Every year in our country we live more or less important alcohol crisis: new excise, Unified State System of Automatic Information, import license etc.
Are there roots?
Today an average Russian person drinks about 6–7 liters of wine per year: in 1985 this rate was minimum twice higher, like in Northern Europe. Strange figures are given bu Russian wine producers: from 73 million deciliters of wine with mark «made in Russia» only 27 millions are made from Russian grape, 24 millions are bottled in Russia from wine raw materials from Chile and Spain. Simple calculation shows that 22 millions are not wine made of something non-declared. Boris Titov, a businessman, real owner of famous «Abrau-Durso» and a Chief of the Soviet of the Union of Vine-growers and Wine-makers of Russia, has the same opinion.
The figures would destroy any idea of serious Russian wine-making. Especially from the point of view of the customer — should he or she find easily a real wine among all these Russian names on the shelf in a shop, or should he or she prefer a protected by the law and the Imported status Chilean or Argentinian one? However the discussion of Russian wine producing sector should be started. Just because to choose a wine is not so easy even for a professional, and the complex system of french or Italian classifications is much more complicated that our step and under the hill terroirs.
The fact that Russian wine exists has been proving since 2003, traditionally, appealing to Western authorities. French style of names of wine and wineries in Russia — this is the heritage of the first decade of the XXI century. The quantity of pro-French wine-making houses is more than 10 — Chateau le Grand Vostok, Chateau Tamagne, Gui Codzor, Lefkadia and so on. They imported not only vine with wire, trellies and special droppers (there is no production of these items in Russia). For significant money they invited specialists from the motherland of Lafitte and Hennessy: young, like Frank Duneusser, lived for more than 10 years in a small village Sadoviy near poor Krimsk, and famous and experienced like Patrick Leon wine-maker from Bordeaux, Chile and California.
It looks like wine-making sector in Russia is a caprice of the rich 2012, when good income let auctioneers of Gazprom and gas and oil holding owners to invest money in personal Chateau and Villa with vineyards. But the fact is that the deal is not so easy.
From Khazar to Greece
Following the route through Northern Caucasus, Stavropol region and the Don Valley one will absolutely remark almost every house has a small, well hold vineyard, used for shadow while summer heat and giving some harvest in the Fall. Typical odor of fermenting grape juice flies from house to house in October. A sort of eau-de-vie, home-made vodka «samogon» is also made from grape juice (sometimes called «raka»). That is the way of wine-making characteristic for ancient Caucasus — would you take 1000 or 5000 years ago. It is not so evident for Russians, but it is a proved fact, that vine-growing and wine-making was born at Caucsus in about Vth century before J. C. As the ancestor of all cultivated vine vitis vinifera grows wildly here. Currently, Georgia and Armenia are disputing the priority, as it seems to be that the word WINE, having the same roots in almost all the languages comes from Georgian one ღვინო — «gvino».
Before coming to Greece, not even to Spain or France, vine-growing step over the Caucasus mountains and put its roots in Dagestan and Black Sea Shore Area. They used to make wine 2,5 thousand years ago in the Greek polices in Tamagne, than, in Khazaria, in the Adig villages, later by the Don and the Terek Cossacks. The latest left vines with strange names like krasnostop, sibirkoviy, kumshatskiy. Not well known and very rare Adigs sorts of vines: betchepl, sanatkh, and Dagestans ones — narma, gulyabi. All of them are close to Geogian and Balkan vines and have lass common with European Sangiovese or Cabernet. The simpliest Cossacks wine chikhir' from red grape is still made in Caucasian villages up to now, and in Tsimlyansk an old Cossack tradition was implemented in a method of red wine-making. Local vine krasnostop becomes more and more popular, the wine start to age in casks os Adigs oak, which is comparable with French one.
After appearance Russia in Caucasus, wine-making became important and got European luxury. Peter the Great personally planted some Rein and Hungarian vines in the Don Valley, Catherine II paid the most attention to Burgundy vine in the Kuma Valley (that gave a name to one of villages Burgun-Madgari). Won at the Western Caucasus in mid XIX, the tzar looked that way and in 1871 in the region of Novorossiyssk a domaine appears called Abrau-Durso, where they try to make champagne by champenois method taught by a Champaniard. Vine-growing household under Gelendgik, Anapa, Pyatigorsk invite German and Italian specialists.
After 1920 an era of cheap and mass wine came, but from Khrushev times wine-making collective households reappeared with own vineyards and wineries, at the shelf one could see not only sweety fruit-and-berry advantageous drinks like «Anapa» and «Solntsedar», but dry wine Miskhako, Vityazevo, Naurskoy. The science developed at the same time, soviet scientist Negrul A.M. founded current school of genetics, selections and classification of grapes. Research Institutes and experiment station appeared all over the Soviet Union: till now Novotcherkassk Institute of vine-growing and wine-making keeps working. Nevertheless the retard of the European trends was evident and the anti-alcohol campaign of 1985 reinforced it as lots of vineyards were destroyed.
One of the soviet heritages is the word and meaning of wine-factory, a plant, producing wine of all sorts of materials not somewhere in the pastoral South landscapes, but inside the MCAR (Moscow Circle Auto Road), in Saint-Petersburg or even in Perm. Deeper was fall of wine-makers, higher became flight of bottlers, and the process is in progress. It is protected by the Federal Law 171 from 1995, keeping the worst Soviet stereotypes including the wine ones. According to this law wine can be made of any fruit adding ethyl. Crisis of 90th killed Russian wine-making definitely and only investments of 2000 helped to save it.
63 thousand hectares of Russian vineyards are situated in the Southern part from 47 degree of NW (Tsimlyansk) till 42 dgree of SW (Derbent), the golden altitude of France and Italy. Today vine-growing and wine-making there is not same due to geographical, political and economical factors. According to the data of the Union of Vine-growers and Wine-makers of Russia the area of vineyards are distributed following way: Krasnodar region — 22700 h, Dagestan — 22700 h, Stavropol region — 7000 h, Rostov region — 5000 h, Checheny — 1900 h, Kabardino-Balkarya — 1300 h.
Zones are classified like: the Don, the Kuban, the Stavropolie, the Terek Valley, Dagestan. From 2013 these names, as recommended the UVGWMR can appear at labels. That should concertize the notion of «wine of geographical name» implemented on the 1st of January 2008 as amendment to the State Standards. Finally Russian customers could know from which place comes grape for the wine. The next step will be precise smaller zones and the sorts of vine and types of wine. Like Right Bank of the Don, Anapa, Gelendgik, Derbent.
Marketing of Russian producers is not so original. Today they exploit the Ancient Greece theme: leading winery of the Kuban is called «Fanagoria» as the ancient Greek site famous for its amphora. Dionysus fasts with dancing costumed heroes in tunics and laurels decorate meeting Halls of wine-makers from Abrau-Durso. The Don uses Cossacks idea («Tsimlyanskie Vina», «Vina Vedernikova» wearing the name of a village with 340 years of history)/ Even Khazars are touched — «Tsimlyanskie vina» called one of the lines «Chateau Sarkel» in glory of a fortress of XI century, and by the way, this fortress, drowned while construction of the Tsimlyansk Reservoir together with the eldest vineyards of Russia, will be rebuilt.
All this tossing from one concept to another as well as overuse of Chateau and Cru at labels didn’t assist Russian wine-making by increasing distance from roots, getting European style which is not so familiar to our geographical conditions like chernozem. Having the same altitude as Bordeaux or Toscana, Russian vineyards are very special in terms of climate. «Problem of Russian South is frost, coming for two weeks once per five years. Merlot, Pinot Noir and lots of other French grapes do not support this, that is why their future in Russia is doubtful, even though they are en vogue» — says Philipp Ricou, a French wine-maker from Austria, consultant of household «Raevskoe» under Anapa. At the same time he pays attention to the black earth, thought useless for vine, lowlands and Caucasus oak, adding: «In Russia we face the last not opened yet great wine region». When 8 years ago our self-criticizing sommeliers heard an equal idea from a outstanding Brittish wine writer Robert Joseph, they decided that the silly British as usual adds Crimea and Kakhetia to Russia.
Today there is no doubt that Russian wine-makers overcame their Soviet colleagues both in investments and marketing. Last years wine press looks after the Kuban and the Don. Simple Wine News the biggest magazine of the sector for five years has been writing about Russian wine. In the schools of sommeliers courses of Russian wine-making take their place. «Afisha-Eda» has recently organized a great tasting of Russian wines, preceded by an aggressive campaign for Cabernet and Chardonnay from the Kuban in Moscow restaurants. There are competitions like «South Russia», Artur Sarkisyan, a leading Moscow sommelier, makes its wine guide, special sites as Wine Encyclopedia appears. Some Kuban and Don wines are remarked in London and Frankfurt, enter into Moscow trading companies lists together with imported wine. Only a lazy doesn’t write and speak about Russian wine-making, even though three years ago the idea provoked skeptical thoughts. This is the case of patriotic wine boom.
More than 40 producers make wine from proper grape officially or partially officially. More than 80% of them are concentrated in the Krasnodar region, favorable for wine-makers: climate, both natural and investments, tourists and aid from the governor, A. Tkachev. «The problem is also that wine is considered like a spirit, and in the whole world it is a product of agriculture. I think that we will come to it in Russia soon», — declared Mr. Tkachev in his Twitter after a regular meeting with wine-makers on the 26th of September. Of course, there is a personal interest as the wife of the governor possesses a Chateau near Gelendgik.
Helas, wine-making doesn’t developed to the east and north of the Kuban. There are only three licensed wineries in the Rostov region, a couple in the Stavropol region. Checheny campaign damaged irreparably vine-growing sector of the Terek valley. 500 years local vines were cultivated ther but Cossacks left the region and Islam doesn’t favor wine-tasting. The vineyards of Dagestan are hold in monopoly by State Unit «Dagvino», the harvest goes to brandy of Kizlyar and Derbent.
Out of Law
The crisis of change of license started last year dropped the majority of wineries. Leonid Popovitch, the director of the Russian Union of Vine-growers and Wine-makers, says that for an enterprise just to get positive trend in terms of satisfying state taxes it is necessary to have at least 100 hectares of vine, what means 50 million rubles of investments.
Absurd, but in 2011 became the year of coming out of «garage wineries, making wine without any license. The term Russian home wine-makers took from France, where this notion was applied to non-conform wine-makers from Bordeaux who made wine breaking rules and classifications in their garages as having 2–3 h of lands didn’t give enough money for better conditions.
Our garagists are wealthier they usually have twenty hectares of French vines, a wine restaurant with a hotel, modern equipment. And the most important is that they are not afraid to stand up for their opinion against the power. Majority of them are under Anapa and Novorossiyssk, there are some near Tsimlyansk. Their names — Karakezidi, Tolstoy, Oparin, Loginov — are used very often by wine press as sometimes their products are much better than some legal.
A law of Farmer wines may come up soon, which could open doors to garagists. And now while Moscow authorities ponder on, local functionary try to contact illegal wine-makers, at the meeting with Mr. Tkachev, for example, there were many of them. «It sounds like change. The market is in agitation, new players come easily», — tells a participant of the meeting Andrey Kulichkov from winery «Sober — Bush» under Krasnodar. — «and the power understands, that more than half of people in the hall makes wine without any license, marks and so on, however they are not arrested but invited to the meeting».
And while meetings are going on, Russian wine is drifting to the direction defined 10 years ago. The increase of the market will stop soon, as there will be lack of skilled customers able to find a good bottle with «made in Russia» label on the shelf and our products will need the same strick regulation as in the Old and New Worlds. It can happen that we will not avoid the system of appellations, best wine of the region, best grapes and so on. This is the only way for a customer buying a bottles with Bordeaux AOC on the etiquette to have an idea of what is inside.
In 2006 such a system was implemented in Georgia, having 18 regions. But we should not forget that wine controlled by origin make the same culture as cabbage, tomato, cucumbers and other product ideal in some region. Hungary is good in its law protecting their Tokay, Chardash and cube of Rubik in the Hungaricum project. That is the way for our krasnostop of the Don, sparkling «Abrau-Durso» together with Orenburg kerchief, Tula treacle cake, Astrakhan roach. Helas, but only two products are currently controlled by origin — Oil from Surgut and Gaz from Yamal. It would be sad if wine-making should pass though scandals like Austrian in 1985, when producers were caught on strengthen wine by antifreeze. The only hope is that when the law of farmer wines becomes real the wine of the South Russia will become a pleasant attribute of summer, and later the wide appreciation will follow.
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