Ukrainian Wines & Uncertain Times
By Kat Northup CS
Certified Sommelier with the Court of the Master Sommeliers
I was born in India, adopted to Montana, and fell in love with wine because of the stories on the backs of bottles. I have worked at a small cookware store for about 15 years. The Pan Handler Plus in Montana sells cookware, gourmet food, and wine. It was my job to help stock wine, and in the slower moments, I read the stories of vintners, wineries, family histories on the backs of the wine bottles, and admired the label art. My boss noticed my love of our store's collection, and encouraged me to follow that love, going so far as to send me to both the Introduction course and Certification of Sommelier with the Court of the Master Sommeliers, the American Chapter. My day job is working for George's Distributing. I had a very brief wine tv show on a local channel and wrote articles in the local paper, as well as wine reviews on my blog, TheCellarMistress.wordpress.com.
I'm not an expert. I'm just a cork-dork in a love affair with the world of wine and it's history.
The news is rife with the turmoil in Urkaine these days. With so much tragedy, and so many casualties of war, it is easy to forget that there is so much more to a country than the current atrocities. Our hearts are with the people of Ukraine during these terrible times.
Urkaine, to my surprise, is actually one of the oldest wine producing countries. Wine making equipment dating back to 4 B.C., such as presses and amphorae have been found along the south Crimean coast. The northern part of Ukraine began to produce wine around 11 B.C.
Both Russia and Ukraine are both part of historical wine culture. In 1805, the first winemaking school, the Sudak School of Viticulture and Winemaking was established. As The Sudak School began to grow, the Magarach Estates began to develop wine education and growth as well.
The Sudak School eventually acquired the Imperial Nikitsky Botannical Garden and truly began to flourish. The Sudak School of Viticulture and Winemaking eventually closed, leaving the Nikitsky Botannical Garden to the Magarach Estates, which was transformed into the Magarach Institute, which is still in operation today.
The Magarach Institute is the oldest institute run by the Russian Academy of Sciences. It boasts a collection of 39,242 bottles of wine. The crown jewel of this collection is the oldest Russian wine, Pink Muscat Magarach, produced in 1836.
With the powerhouse of the Magarach, wine culture has flourished. There are many different wine growing regions in Ukraine, each lending itself to different varietals and terroirs.
The wine growing regions are known as “oblasts.” The main regions are Odesa, Kherson, Mykolaiv, Transcarpathia, and Crimea.
The region of Odesa's wine history dates back 2500 years. Based around a port on the Black Sea, the terroir of Odesa lends itself to many indigenous grape varietals. The most known indigenous varietal is called “Telti kuruk.” This grape is both edible and used for making wine, which isn't common with the standard grape varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon or Malbec grapes.The Telti Kuruk grapes are used for both white table wine and champagne style wines. Telti Kuruk isn't the only grape grown in Urkaine, though. The most widely planted grape is the Odesa Black, followed by the Sukhyi Liman White. The more exported varietals include Saperavi, Aligote, Rkatsiteli, and of course, the ever popular Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Riesling. Ukraine grows roughly 180 different grape varietals.
Ukraine's learning institutions provide support to the country's many wineries. Two of note include the Shabo Winery and the Artwinery.
The Shabo Winery in the Odesa region, was founded in 2003. It is based around the oldest winery settlement. The settlement was founded in 1822 by Swiss settlers. Shabo is also one of Urkaine's largest wineries, covering 10 thousand square meters. It produces many different kinds of wine and wine products, such as brandies, cognac, and even grape vodka.
Artwinery, located in the Donetsk region was founded in 1950. It is the only winery in Ukraine to produce only sparkling wines using the Champagne method. These wines aren't fermented, only to have carbon dioxide pumped back in. All fermentation occurs naturally in the bottles, which are turned by hand.
Ukraine has struggled over the centuries with invasion and war. In 2014, Russia's invasion and annexation of Crimea dealt a huge blow to wine making in Ukraine. That year, 61,780 acres of vineyards were seized. Much like France during WWII, Ukranian winegrowers had to abandon their vineyards both for survival but also to take up arms. There are some wineries that have even begun to bottle gasoline to use for Molotov Cocktails.
Ukraine is not alone in this war, however. The global wine community has stepped up in support of Ukraine. Winemakers have taken an active role in organizing and delivering humanitarian aid supplies, such as Svetlana Tsybak (head of the Association of Black Sea Wine Crafts Producers), and Eugene Sheyderis (owner of Beykush Winery in Barcelona).
The high profile wine families of Europe have stepped forward to aid Ukraine, both through donations and actions through their own wineries. The twelve great wine families, the Rothschilds of Bordeaux, the Muller Sharzhof of Mosel, the Drouhins of Burgundy, the Antinori family of Tuscany, Famille Hugel of Alsace, Pol Roger of Champagne, Famille Perrin of the Rhone Valley, the Symington Family Estates of Portugal, Familia Torres of Spain, Tenuta San Guido of Tuscany and Vega Sicilia of the Ribera del Duero have all come together to provide support and donations. During times of war, the Ukrainian government forbids the sale of alcohol, which has effectively closed the local industry. Given the instability of production, the potential for for property destruction, Ukrainian wineries are struggling to fulfill international orders. One of Ukraine's largest wine shops, The Good Wine warehouse was reduced to rubble, losing 15 million euros worth of inventory. Given the ongoing destruction, whether or not 2022 will have a vintage is still unknown.
If you're looking for something to drink in the meantime, the Royal Wine Corp based in New Jersey, here in the states will be donating 100% of it's sales from two of their vodka brands, the Xdar and Lvov, to fund “Emergency Ukraine.” Additionally, Mordy Herzog, the CEO of Royal Wine Corp has also stated that the company will be phasing out their Russian vodkas to eventually discontinue them entirely.
Xdar is a wheat based vodka that is made in Ukraine. It is described as “clean and breezy, characterized by wet sand and delicate floral notes (Royalwinemerchants.com)” Lvov is a classic potato vodka, made in Poland. It is reviewed on Totalwine.com as having grain, bread crust, and nut aromas with a sweet cream and chalky finish. Totalwine.com suggests using this vodka for mixed drinks.
These are uncertain times all around. It is heartwarming to watch the global community rally to help those who most need it. We can only hope that Ukraine and it's rich wine history will not be lost to rubble.