KRASNODAR EMERGES

Winemaking has a long and checkered history in Russia, from being a source of sparkling wine for the tsar’s family, to providing Soviet champagne for the masses. Now, finds Felicity Carter, new investment is taking it into a new era.

Russian president Vladimir Putin is known for his stunts, whether it’s shooting tigers or teaching Siberian cranes to migrate. So no-one was surprised when he dived off the Taman Peninsula into the Black Sea and immediately found two ancient Greek urns. So pleased was he, that he immediately authorised money for a nearbymuseum, now being built.
The dive site contains remains of the ancient Greek city of Phanagoria, a rich archaeological site that’s a reminder of the area’s historic wine roots. The Taman Peninsula sits at one end of the Krasnodar Krai region, which runs along the Black Sea, which in Soviet times was the home of state wineries. Today, a group of dynamic wineries are looking to remake Krasnodar into a world-class wine area. 

Fanagoria
The province of Krasnodar, thanks to its proximity to both the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, the shallowest and smallest sea in the world, receives wind from two directions that pass over two different waters. “These two seas, while being neighbours, are of a completely different character,” explains the astoundingly knowledgeable Vladimir Pukish, public relations manager at Fanagoria winery. “The Black Sea is very deep, with a maximum depth of over 2,200 metres.” He remarks that nothing can live past 100m, thanks to the H2S content and that some scientists have said that one day the whole thing might explode. He sounds more curious than worried. The Sea of Azov, on the other hand “has a maximum depth of 13m and freezes over every winter.” Krasnodar Krai, which has more than 70 different types of black soil, isa hot, dry and pleasant holiday destination in summer, with a humidity level of around 80%; in winter, the winds from the Eurasian steppes are vine-witheringly cold.

 Fanagoria was founded in the Temriuk District in 1957 to process grapes into both wine and grape juices. A couple of forlorn juice bottles still sit on the boardroom shelves, but production ceased in 1991 after the collapse of communism, when production expenses rose rapidly. “After the collapse, the better winemaking found itself outside Russia, in Moldova and Georgia,” explains Piotr Romanishin, the managing director. “The average Russian still thinks there are no grapes grown in Russia.”

 Fanagoriysky Viticultural State Farm merged with Sennoi Winery, becoming a private company in 1996. Today, Fanagoria remains Russia’s largest estate winery:2,642 ha;22 varietals; 22mL of wine and around 50 brands, of which the Cru Lermont and NR (Numerical Reserve) are the premium brands. According to Russian wine journalists lunching at the new winery restaurant, Fanagoria is Russia’s number one “in terms of quality plus availability; there are others who have good wine, but who have difficulties reaching consumers, or there are companies who can reach the consumer who aren’t very good.”

Since 2006, more than 1bnRB ($322m) has been invested in modernisation – no small undertaking, considering it’s an old 9 ha Soviet facility, including a pottery and distillery. The venture faced formidable challenges, such as a lack of quality vine material. “In essence, our terroir is peculiar, so not all rootstocks are good for us,” says Pukish, explaining that the harsh winters will kill French rootstocks. Fanagoria created its own nursery, the only one in Russia, and now another revenue stream. It also has its own cooperage, while new crushers, presses, vats and an Italian bottling line have been installed. The restaurant sits next to a new liquor shop, whose door swings open and shut as holidaymakers pass through continuously.

In 2006, Australian flying winemaker John Worontschak was called into work alongside agronomist Pavel Kurilo and winemaker Yuri Uzunov. Worontschak had experience in the region, having worked there since 2002, a period when “things still felt very backwards” and the wines were “pretty horrible. The older wines were so oxidised, you couldn’t get any more oxygen into them,” he says. “The labels lied – they were called Chardonnay or Aligote, or whatever they needed. The hygiene was abysmal.” Now, Worontschak says, Krasnodar feels like central Spain and has decent roads and restaurants. Crucially, the region’s wines have improved, though he adds that some Russian wineries still suffer from a perception that buying new equipment can solve the problem. “A lot of wineries had very Soviet equipment, but just replacing it with Western equipment doesn’t make the wines better.”

Fanagoria’s strength, he says, is that it’s governed “by the normal rules of economics”, meaning they focus on making good wine and then reinvest the profits into the winery. Fanagoria also has a customer-centred approach: the warehouse is stacked with 6-bottle cases, because much of their wine will be delivered to small shops, run by women who find lifting six bottles easier than 12. 

As for the wines themselves, Fanagoria produces sparkling, still, fortified wines, brandies, ice wines (which have been snapped up by the Chinese) and even a liqueur. The winemakers also use the Authors Range to experiment with unusual blends, such as Cabernet and Russian varietal Tsimlyanksky Black, or Chardonnay and Aligote. The few Western journalists to have visited the region have generally agreed that the Aligote shows enormous promise in Krasnodar, with Robert Joseph going as far as to say that the local terroir “seems to fit the native Burgundy Aligote even better than its homeland”.

The Bordeaux parallel

Winemaker Roman Neborsky likes to pullout his Smartphone and show Krasnodar Krai’s latitude: 45o, the same as Bordeaux. He’s passionate about Russia’s winemaking potential and has a long ‘to do’ list. “We need to determine appellations,” he says, noting that Krasnodar has at least 20 to 30 different terroirs and is the size of Austria. He wants wine to be in a separate category from spirits. “We want to be considered part of agriculture,” he says, adding that the governor of Krasnodar also believes that wine will be an important part of the region’s future, and is actively lobbying for better laws.

Neborsky is sitting in the tasting room of Villa Victoria, a new winery at the foothills of the Caucasus mountains, halfway between Novorossiysk and the Black Sea holiday resort of Anapa. It’s so new that some equipment is still wrapped. Designed by an Italian architect, it’s a no-expense-spared building that’s cut into the hill and surrounded by steep vineyards; 36 ha are planted, but ultimately there will be 80ha. If the building itself wasn’t enough to demonstrate the region’s ambition, the three young entrepreneurs who rush into the room to ask the foreign journalist about wine tourism drive the point home. They’re developing a wine road and have no time to waste; as soon as they get their answers, they snap off their recorder and hurry out again.

“Wineries have been dominated by their Soviet past. They were state owned, or cooperatives,” explains Neborsky. “At the beginning of the twenty-first century, huge investments started. Now 95% of wineries are private.” Neborsky says that the first challenge they faced was to make faultless wines. Now they need a unique style. Another step is more liberal laws that will allow small, quality-oriented wine producers to emerge. “At the moment you need 100,000 bottles to be economic,” he says. “There is no way in for a small producer.” The ‘garagistes’ who make wine in the region do so illegally and unprofitably.

Villa Victoria has two ranges, the Bell Tree consisting of Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot, and then the top Villa Victoria range of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the latter grown at the urging of Worontschak, who also consults to Villa Victoria, and who believes the grape has a great future in the region.

Tourist attractions

Dating back to 1869, Myskhako, part of the same group as Villa Victoria, sits outside the port city of Novorossiysk. While the city itself is not lovely, being full of crumbling high-rise apartment blocks, the surrounding area is fast filling with expensive holiday homes. Myskhako has seized the moment and transformed itself into a tourist attraction.

As well as a stylish restaurant, which features ancient Greek artefacts excavated from the vineyards – both ancient remains and vast numbers of World War II bombs have been ploughed up – the winery has preserved a World War II bunker, from which Leonid Brezhnev gave out decorations; when he returned in 1974 as Russia’s premier, Myskhako created a wood-panelled tasting room especially for him. The winery has been a supplier to the Kremlin since 2005, and make a particularly stylish Merlot Grand Reserve, costing around 30 euros.

It’s a long drive from there to Abrau Durso, yet it’s one Russians are willing to make; 150,000 people a year pay 500 roubles each to visit, making it one of the most visited wineries in Europe. Founded in 1870 on the shores of Lake Abrau, it was created to provide sparkling wine for the Champagne-loving imperial family. Although its French winemakers fled during the 1917 revolution, it remained an important sparkling producer, thanks to Stalin’s desire to have a Soviet Champagne (Sovetskoye Shampanskoye). After the collapse of communism, it became a burden on the state, and oligarch Boris Titov’s company SVL agreed to take a majority stake it in 2006. SVL has not only invested more than $20m in the winery, but also in the surrounding village and lake, over which a luxury hotel now looks. Overhead, Titov’s private helicopter ferries paying passengers back and forth, while bridal parties pose in front of the lake.

The winery is a showcase, where up to 2,000 people at a time can taste in different halls. There are 5km of tunnels, in which sparkling wine is stored, and an awards hall featuring imperial-era medals. One set of wall charts proudly announce the winery’s number: how much money has been invested, how much earned, and what the average monthly wage is (25,874RUB or $832.00). There’s also a gift shop, where tourists buy smartly-packaged bottles as fast as the staff can restock shelves. 

Armen Danielyan, one of the winemaking team, conducts a tasting of technically well-made wines including Soviet champagne, and charmat and classically-made sparklings. There is also a sparkling Cabernet Sauvignon. But, Danielyan explains, although the winery produces more than 18m bottles are year, there are no plans to export, at least not on any scale. “Everything stays in Russia,” he says firmly.

Indeed, Russia is unlikely to be a wine exporter any time soon; even if the entire region was planted, it could only meet 30% of national demand. Yet Titov is clearly serious about Russia’s potential. In July 2011, the media reported that his company had bought a 60-ha estate in Gelendzhik, for still wines. And in April 2012, Abrau Durso floated on the Moscow stock exchange, with a view to doubling production to 34m bottles by 2015. 

Russia is not an easy place to produce wine. Not only is there the challenge of persuading Russian consumers to believe in them, as well as lingering problems with corruption, wineries must also contend with a thicket of ever-changing regulations. Yet Titov may soon have stiff competition. There are rumours that Putin himself is interested in owning a Black Sea winery and where he goes, others follow. That archaeological museum may have a stream of tourists as soon as it opens – overflowing from winery visits.

“Historically, Russia was part of the Old World. Now, for Europe, we position our wines as the New Old World. We are carrying something new to the Old World.” 

Since 2006, more than 1bnRB ($322m) has been invested in modernisation – no small undertaking, considering it’s an old 9 ha Soviet facility, including a pottery and distillery. The venture faced formidable challenges, such as a lack of quality vine material. “In essence, our terroir is peculiar, so not all rootstocks are good for us,” says Pukish, explaining that the harsh winters will kill French rootstocks. Fanagoria created its own nursery, the only one in Russia, and now another revenue stream. It also has its own cooperage, while new crushers, presses, vats and an Italian bottling line have been installed. The restaurant sits next to a new liquor shop, whose door swings open and shut as holidaymakers pass through continuously.

In 2006, Australian flying winemaker John Worontschak was called into work alongside agronomist Pavel Kurilo and winemaker Yuri Uzunov. Worontschak had experience in the region, having worked there since 2002, a period when “things still felt very backwards” and the wines were “pretty horrible. The older wines were so oxidised, you couldn’t get any more oxygen into them,” he says. “The labels lied – they were called Chardonnay or Aligote, or whatever they needed. The hygiene was abysmal.” Now, Worontschak says, Krasnodar feels like central Spain and has decent roads and restaurants. Crucially, the region’s wines have improved, though he adds that some Russian wineries still suffer from a perception that buying new equipment can solve the problem. “A lot of wineries had very Soviet equipment, but just replacing it with Western equipment doesn’t make the wines better.”
Fanagoria’s strength, he says, is that it’s governed “by the normal rules of economics”, meaning they focus on making good wine and then reinvest the profits into the winery. Fanagoria also has a customer-centred approach: the warehouse is stacked with 6-bottle cases, because much of their wine will be delivered to small shops, run by women who find lifting six bottles easier than 12. 
As for the wines themselves, Fanagoria produces sparkling, still, fortified wines, brandies, ice wines (which have been snapped up by the Chinese) and even a liqueur. The winemakers also use the Authors Range to experiment with unusual blends, such as Cabernet and Russian varietal Tsimlyanksky Black, or Chardonnay and Aligote. The few Western journalists to have visited the region have generally agreed that the Aligote shows enormous promise in Krasnodar, with Robert Joseph going as far as to say that the local terroir “seems to fit the native Burgundy Aligote even better than its homeland”.
The Bordeaux parallel
Winemaker Roman Neborsky likes to pullout his Smartphone and show Krasnodar Krai’s latitude: 45o, the same as Bordeaux. He’s passionate about Russia’s winemaking potential and has a long ‘to do’ list. “We need to determine appellations,” he says, noting that Krasnodar has at least 20 to 30 different terroirs and is the size of Austria. He wants wine to be in a separate category from spirits. “We want to be considered part of agriculture,” he says, adding that the governor of Krasnodar also believes that wine will be an important part of the region’s future, and is actively lobbying for better laws.
Neborsky is sitting in the tasting room of Villa Victoria, a new winery at the foothills of the Caucasus mountains, halfway between Novorossiysk and the Black Sea holiday resort of Anapa. It’s so new that some equipment is still wrapped. Designed by an Italian architect, it’s a no-expense-spared building that’s cut into the hill and surrounded by steep vineyards; 36 ha are planted, but ultimately there will be 80ha. If the building itself wasn’t enough to demonstrate the region’s ambition, the three young entrepreneurs who rush into the room to ask the foreign journalist about wine tourism drive the point home. They’re developing a wine road and have no time to waste; as soon as they get their answers, they snap off their recorder and hurry out again.
“Wineries have been dominated by their Soviet past. They were state owned, or cooperatives,” explains Neborsky. “At the beginning of the twenty-first century, huge investments started. Now 95% of wineries are private.” Neborsky says that the first challenge they faced was to make faultless wines. Now they need a unique style. Another step is more liberal laws that will allow small, quality-oriented wine producers to emerge. “At the moment you need 100,000 bottles to be economic,” he says. “There is no way in for a small producer.” The ‘garagistes’ who make wine in the region do so illegally and unprofitably.
Villa Victoria has two ranges, the Bell Tree consisting of Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot, and then the top Villa Victoria range of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the latter grown at the urging of Worontschak, who also consults to Villa Victoria, and who believes the grape has a great future in the region.
Tourist attractions
Dating back to 1869, Myskhako, part of the same group as Villa Victoria, sits outside the port city of Novorossiysk. While the city itself is not lovely, being full of crumbling high-rise apartment blocks, the surrounding area is fast filling with expensive holiday homes. Myskhako has seized the moment and transformed itself into a tourist attraction.
As well as a stylish restaurant, which features ancient Greek artefacts excavated from the vineyards – both ancient remains and vast numbers of World War II bombs have been ploughed up – the winery has preserved a World War II bunker, from which Leonid Brezhnev gave out decorations; when he returned in 1974 as Russia’s premier, Myskhako created a wood-panelled tasting room especially for him. The winery has been a supplier to the Kremlin since 2005, and make a particularly stylish Merlot Grand Reserve, costing around 30 euros.
It’s a long drive from there to Abrau Durso, yet it’s one Russians are willing to make; 150,000 people a year pay 500 roubles each to visit, making it one of the most visited wineries in Europe. Founded in 1870 on the shores of Lake Abrau, it was created to provide sparkling wine for the Champagne-loving imperial family. Although its French winemakers fled during the 1917 revolution, it remained an important sparkling producer, thanks to Stalin’s desire to have a Soviet Champagne (Sovetskoye Shampanskoye). After the collapse of communism, it became a burden on the state, and oligarch Boris Titov’s company SVL agreed to take a majority stake it in 2006. SVL has not only invested more than $20m in the winery, but also in the surrounding village and lake, over which a luxury hotel now looks. Overhead, Titov’s private helicopter ferries paying passengers back and forth, while bridal parties pose in front of the lake.
The winery is a showcase, where up to 2,000 people at a time can taste in different halls. There are 5km of tunnels, in which sparkling wine is stored, and an awards hall featuring imperial-era medals. One set of wall charts proudly announce the winery’s number: how much money has been invested, how much earned, and what the average monthly wage is (25,874RUB or $832.00). There’s also a gift shop, where tourists buy smartly-packaged bottles as fast as the staff can restock shelves. 
Armen Danielyan, one of the winemaking team, conducts a tasting of technically well-made wines including Soviet champagne, and charmat and classically-made sparklings. There is also a sparkling Cabernet Sauvignon. But, Danielyan explains, although the winery produces more than 18m bottles are year, there are no plans to export, at least not on any scale. “Everything stays in Russia,” he says firmly.
Indeed, Russia is unlikely to be a wine exporter any time soon; even if the entire region was planted, it could only meet 30% of national demand. Yet Titov is clearly serious about Russia’s potential. In July 2011, the media reported that his company had bought a 60-ha estate in Gelendzhik, for still wines. And in April 2012, Abrau Durso floated on the Moscow stock exchange, with a view to doubling production to 34m bottles by 2015. 
Russia is not an easy place to produce wine. Not only is there the challenge of persuading Russian consumers to believe in them, as well as lingering problems with corruption, wineries must also contend with a thicket of ever-changing regulations. Yet Titov may soon have stiff competition. There are rumours that Putin himself is interested in owning a Black Sea winery and where he goes, others follow. That archaeological museum may have a stream of tourists as soon as it opens – overflowing from winery visits.
“Historically, Russia was part of the Old World. Now, for Europe, we position our wines as the New Old World. We are carrying something new to the Old World.” 

Piotr Romanishin, managing director, Fanagoria

Wineries in Krasnodar Krai

  • Abrau Durso Winery
  • Chateau Le Grand Vostock
  • Fanagoria Winery
  • Gai-KodzorVineyards
  • Karakezidi Winery
  • Kavkaz Winery
  • Lenina Winery
  • Mirny Winery
  • MyskhakoWinery
  • Praskoveya Winery
  • Tsimlanskoye Winery
  • Villa Victoria Winery
  • Vityazevo Winery
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