Explore / The Road Less Travelled

Prince Stirbey: A story of persecution, love and beautiful wine

Contents

Rosie Allen Rosie Allen

In 1999 Princess Ileana Stirbey and Baron Jakob Kripp embarked on a wine journey like no other: to reclaim and revive Illeana's family wine estate, which had been forcibly taken from the family in the 1950s, under Romania's brutal communist regime.

Princess Ileana Stirbey and Baron Jakob Kripp
Princess Ileana Stirbey and Baron Jakob Kripp

Two decades on and Ileana and Jakob are making stunning wines from their estate in the foothills of the Transylvanian Alps. This is their story.

A love story in the making

'Ileana and I fell in love in the German wine region of Baden; walking through vineyards of grauburgunder and merlot we decided to continue our journey in life together. We had no idea where it would lead us.

Ileana was born in Romania, a country which had fascinated me for many years, having read about its unspoilt natural treasures, its mountains full of wildlife and its fascinating history. On our honeymoon I immediately fell in love with Romania's enchanting landscapes and charming people. For Ileana it was her first visit for 28 years: she had left Romania as a child with her family because she couldn't see any future in the communist country it had become. Persecuted, land expropriated, they had faced a life without any hope of peace or freedom. But by now the world had changed and Ileana was able to rediscover her ancestors´ country in brighter circumstances, and to re-meet relatives and friends she hadn´t seen for decades.

As a lawyer, I immediately realised that Ileana´s family would have a good chance to get back at least a part of the estate that had been expropriated illegaly under the communist regime in the period 1945-1989. We arrived in Dragasani for the first time in January 1999 to file the restitution claim, and Ileana and I immediately fell in love with the place.

Vineyards at Prince Stirbey

Communism, persecution, repatriation: A troubled history

Ileana´s great-grandfather Prince Barbu Alexandru Stirbey was one of the wealthiest noblemen in Romania he was a descendent of one of the oldest families of the country, dating back to the 15th century. Their wines were hugeley renowned: one beautiful reference I found is a menu from the Orient Express, dating from 1925, with 'Dining Car Stirbey' and 'Muscat Ottonel Stirbey' on the wine list.

Barbu Stirbey carried on this legacy into the 20th century. He was an entrepreneur and very modern in his marketing, establishing a high-value brand for his wines. Putting the esteemed family name on the wine labels gave a guarantee of quality. He even hired a couple of young, creative Romanian artists to make a series of funny adverts for his wines.

However, all this collapsed in 1945. The communist regime, installed by the Soviet Union after World War II, forced the economic collapse of privately-owned agriculture by creating unsupportably high taxes and galloping inflation. Between 1945 and 1950, the communists illegally expropriated all the large properties, including livestock, inventories and machinery, almost overnight. After 1950, all smaller farmers were forced to become members of co-operatives (kolckozes), handing over their land to the kolckozes´ communist managers. Many of Ileana´s relatives – like hundreds of thousands of Romanians - ended up in prison or forced labour camps, and many died there of famine or lack of medical treatment.

Ileana and her parents tried to escape, finally succeeding in 1969 with the help of a famous friend of her family, Henry Coanda, then living in France. He invited Ileana to a French language course, and she came – and obviously lost her return ticket…

In 2001, 20 hectares of vineyard and the winery´s buildings were handed over to Ileana

Giving new life to old roots

It wasn't until after the Iron Curtain fell in 1989 that things began to change. In the beginning restitution of agricultural land was possible only for very small plots, but in 1997 a new law allowed restitution of up to 50 hectars agricultural land to the rightful owners.

We began the claim for the vineyards in Dragasani in January 1999. And in 2001, 20 hectares of vineyard and the winery´s buildings were handed over to Ileana.

It was then, during a sleepless night in a hotel room in Dragasani, excited about the freshly obtained family estate, Ileana and I plotted our very first plans for the future of the property. Obviously we felt a strong obligation to Ileana´s ancestors, who ended up in prison and suffered so much for the place. But we saw also a huge opportunity in bringing something new to the European wine market: wines of unknown grape varieties from a completely undiscovered wine region, far away from the beaten tracks of wine enthusiasts, who are always curious to discover something new.

My brother is a winegrower in South Tyrol so we invited him to Dragasani and asked his opinion. He said 'if you don´t start to make wine here, I will come and do it!'. The rest is history. We decided to give new life to the old family winery in Dragasani, and starting with our first vintage in 2003, we were the first winery in Romania run by the former owners, producing wines under their own family brand.

We are proud of all of our wines, which would not be possible without the devotion, enthusiasm and passion of our whole team, working in the vineyards in winter at minus 20 degrees as well as in summer in excess of 40-45 degrees. We know though that they are proud to work at Stirbey winery, just as their ancestors before them.'

Working in the vineyards at Prince Stirbey

View Prince Stirbey Wines

Society Promise
Members before profit
Awards

Our website uses cookies with the aim of providing you with a better service. By using this website you consent to The Wine Society using cookies in accordance with our policy.

Close

4.4. Cookie Policy

By using The Wine Society website, you agree to cookies being used in accordance with the policy outlined below. If you do not agree to this, you must alter your browser settings to turn off cookies or block those types which are unacceptable to you or cease using the website.

The Wine Society uses cookies to enable easy navigation and shopping on the website. We take the privacy of all who use our website very seriously and ensure that our use of cookies complies with current EU legislation. The following guide outlines what cookies are, the types of cookies used on The Society's website and how they work.

You may alter your browser settings to turn off cookies or block those types which are unacceptable to you, but this will cause difficulties when accessing and using some areas of the site. Instructions on how to do this can also be found below.

4.4.1. What are 'Cookies'?

  • Most major websites use cookies.
  • A cookie is a very small data file placed on your hard drive by a web page server. It is essentially your access card, and cannot be executed as code or deliver viruses. It is uniquely yours and can only be read by the server that gave it to you.
  • Cookies cannot be used by themselves to identify you.
  • The purpose of a basic cookie is to tell the server that you returned to that web page or have items in your basket. Without cookies, websites and their servers have no memory. A cookie, like a key, enables swift passage from one place to the next.
  • Without a cookie every time you open a new web page the server where that page is stored will treat you like a completely new visitor.
  • More recently, cookies have also been used to collect information about the user which allows a profile of their preferences and interests to be created so that they can be served with interest-based rather than generic information about available goods and services.

4.4.2. How do Cookies help The Wine Society?

Cookies allow our website to function effectively. Cookies also help us to arrange content to match your preferred interests more quickly. We can learn what information is important to our visitors, and what isn't.

4.4.3. How does The Wine Society use cookies?

The Wine Society does not accept advertising from third parties and therefore, as a rule, does not serve third-party cookies. Exceptions to this include performance/analytical cookies (see below), used anonymously to improve the way our website works, the provision of personalised recommendations, and occasions when we may team up with suppliers to offer special discounts on goods or services.

The Society uses technology to track the patterns of behaviour of visitors to our site.

4.4.4. What type of cookies does The Wine Society use?

We use the following three types of cookies:

4.4.4.1. Strictly Necessary Cookies
These cookies are required for the operation of our website, enabling you to move around the website and use its features, such as accessing secure areas of the website. Without these cookies, services like shopping baskets or e-billing cannot be provided. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Authentication Cookie and Anonymous Cookie
    These cookies remember that you are logged in to your account – without them, the website would repeatedly request your login details with each new page you visit during your time on our website. They are removed once your session has ended.
  • Session Cookie
    These cookies are used to remember who you are as you use our site: without them, the website would be unable to tell the difference between you and another Wine Society member and facilities such as your basket and the checkout process would therefore not be able to function. They too are removed once your session has ended.

4.4.4.2. Functionality & Targeting/Tracking Cookies
These cookies are used to recognise you when you return to our website and to provide enhanced features. This allows us to personalise our content for you. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Unique User Cookie
    This cookie is used to:
    • store your share number in order to identify that you have visited the website before. Without this cookie, we would be unable to tell whether you are a member or not.
    • record your visit to the website, the pages you have visited and the links you have followed. We use this information to make our website, the content displayed on it and direct marketing communications we may send to you or contact you about more relevant to your interests.
    • This cookie expires after 13 months.
  • Peerius Cookies
    These third-party cookies are used to provide you with personalised recommendations based on your purchase and browsing history. They expire within 4 hours of your visit.

4.4.4.3. Performance/analytical cookies
These cookies collect information about how visitors use a website, for instance which pages visitors go to most often, and if they get error messages from web pages. These cookies don't collect information which identifies a visitor. All information these cookies collect is aggregated and therefore anonymous. It is only used to improve how a website works. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Google Analytics Cookies
    These are third-party cookies to enable Google Analytics to monitor website traffic. All information is recorded anonymously. Using Google Analytics allows The Society to better understand how members use our site and monitor website traffic.

4.4.4.4. Authentication Cookie
In order for us to ensure that your data remains secure it is necessary for us to verify that your session is authentic (i.e. it has not been compromised by a malicious user). We do this by storing an otherwise meaningless unique ID in a cookie for the duration of your visit. No personal information can be gained from this cookie.

4.4.5. How do you turn cookies off?

All modern browsers allow you to modify your cookie settings so that all cookies, or those types which are not acceptable to you, are blocked. However, please note that this may affect the successful functioning of the site, particularly if you block all cookies, including essential cookies. For example, In Internet Explorer, go to the Tools Menu, then go to Internet Options, then go to Privacy. Here you can change the rules your browser uses to accept cookies. You can find out more in the public sources mentioned below.

4.4.6. Learn more about cookies

4.4.7. Changes to our cookie policy

Any changes we may make to our cookie policy in the future will be posted on the website and, where appropriate, notified to you by email. Please check back frequently to see any updates and changes to our cookie policy.