Culture & Art
Oct 8, 2018
"Imagine a cellar with hundreds of kilometers of tunnels full of wine, some million bottles, thousands of hectoliters in barrels, hundreds of crops, tens of varieties, so big underground it can only be visited by car. This is the pride of the Moldovan cellar Milestii Mici."
It doesn't matter whether you like wine or not, this is the biggest wine cellar in the world, where all corridors create a multi-level labyrinth with more than 200 km length and is worth to visit!
At each meter, the visitor moves deeper, even without noticing it. At the lowest level, the cellars are 85 meters deep underground. The tunnels were originally used as annexes, where the Chisinau's building stones was acquired. Only in the 70's came up the idea of using them as cellars. The constant temperature and the high humidity revealed to be the perfect conditions for the maturation and storage of the wine.
The visit of the cellars is made in a car, with scheduled stops here and there, for tighter curves. The crossroads of the corridors are so huge they placed traffic lights and each street has its own name, out of a specific grape variety. When driving through the underground streets we can spot many barrels with all types of construction, some with several decades. Many of them are really uncommon, given their dimensions, with capacities for several thousands of liters of wine.
In the days of the Soviet Union, when all was rationed, came up the idea of leaving the wooden barrels, due to the sort of raw material. Some even were built using cement, where it was supposed to store and mature the wine. Luckily the idea was put aside and the wine is stored and matured in the traditional way to this very day.
But the crown jewels in Milestii Mici, are over two million bottles hidden at 80 meters depth, from the best crops prepared according to ancient Moldovan tradition. In each lot where the bottles are stored, everything is counted and catalogued, what even became a world record in the Guiness Book, when the winery ran in 2005 and won, for owning the biggest wine collections in the world. Part of the bottles can be seen by all visitors, but others are hidden in secret rooms of the labyrinth.
Don't be mistaken by the dust and spider webs in the bottles, they only confirm the perfect conditions for the wine fermentation and maturation processes. Wine doesn't enjoy anything else than silence, stillness and the lack of every kind of vibration. Interesting fact: by 200 euros a year, you can become the owner of a small lot in the complex and store your wine treasures. Up to the moment, the majority of those is rented to citizens of Thailand and the Republic of China.
It is possible to undertake various tastings, but instead of romantic views over vineyard areas, we face nothing else than stone tunnels. Yes, the tastings also occur tens of meters below the ground and, even in those conditions, the wine keeps its original taste. These hidden tasting rooms remind us of a much-heard story from Moldova: a story about the end of the Soviet Union, when Gorbachev decided to deal with citizens that drank too much. People whose only income was the culture of vineyards where threatened with jail and forced to destroy the plantations.
Before this campaign entered into force, more than half the vineyards were destroyed. Even Milestii Mici complex was about to face a huge loss, with the destruction of the whole collection. In order to save its treasures, Milestii Mici employees built some secret rooms to store the most precious items.
Another curious fact takes us back to its map. If you fell lost in the underground labyrinth, just pick a bottle of wine. In each label, you'll find a schematic map that allows you to leave the tunnel labyrinth easily. Even the gift store is, in fact, a tiny time machine, with several items from various decades related to the winery world.
The store is also located underground and the visit is strongly advisable, both to acquire some wines, considering the very attractive prices. The cheapest wines are available from one euro. The most expensive can reach some hundreds of euros, but, above all, the main interest lies in the variety of the offer.