Romanian Winelover: Valentin Ceafalau, benchmark taster (1)

by Wines of Romania
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Wines of Romania invites you to discover some of the people who left a mark on the way we discuss Romanian wine – bloggers, sommeliers, communicators and journalists. In the first interview – or in the first part of the interview – we talk with Valentin Ceafalau, one of the first wine journalists in Romania.

Journalist to wine taster – The long road

Wines of Romania: Where did your wine adventure begin?

Valentin Ceafalau: I entered the world of wine responding the invitation made by Cezar Ioan, at first just as a method of supplementing the monthly income. The wage from the Ziua newspaper didn’t even cover the current needs, so I didn’t hesitate too much when I was offered the possibility of a new collaboration. I had moved from the Events department to Synthesis, Cezar’s department, where I kept in touch with local editions and managed everything about archives, from photographs to newspaper collections. Later I moved to the secretarial office, managin the entire content.

Wines of Romania: How did the Connaisseur supplement come to life?

Valentin Ceafalau: I was still working in the Synthesis department, and Cezar came one day with a handful of magazines from Switzerland. And he said "Let’s do something like this. Are you interested? We can get some extra money…". At that time you were paid per written page… At that time we had Dorin Popa’s Wine Magazine, there were a few articles written by Catalin Paduraru, Viorel Stoian’s book, the Great Book of Wine Tasting and we also had a friend at the Academy Library, who occasionally found articles about wine. And that was all there was about wine literature. And we tried to translate those articles into magazine stories, into infotainment. Step by step, we learned. We also organized a few tastings. At first we got really drunk, because there was no one to teach us how to do it… We took the first steps blindly, no one taught us anything. Then we started the more serious tastings, first as the Connoisseur add-on in the paper, then as, at the Casa Iancului restaurant, with Sergiu Nedelea, with Viorel Stoian, with Mr. Dan Boboc, Catalin Paduraru, Liviu Grigorica… We started taking notes – and this is a piece of advice I give to anyone who wants to enter the wine world: take notes. And then we started to learn about wine, that’s how we learned, by tasting a lot.

That was a critical moment, when the Ziua newspaper fell apart, there was a bit of chaos, and Cezar said we should do something together. And so, roughly, from 2009 to 2014, we had All in all, from 2001 to 2014, this is what I did, communicating wine, wine media, learning and telling stories about wine. During this time the wine media started to develop, the was a journalists’ association, Wine Press, there was Ovidiu Gheorghe, manager of the National Vine and Wine Patronage, which supported the efforts of journalists trying to learn about wine. Then wine journalists gained weight on the market – Loreta Budin, Cosmin Zidurean, Gabriela Maris, Sorin Barariu… We were a very interesting group of people.

Wine gives you people, travel and experience

Valentin Ceafalau: It was the romantic age of the Romanian mass media, at least it was still a golden age for the wine media, in other areas the romanticism was already gone or about to become extinct… There was no access to information, not like today, there were no bloggers, no trainers, teachers or communicators… There were only a handful of people, we tried to write as fair as we could about events, wines, tastings, festivals… We evolved together, along with the wine shelf, with the entire wine industry.

And, step by step, work turned into passion, and I still love what I do, it’s the kind of passion that you can’t part with. And, although I’ve written it before, I’ve said it before, I repeat this on every occasion I get: for me, wine is not the drink itself, it’s the joy of discovery. Wine has already made me happy countless times, from traveling to the lovely people I met because of wine or because we shared this passion for wine. There were also a few problems, of course, because of wine, and I learned my lesson, because wine can remind you what humbleness really means. True humbleness. I was in Budapest, at VinCe, the second year of the festival, I was twenty-something years old when Agnes Nemeth invited me… I was at the Fisherman’s Bastion, on the seat next to me was Peter McCombie, Master of Wine, but I didn’t know he was experienced… And our discussion turned into a slightly heated polemic. When I went to the bathroom, he followed me, gave me his business card, when I saw the title my knees got a bit weak, and he said something like "I like the way you debate, the way you approach the problem, but in this case you are not right. But I didn’t want to break your arguments at the table. Study more, read more, you are on the right track". And, from that moment, I understood that in this world of wine, one has to stay modest.

God Syndrome and things we don’t know

Wines of Romania: In the beginning, it feels like you that you have discovered a new world, you feel like you are the first to step into this new world and like the only one who understands it…

Valentin Ceafalau: Yes, I call it the God Syndrome. You discover the world, take the first steps and feel the strongest being in that world. Then you realize how much ]you don’t know, and finally you realize that you will never know everything.

Wines of Romania: In your wine-related career, you have some remarkable landmarks. One is the benchmark taster title at the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles. Let’s explain what it means… How many times have you been in the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles jury?

Valentin Ceafalau: I went to 16 editions, as a juror or as head of a committee. I was absent once because I got the flu at the Luxembourg wine competition, and they make a tough analysis of the way you score, of your evolution as a taster. They check if you are consistent, if you are if you are in line with the other jurors’ grades… Every day, one of the samples is introduced twice, to check how well you are calibrated. And I clearly did not have the capacity to judge. The second time was during the pandemic, when I was heading for the contest I had a false positive result in the Covid test. I could have had 17 or 18 editions. Anyway, I am the Romanian taster with the most editions attended at the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles.

Benchmark taster is a prize they offer to the first five jurors in the competition, after analyzing the results over five years. In Romania, this title is still held by Georgel Costache, from Vincon. Our friend, Daniel Ercsey, who represents Hungary, won this title twice. The last time the title was awarded in 2019, when I got it, and since then no one has won it. It is a recognition of the taster’s qualities, in essence, but also of the objective and professional analysis of the wines.

Keep an eye on Wines of Romania for the second part of the interview with Valentin Ceafalau. Find out what being on the National Wine Tasting Team involves, how to tasting glasses and how wine stories are told at the winery, different from what you find in the magazines!

📷 Photo source: Valentin Ceafalau


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