Disgruntled lovers are snapping up bottles of one of Europe's most exclusive vintages to send to their ex lovers on Valentine's Day - a secret wine produced entirely by residents of the continent's last leper colony. Hidden for years from the public eye by Romania's former communist regime, the lepers of Tichilesti on the Danube Delta have continued an ancient tradition of wine-making stretching back to the Middle Ages. Now the St Lazarus Leper Wine - named after the patron saint of sufferers of the disease - is being sold world-wide to raise funds for the community and its remaining residents.
The wine was inspired by the late mayor of the colony Cristache Tatulea, who inspired the villagers to become more self sufficient and reach out to the world. "When I arrived there were hundreds of lepers here and it was a desolate place. There were ramshackle wooden huts with mud floors and nothing in the way of any amenities. Together we built proper houses, raised crops to earn extra money for luxuries and restoring the vineyards were a personal project of mine," he explained in his last interview before his death.
Cristache often spent days in the field protecting the vines from birds before leading the harvest of the sweet, red grapes that go to make up the full-bodied wine. Now the wine he produced is available at www.leperwine.com after his friend David Rogers arranged for it to be sold through shippers in Austria.
"We had often spoken jokingly about selling his wine around the world - it was so good considering the little he had to work with," explained David. "I want this to be a tribute to his name and to show his family and the remaining lepers how much of an inspiration he was to everyone that met him," he added. Although leprosy sufferers are now no longer forced to live in the colony, most have been cut off from their old lives for decades. "Many of the resdients are now very old and the sale of Leper Wine will help support their community and lifestyle and ensure that the tradition of caring for each other continues at Tichilesti," said David.