“I’m 45 now — I’ll start a vineyard, and in 10 years I’ll wear a beret, bring my family here and enjoy my beautiful business,” says Pavel Shvets, star of the new wave of Crimean winemakers, describing the idyllic lifestyle pursued by the numerous Russian investors who have arrived in Crimea over the past decade. The reality is, of course, harder — not least since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the sanctions that followed.
Shvets is the founder of Uppa Wines, a 16ha biodynamic vineyard near Sevastopol, 400m above sea level. Born in Crimea, he spent 15 years in Moscow as a sommelier before returning home to make his own wine. “We have clay soil around Sevastopol, hills and a moderate amount of rainfall — ideal for elegant, subtle wines with high acidity and great potential for maturation,” he says, sipping his 2015 Pinot Noir — bright and fresh, with velvety tannins.
Crimea’s winemaking history dates back to the 4th century BC. By the 19th century, when Crimea was part of the Russian empire, Prince Golitsyn led winemaking in Novyj Svet, even winning a Grand Prix at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris for his sparkling wine. During the Soviet era, Crimean wines, particularly fortified ones, were also extremely popular.
When Crimea was annexed by Russia two years ago, a subsequent ban on imported goods propelled an interest in otechestvennye, or homegrown, ingredients. But adaptation was required. “Most wineries followed local laws not Russian ones, so something had to change,” explains Oleg Repin, another Crimean “new waver”. Licensing became more affordable, allowing garazhisty (people making wines in small quantities) to legalise production.
Repin founded a winery in the aptly named village of Fruktovoe (fruity) near Sevastopol. “I don’t know any other winemaking region that has so many varieties on such a small plot of land,” he says. “And working with indigenous grapes is an important part of the story.” White Kokur is an example of one that Repin is now using — and “is already really distinctive”.
Andrey Grigoryev of Alma Valley, a 160ha winery near Bakhchisarai, says: “There’s a constant thirst for new things [internationally] — and a whole new region has been born here.” He fears, however, that larger producers are now buying foreign stock and selling it under Crimean labels.
“Winemakers must learn to work together,” says Shvets, who is advocating an appellation d’origine for Sevastopol (a separate federal subject from Crimea).
The new wave of winemakers are confident about the future. “Wine is beyond politics,” says Repin. “You can’t just pick up your suitcase and go.”
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