: But it rests on the possibility of hospitality...
Karen Hilliard: This year, all the hotels are completely booked, and they were booked two months ago for the festival.
InfoMarket: So, can we put the tents and develop campsites these days? (Joke.)
Karen Hilliard: This is a good idea (Laughs.). The development of winemaking is also implies developing small hotels, including in the regions. At many wineries (EtCetera, Kara-gani, Vulcanesti), the hosts invite tourists to their places, organize excursions, tastings and organize them in neighboring hotels, including their own. So these industries are developing.
InfoMarket: What do you say to allegations that alcohol is bad for your health?
Karen Hilliard: Glass of red wine a day it's great for the heart.
InfoMarket: What about today (on the Day of wine)?
Karen Hilliard: Oh, this is a special day!
InfoMarket: What would you like to tell or advise industry business community on this day?
Karen Hilliard: My advice to all the wineries to be concerned to create conditions for the development of tourism, providing visitors the factories tours, tastings, offering local culinary specialties and guests to guests staying at least for a day. This will lift the industry to a new, higher level.
InfoMarket: Can you name your favorite Moldovan wine?
Karen Hilliard: Oh, there are so many loved ones. I would not like to name just one. We helped a lot of small wineries, such as Gogu Winery (fabulous white wines), Mezalimpe (amazing rose), Et Cetera, Vinuri de Comrat, Kara-Gani... there are so many good ones. I encourage people to try wine from small wineries, believe me: each of them carries a surprise.
We promote Moldovan wines in foreign markets. Only in 2017 Moldovan wines received 278 awards at prestigious wine contests, 37 of them were received by wines from small wineries and were first presented on foreign markets. The Wine of Moldova brand has been highly praised in 63 international publications, such as Euronews, Wine Business, Forbes, Guardian.
InfoMarket: What, in your opinion, needs to be done for the growth of consumption in the domestic market? Can we work more with restaurants?
Karen Hilliard: Everyone knows that the restaurant industry sets high margins, especially on alcohol, and this is their business. But it's not a problem. People who go to a restaurant are quite willing to pay a reasonable price for a good wine, for the opportunity to taste wines and special dishes, get advice from a sommelier, enjoy a pleasant atmosphere. Still it is a pleasant pastime.
InfoMarket: There is an opinion that many wineries tend to do very high quality wine and sell it very expensive, if there is any race for prices for the right to produce the most expensive wine in the country. What, in your opinion, is the most expensive wine in Moldova?
Karen Hilliard: I do not know. I buy wine at a reasonable price. The price of expensive wine is made up of many factors: its quality, age, bottles, labels, marketing values... Buying expensive wine, you pay not only for the liquid inside the bottle but for qualification. // 10.10.2017 – InfoMarket.