Russia's Vineyards on the Black Sea Coast
Part 1, an introduction
Chateau Le Grand Vostock
I’m lucky. I get to visit wine regions
worldwide on a fairly regular basis. Most of these trips are
interesting, but this one was one of the most interesting of all,
largely because it was so unusual.
I was visiting Russia for the first time,
to take a look at some of the leading vineyards on the Black Sea
coast. For those of us who grew up here during the Cold War, Russia
still has a sense of mystery, foreign-ness and even danger. It used
to be pretty much inaccessible for those of us in the west; even
now, it is regularly portrayed as the ‘wild east’ in TV shows
Noir, Myskhako winery
As far as I can work out, there’s no
official name for the wine region near the Black Sea. Technically,
it is known by either the old name of the state, Kuban, or the more
modern name of Krasnodor Krai. But this refers to a large area—one
of the 83 federal states in Russia—and we’re focusing here
specifically on the area west of Krasnodar, where most of Russia’s
wineries are found, and where I flew into. So it’s probably best
to refer to this wine region as the Russian Black Sea Coast.
vineyards, Villa Victoria
Geographically, this is the northern
coast of the Black Sea, and includes the Taman peninsular which has
the Black Sea on one side and the Sea of Azov on the other. The
latitude is the same as Bordeaux and Piedmont, and the Greeks made
wine here 2500 years ago. So it should be a good place to grow wine
grapes, given the right soils and varieties.
old-style Russian winery with enamel-lined iron tanks
Some 80% of Russia’s vineyards are
found here. Under the Communist era, the Soviet Union used to make a
lot of wine, and was fourth in the list of global producers.
Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine had substantial vineyard areas, and
Russia itself had a lot of vines. Then in the mid-1980s Gorbachev
instituted reforms to combat alcoholism that resulted in lots of
vineyards being pulled up, and production dropping to a third of
more modern installation
It’s important to note that not all
wine labelled ‘Russian’ is actually made from Russian grapes.
There still exist many wine factories, supplementing Russian grapes
with imported bulk wine and even grape juice concentrate, yet still
labelling the resulting wine as Russian. This is a depressing
situation, and makes life hard for the guys playing it straight.
However, my visit was focused on wineries aiming at making quality
wines entirely from Russian-grown grapes. Where this isn’t the
case, I have noted it.
I travelled with consultant winemaker
John Worontschak, who is an Australian based in the UK, but whose
parents were from Ukraine. John first came to work in Russia in
2002, when he started consulting for the Myskhako winery. At the
time, he encountered lots of oxidised wines and people were working
with old equipment. Since then, he says, there has been a small
revolution, with the wines getting better and better every year.
John consults for three of the wineries I visited on this trip.
In this series I’ll be describing my
visit, and the wines I encountered. There were some really nice
surprises along the way.
Part 2, Château le Grand Vostock
Part 3, Fanagoria
Part 4, Villa Victoria
Part 5, Myskhako
Part 6, Abrau Durso
Part 7, other wines tasted
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