A story of an experimental winery…
Like it or not, wine is essentially and ultimately a business. Wine is made to go on an epic journey from the winery to the barrel, to the bottle, to the shelf and, perhaps most importantly, to the wine consumer’s glass. While the first part of this journey is equally science and art, these would remain hidden and unappreciated unless a wine consumer can be convinced to acquire the respective wine. It is on this background that a never-ending clash of approaches is underway, namely making consumer friendly and affordable wine contrasted against boutique winemaking.
Boutique winemaking is, like any boutique business, small scale, artisanal and, thus, deeply embedded with the winemaker’s skills and approach, and more prone to producing high end, made-to-measure wine. It is the kind of venture which only deep passion and dedication, as well as a bit of openness to the financial misfortunes which may arise when creating any highly tailored product, can drive. And it is this kind of passion and dedication that stand behind Dagon Clan Winery, a small artisanal winery, located in Dealu Mare vineyard, Romania (http://dagon.ro/en/).
Dagon Winery grapes awaiting picking
The Dagon Clan Winery markets itself as an experimental winery, taking on two different approaches to winemaking, namely operating both a line of estate wines, made from the grapes they grow in their Urlati property (Valea Nucetului) spanning approximately 10 ha, and a line of wines made from grapes acquired from local trusted producers with whom the winery has established a relationship (essentially negotiant wines). In any case, the focus in both lines is the reduced intake of chemicals during the grape growing process, a very popular topic given the rise of the healthy living trend nowadays.
Dagon Winery wines available for purchase on-site
The core team standing behind the Dagon Clan Winery comprises of Mihnea Vasilache, the owner, Sebastian Ion, GM of the winery, Mark Haisma, as chief winemaker and Mihai Ratulea, as winemaker. During the Open Day event the winery hosted on 17 September at Ceptura Manor, Mihai Ratulea gave the tour of the property and proudly announced that no selected yeast is used as part of the winemaking process. A risky move perhaps, but this is ultimately a boutique winery and between them, the team managed to put together not one, but two 90 Decanter points wines (Jar 2014 and Clar 2015).
A 90 Decanter points successful experiment
Jar 2014 is an interesting mix of Feteasca Neagra and Pinot Noir, with partial barique aging, out of which 30 per cent. are new bariques, adding texture and complexity. It is nicely balanced, with the promises of the nose being fulfilled by the palate, medium to full bodied contrasted against a medium plus acidity and a long and intense finish. Plum and jammy, this challenging wine might have even more fascinating tales to tell in a couple of years. We ended up acquiring 3 bottles of the 3,550 bottles they launched on the market and are rather regretful we didn’t go for a carton of 6, as the wine is currently only available in specialized stores and by way of HORECA distribution.
Dagon Winery wines have currently found a home at Ceptura Manor, a gem of a property in itself. The Manor is located within the heart of Dealu Mare vineyard, approximately 90 minutes’ drive from Bucharest. It is interesting to note that the Manor is not owned by Dagon Wines and its owner bottles his own wine under the brand Vinalia Winery – Ceptura Manor, also made under the supervision of Mark Haisma – a story for another occasion and another visit to the property.
Ceptura Manor is definitely a wine tourism destination to consider on its own, offering accommodation within 20 rooms, fully refurbished in 2012, with due respect to the traditional Romanian architecture style in which the building was initially erected. (http://www.vinaliaceptura.ro/).
Ceptura Manor inner courtyard
We can definitely imagine a weekend spent exploring the Dealu Mare vineyard and various wineries, with Ceptura Manor serving as exploring base to do so, as much as we can imagine a day celebration or wedding being held in this picturesque landscape.
How did the Open Day event go?
The Open Day event itself was very well organized, with regular cellar tours, traditional Romanian food being cooked on site and plenty of wine to taste and comment. The attendance was presumably in excess of what was initially expected for a Sunday event, as by the time we arrived they were already out of regular wine glasses and the courtyard seemed full of guests.
Sandra and Dagon Clan owner, Mr Mihnea Vasilache
A pleasant note was that both owner Mihnea Vasilache and winemaker Mihai Ratulea were present on site and more than willing to engage with the guests. As such, we got a first-hand review of the history of Dagon Winery from Mr Vasilache himself.
Ceptura Manor – Cellar views
Wine was available for purchase on site, with Jar 2014 and Clar 2015, the two 90-points Decanter wines Dagon Winery managed to put on the market, retailing at RON 45 (approx. EUR 10) – a price we deemed to be great value for money. We took home 3 bottles of Jar 2014, 2 of Clar 2015 (an assamblage of Feteasca Alba and Savignon Blanc) and a young 2016 Har (Rose based on Cabernet Savignon and Shirah). Whilst we have already declared ourselves to be delighted with Jar 2014, reviews for the remainder of them will follow.
In a nutshell the Open Day event was definitely a success and Jar 2014 is already quite appreciated having been an outstanding experiment for this boutique, experimental winery. The question to ponder on, as with any boutique winery, is whether Dagon Winery will manage to observe the high bar it has for itself with these wines, given their commitment to natural yeast and limited chemical interference? It remains to be seen, or rather tasted, alongside a fabulous sunset at Ceptura Manor.