Few Words about Zoltan Szabo

We met Zoltan Szabo in a fancy wine bar in Bucharest called GastroLab, the place where he spends most of his time when he is in Bucharest. Zoltan was more than happy to share some words with us about his love for wines.

For those who don’t know, Zoltan has an experience of more than 20 years in the wine world, most of them in the Canadian wine industry. He is a wine educator, has judged for several wine competitions and wrote for some famous magazines like Financial TimesShanghai DailyAsian Gourmet and the list may continue. In terms of global wine trade, he also worked for Skyline Boutique Hotels & Resorts and Trump International Hotel. Currently, Zoltan is a wine director at a prestigious resort but let’s hear more from him.

Hello Zoltan!

Welcome to Romania!

1) We do know you and your great professional experience as a sommelier in Canada. Still, I am definitely sure that people would love to hear more things about you. Therefore, please let’s start this interview by telling us more things about you.

Who is Zoltan Szabo? How did all of this passion for wine start? And how come Canada?

I was born and raised in Covasna county, and lived there half of my life, but when the opportunity has shown I could not resist and moved to Canada. I was young, excited and ready to take on my new life in Toronto, despite arriving with two suitcases, not much money, and not speaking English much. I started working as a dishwasher in a celebrated Italian restaurant, where I learned a lot, and eventually in about 4 years or so, became the manager of it. While working, I also attended school and took wine courses, graduating in around 2000, becoming a certified Sommelier (by the International Sommelier Guild).

2) How did you find the Romanian wine world after so many years of absence?

It was a pleasant surprise to see the evolution of the industry, especially when it comes to the quality aspect. Some are as good as any wines, anywhere.

3) How would you describe the Romanian wine consumer in comparison with the Canadian ones?

The younger generation (of Romanians), 25 to 40, are certainly curious and open – minded, are information – seekers and willing to try the better quality wines (that also cost more), and appreciate the higher standards, when as the older folks are somewhat left in the past, at the stages of home winemaking and home cooking, and I don’t mean this statement as an insult…

4) What would be the main problems, challenges that the Romanian wine industry needs to face nowadays?

Defining a style and (regional) aspect for the wines are a must, focusing on native varieties also important, as well as a common agreement as how to go about properly marketing the industry as a whole. Finding lucrative export markets and knowledgeably (wine) industry ambassadors are key. Government support is also helpful. And, education, education, education…starting at restaurant staff…

5) It is said that wine tourism means visiting vineyards, wineries, wine festivals and events, during which the tasting and consumption of wine and experiencing the attributes of the wine-growing region are the primary motivations (Mintel, 2017). 

Do you agree or is wine tourism more than that? Is Romania prepared for this kind of tourism?

The country and the regions are ready, indeed, but again, it’s the people that can make it happen, the people must be ready, and be knowledgeable, and know the business of gastronomy well… and they must work hard, and therefore, get paid properly…

6) We are all definitely curious to hear about your future projects. So, please tell us more about your work in the wine industry, here in Romania.

I currently work as the wine director of a resort and its 3 restaurant, as well as I am involved with a wine importing / distributing company…also, I will be associated with a wine bar (and wine shop) in Bucharest…

7) When did you decide to come back in Romania and what made you take this decision?

Simple. To be with family. 25 years of being away was just enough. And, I am hoping that with the knowledge I have accumulated by working abroad, internationally, over 3 continents, and traveling across 5 continents and 80 countries, I will be able to contribute to boasting the image and reputation of the great wines produced here.

The interview comes to an end, so I thank you for all the answers. Before we say good bye – what would be your last message to the Romanians?

Be happy. Love everyone. And, drink good wines !!

Zoltan Szabo