A small group of business leaders from Gagauzia, Moldova, were treated to a taste of Lodi on Wednesday.
The group was in town as part of the Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program.
Lodi is in the very middle of the delegation’s visit to the United States. The group arrived in Washing ton on Feb. 3, and will return to Moldova on Feb. 22.
Led by local grape grower Frank Gayaldo, the delegation’s day in the Lodi area began at 9:30 a.m. at the Barsetti Vineyards in Galt. There, the group watched Barsetti workers prune grape vines.
From there, the group went to the Velvet Grill Restaurant and Creamery in Galt, before arriving at the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center at 11:45 a.m., where they toured Wine & Roses Hotel.
The Moldovans toured Abundance Vineyards and Mondavi’s Woodbridge Winery in the early afternoon before having lunch at the Dancing Fox Winery and Bakery in Downtown.
The delegation stopped in at the Gold Coast Wine Group in the Woolworth Building on School Street, where Mikhail Pashaly, director of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Gagauzia, and Sergey Terebkov, president and founder of the Slavic American Chamber of Commerce, signed a memorandum of understanding to work together to promote Moldovan business abroad.
The delegation was then treated to a walking tour of Downtown, where they visited the Lodi District Chamber of Commerce, as well as Visit Lodi!
Speaking through an interpreter, Pashaly said the trip to Lodi was a positive one, and he saw many similarities between the San Joaquin Valley town and his own region of Moldova — primarily the climate and their strong agritourism industries.
He added he and his colleagues saw many things they would like to implement through their Chamber of Commerce in Gaugazia, including building a stronger infrastructure, building and promoting hotels, and fundraising to promote business.
“California’s experience and promoting everything local is something of value, and we look to that as a model,” Pashaly said, adding it was important for his colleagues to become engaged in a cultural exchange with California.
He said what was most remarkable was the way Lodi has developed its agritourism, from building ramps to make businesses accessible to those with disabilities, to the way smaller, independently-owned wineries work night and day to create a great product.
“While our farms aren’t economically strong, each and every house in Moldova has made wine for their own consumption, and in sizable quantities,” he said.
Pashaly added it was remarkable how smaller-sized growers and winemakers form associations to address issues they face throughout the year. He said Moldova is not shy about learning how California winemakers work, to help their own industry become successful.
“A lot of potential value can happen here,” Terebkov said before signing the MOU. “We need to not just sign papers, but also make things happen.”
Terebkov’s Sacramento-based organization has been committed to promoting Slavic businesses in the U.S. in recent years, and he said Wednesday’s visit was a two-way street where both sides can learn how to promote themselves abroad.
“We do understand both sides very well, both culturally and business-wise,” he said. “Lots of groups come from all over the world to California to promote their businesses and investors, and we’re committed to helping them do that here.”
Moldova is a former state of the Soviet Union, and gained independence in 1991. Since that time, the country has grown some of the most popular wines in Europe.
In recent years, Moldova has been torn between keeping close ties with Russia or joining the European Union for economic purposes.
Gayaldo said Moldovan President Nicolae Timolfte has been leaning toward joining the European Union, which has angered Russian President Vladimir Putin. As a result, Putin has gone as far as banning Moldova’s wines from being imported into Russia, Gayaldo said.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Moldova in December, encouraging the county’s wine makers to export their product to Western markets such as the United States.
Gayaldo and assistant Alexandria Solari were accompanied by Russian American Media founder Sergey Iannikov during the day trip.
The delegation’s next stops will be Albuquerque, N.M. and Ann Arbor, Mich.