According to statistics from the International Bureau of Wine and Brandy, average wine consumption in Ukraine for 2010 was 7.4 litres per person, with the figures showing an average increase of 10-15% per year. Of course, when compared to France, with a population roughly equal to that of Ukraine and where average consumption came out at a staggering 51.5 litres per person, the numbers for Ukraine are not indicative of a wine-drinking boom, but the increase is significant and encouraging for domestic producers.
Ukrainians, while not ignoring foreign wines, display a clear preference for home-grown products. Of the total amount of wine consumed in Ukraine in 2010, local wines accounted for no less than 95%. That statistic, combined with the fact that the remaining 5% was comprised to a large extent of wines from Moldova, Georgia and Chile, suggests that price is by no means a insignificant factor when Ukrainians look for wines. Given the current state of the world and Ukrainian economies, foreign guests of Ukraine are also bargain-conscious. Armed with the valuable tips from local wine importer and expert Christina Xinias, What’s On takes a look at the Ukrainian wine industry and its potential tourism offshoot.
A Brief History of Wine (in Ukraine)
The growth in wine-drinking and the marked preference for the domestic product in Ukraine is not really so surprising, when one takes into account the sheer variety of grapes cultivated and wines produced, made possible by the varied climate areas and soil types. Wine production in Ukraine can be broken down geographically into three areas: Crimea, the Bessarabian, Black and Azov Sea area and Transcarpathia.
Crimea is, perhaps, the best-known of the regions producing wines today. In fact, Crimea’s wine industry is hardly a recent phenomenon, as it is said to have begun 3000 years ago. While the history of those early wine-makers is somewhat obscure, there is no doubt that early Christian era Greek colonies in Crimea were avid wine-makers. Wine production continued in Crimea unabated until the conquest of the region at the hands of the Mongols and their vassals, the Tatars. With that, as well as the later seizure of Crimea by the Ottoman Turks in 1475, wine production moved to Western Crimea and entered a period of steady decline.
Catherine II’s annexation of Crimea, following a victorious war with the Ottomans, led to the re-birth of wine-making. Using imported varieties of grape, the Russian Empire exported large amounts of wine annually to markets throughout Europe. 1810 saw the rapid development of the southern coastal area of Crimea as a centre of viticulture, and the foundation of the Magarach Institute in 1812 provided a research basis for the continued expansion of Crimean wine-production. Indeed, Crimean wines were of such quality the Novy Svet sparkling wines took first place at a 1900 wine-tasting competition in Paris. Many Crimean vineyards were uprooted during former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign in the late 1980s, but the industry looks to be back on its feet, producing some excellent wines. Time will tell whether Crimea is able to put itself back on the international map, vis-à-vis wine-making.
As it stands, the potential consumer of Crimean wines is very nearly spoiled for choice. The experts’ choice as the region most conducive to viticulture is the south coast. Here you’ll find dessert wines made from the Tokay grape, Cabernet and Muscadelle, Madeiras and Cagors, while Sudak and the Eastern Region offer good fortified wines, such as port, made from the Kokur variety. Lovers of a good table wine should direct their attention to the Balaklava-Sevastopil area, where they can delight in the Rieslings, Aligotes and Chardonnays on offer, as well as the excellent sparkling wines.
Bessarabia and the Black Sea Region
This broad region is, like Crimea, home to a wide selection of wines, many of them produced from hybrid grape varieties. The sandy soils of the Lower Dnipro-Kakhov region tend to produce wines with low acid content. Ismail, where wine-making has been a local industry for centuries, falls into for sub-regions, each with its own production characteristics. For example, the south-west (Danube delta) region – the warmest region and, therefore, the one with the longest growing season – is known for its European grapes, the source of local Rieslings, Aligotes, Semillons, Cabernets, Traminers and Muscats. The hilly northern region also features European varieties, such as the Chenin and produces very good table wines and wines for sparkling wine production. The central plain is largely devoted to hybrid viticulture. Lastly, the south-east region’s salty soil is not overly conducive to the growing of grapes, yet the area does provide some table wines and wines for making cognac.
Sources offer evidence of wine-making in the Transcarpathian region stretching back to the 12th century. The Beregovoy, Mukhachevo and Uzhgorod regions produce fine dessert wines, among them Furmint, Traminer, Muler-Thurgau and Muscat. However, worthy table wines can also be had, produced from grapes of the white Feteasca, Italian Riesling or Semillon varieties.
From this brief overview, we see that there is a lively winemaking industry in Ukraine, offering some excellent, moderately priced wines. However, the question remains: who knows about it and what can be done to spread the word?
Overall, worldwide wine consumption is on the rise, with China showing very notable growth in the number of people who regularly drink wine, as prosperity spreads. There is surely some snobbery directed at Ukrainian wines, which tend to be poorly marketed compared to their foreign competition. Old World countries like France, Italy and Spain, whose production makes up a notable share of worldwide production and exports of more than 9 billion litres per year, have long marketed their wines abroad, helping to secure the contribution of their respective domestic wine industries to national GDP.
One of the ways the better-known wine-producing countries stimulate interest in their wines is through wine tours. A long-established tradition in Europe, where a visitor could easily do a multiple-country trip around the wineries of the Rhone Valley, southern Germany and the wine-rich areas of Italy, younger wine-growing countries like Australia, the United States and South Africa have happily climbed on the bandwagon, generating significant revenues for wine-growers and their respective tourist trades. In addition to the direct economic benefits of thousands of tourists’ contribution to the local budget, wine tours have a clear knock-on effect in increasing direct wine sales and exports.
While foreign tourism to Ukraine is on the rise, it could be stimulated still further by developing the institution of the wine tour, offering wine lovers abroad (and domestic aficionados, naturally) the opportunity to visit Ukrainian vineyards and wineries, dispelling ignorance regarding the local product. Local wines may not be to everyone’s taste, but there are surely some hidden gems out there and, given the chance to sample local wines, wine lovers foreign and Ukraine-based could add some considerable revenue to local coffers, while having the additional satisfaction of having discovered a (somewhat) unknown treat.
Take Me Back to Crimea
Given its stunning coastline, beaches, and cosmopolitan centres with their architectural and botanical wonders, Crimea is a natural place to start. In addition, Crimea’s long history of viticulture means that the potential for wine tourism is the strongest. In fact, there is a company offering a tempting tour of several Crimean cities, with wine-tastings in their respective wineries. Ofit-Service (www.ofit-travel.com.ua) is pleased to offer an eight-day, seven-night tour, taking in Simferopil and the Dionis sweet wine factory; Sevastopil, for the sparkling wines of Zolotaya Balka; the famous Inkerman in the eponymous city; Yalta, for Alkadan and the renowned Massandra; to Sudak and award-winning Novy Svet and Solnechnaya Dolina.
While Ofit-Service’s arranged tour looks like the best bet for a Crimean wine
odyssey, one could alternatively make one’s own arrangements with the various wine-makers. Of the Crimean producers, Novy Svet and Massandra make it their business to welcome guests with an interest in wine. Novy Svet (www.nsvet.com.ua) offers a variety of very reasonably priced tours, so you are bound to find something to appeal to both your palette and your frugal side. Massandra (www.massandra.net.ua) gives no clear indication as to whether they offer tours, but they do have a purpose built wine-tasting facility, which is open to the public. While the website of the Guliev Winery (www.gulievwine.com ) is similarly mute regarding organised tours, it’s certainly worth getting in touch to try to arrange one. After all, the worst they can say is “no”.
Crimea, of course, isn’t the only spot for a little wine tourism. Hotly tipped by a local expert as a truly wonderful vacation and epicurean spot is the Kolonist Winery. Located south of Odesa in Krynychne, this producer may be fairly new to the market, but it is one with a real drive to succeed, by providing excellent quality wines, plus a little more. Check their website (www.kolonist.com.ua ) to get a better picture of its attractions, among which are a comfortable boutique-style guest house and, naturally, regular tastings of their various products.
While there is a considerable amount of work yet to do, there are encouraging signs that there is a real future for wine tourism, with all of its attendant economic benefits, in Ukraine. We at What’s On intend to do our part, so perhaps we’ll see you soon in sunny Crimea, or down Odesa way!