While visiting the Cricova winery near Chisinau, the guide described Yuri Gagarin’s visit, and I thought this was worth blogging.
The Cricova complex is built into 120 kilometres of caves, where the temperature and humidity is stable at the best level for storing wine.
There are several elegant tasting rooms, and I got to try some of the wines in the European tasting room, as used by Yuri Gagarin on his visit.
After his historic spaceflight, he toured the world as a symbol of the superiority of the Soviet system. This frequently involved large amounts of alcohol, not least because everyone wanted a drink with him, and in Russian culture it would be very rude to refuse. There are also plenty of reports that he began to find the role frustrating, when it was suggested that he was too important to risk on another spaceflight.
So that’s the background to the story told by the tour guides of his visit, where he apparently “tasted” wine for 2 days continuously before being carried out unconcious…
But they proudly display his photo by the entrance to the rooms, along with a letter he wrote them in thanks for their hospitality.
Here is the text of the letter, in Russian:
For those unfamiliar with the rest of his life – he overcame his alcohol problems, and worked relentlessly to regain flight status. He was assigned as backup to cosmonaut Komarov for the tragic Soyuz 1 flight., which flew in April 1967. This was known to be a reckless flight, before the hardware was fully ready, and Gagarin tried to persuade Komarov to swap with him, giving the reason that once they realised Gagarin was in the craft, they would cancel the flight.
Komarov was not having it, and after a brief flight plagued with problems, died in the descent. Komarov also said that if he refused Gagarin would be forced to fly it, so both men tried to prevent the other from taking on the mission. There’s a good summary on Vladimir Komarov’s Wikipedia page:
In the attempted landing, the descent module slammed into the ground at full speed.
The loss of Gagarin was a huge blow to the morale of the Soviet manned program, particularly having lost the visionary chief designer Sergei Korolev in 1966.