New Russian winemakers
A couple of months back we discovered a wine region in the westmost corner of the Caucasus. We were flabbergasted: our stereotypes of Russian wine were blown to smithereens. Recently we recovered from shock and embarked on an alcohol-cum-adventure journey to explore Krasnodar wineries in detail.
Although this region is new and developing, it has already got genuine wine masterpieces to its credit recognized by the international community. There are large and small wineries, and even “garage” manufacturers. Everyone knows everyone, everybody is on friendly terms with everybody, doing their best to foster Russian winemaking.
There’s an overflow of energy. Winemakers are in quest of ideal combinations of grape varieties and terroirs, and one’s individual style… It’s history is in the making. The history of a new major wine region of the world.
We, wine connoisseurs (but still a far cry from being professionals) are interested not as much in wine as in winemakers. Every single individual has a remarkable background. Oftentimes, wine served as a pretext for communication… We have already realized that it’s high time to design a tour, “New Russian Winemakers”.
By the way you can already taste Russian wine in our «Western Caucasus» tour.
Day 1. Еру new quality of life
First and foremost, we went to Lefcadia. Why? Simply because we had already tasted their wine which can be found in Moscow. Besides, the Lefcadia winery is the closest one to the Krasnodar airport, and farthest from the sea. Hence, the most risky and “continental” climate. As a result, quite notable wine is made in Lefcadia… However, because of last year’s spring-time frosts, no grapes were harvested. That’s the toll for possessing this terroir.
Why then making a journey to Lefcadia, if its wine is available even in Moscow? To learn that Lefcadia is not just good wine. Lefcadia is a new quality of life. Yes, sir! That’s the slogan of the project. In a secluded valley of Krasnodar Province, the former financier Nikolayev decided to replicate “Toscana” as designed by French consultants, where pathways are lined up with plane trees, and an oak-tree grove is planted to cultivate truffles, and a game ranch breeds hogs and pheasants…
It has not been created just to enjoy oneself… We’ll say no more. Come and see for yourself.
Day 2. The hardest thing — to spit and pour
Across a low wooded range (which according to the map is the Main Caucasus Range), 15 km away, we find ourselves in the south-east of the Anapa Valley. Two neighbors have settled here: the mastermind of the Garage Association, Gennady Oparin (Semigorye Estate) and seasoned farmer Sergey Yanov who makes superb wine («Villa Viktoria»).
Sergey was preoccupied with bottling. For a winemaker it is as crucial as harvesting. Nevertheless, he found some time for us…
His vineyards struck us by the white-sugar or rocky southern slopes. What is it? It means temperatures hardly change over the day (stone accumulates heat in day-time and gives it away at night) which is good for grapes. In addition, the vines get plenty of useful minerals which then end up in our wine glasses.
Thereafter, the local penetrating wind chilled us to the bone as we were examining the vicinity, and we learned that this steady breeze blows away fungi and pest insects. Therefore, Sergey hardly ever uses chemicals which contributes to our health while he saves money and lowers wine prices!
To cut a long story short, Sergey invited us to his place to warm up. And the hullabaloo broke out: full-fledged wine tasting. We were even treated to the reserve Pinot Noir. This grape variety is quite whimsical and risky for the winemaker to cultivate. It’s either everything or nothing. Only genuine professionals can cope with it. We had been intrigued by Pinot Noir the day before in Lefcadia.
Sergey treated us to wine and commented on each new one, pouring it into a special jug. We could ill afford it. The wine was excellent!
Alexey Tolstoy in wine-pub «Brookwin»
Lunch at the Brookwin, the coolest wine pub in the region. We visited it with a purpose: wine assemblies are held here on Saturdays. We were quite lucky: that Saturday, one of the most highly esteemed winemakers of this country, Alexey Tolstoy presented his wines. Alexey makes wines at Putin’s winery “Divnomorskoye” and at the same time carries out his own projects (“ABV” and “Tolstoy”).
By nightfall, pretty topsy-turvy, we made it to Novorossiysk. On our way we realized that we should have poured wine into that jug… as ⅔ of our team fell asleep and missed Darya’s historical brief.
Day 3. Сolorful garage winemakers
We spent the morning with the charismatic Greek Yanis Karakezidi, the pioneer of organic winemaking in this province. He is renowned not only for his wine but for love of music and women. Yanis is a creator, and apparently doesn’t care what others think of him. If you want freedom and uncompromising creativity, visit Yanis!
By lunchtime we arrived at the Kantina vineyards, entered the house and saw a stack of hot pancakes. No wonder, it’s Shrovetide!
We were sitting on the roof of the unfinished winery, observing the endless vineyards, and Alexey Sklyarov, the owner, treated us to stories about his revolutionary and liberal past, and daring business ideas that fell short of failure. And of course, there was wine! We were particularly impressed by Cabernet Sauvignon 2013. Although rumor has it that the best wine here is Petit Verdot, we couldn’t taste it. By summertime, Alexey will have it ready for comfortable guest reception: a swimming pool, a bar, a pavilion overlooking the vineyards, etc. And I am sure, it will be just as cordial.
Leaving Alexey’s winery, we spotted an Armenian church on the hilltop. And even before, we saw horses in the field nearby. Suddenly, these things merged in our minds and we headed towards the semi-abandoned farm…
After a little wait, we are riding on horseback to Haykadzor, a real Armenian village amid Cossack settlements. We leave the horses at the edge of the village and walk in on foot… And see colorful Armenian grandmas, delicious baklava, and lastly, the beautiful Armenian church, newly built, but one that in 10 centuries will serve as a bright example of Armenian architecture of the 21st century.
It was getting dark and we hurried to leave the village as the family of the “garage” winemaker Generalenko was waiting for us for dinner…
The famous wine critic Arthur Sarkisian quite succinctly describes the household atmosphere as “rural Zen”: grape vines, flowers and various junk are strewn all over the place without any visible logic, a dovecote, and a goat shed, and a canopy over a table are attached to the house… The guests gathered under the canopy in the dim light of two bulbs. And the sluggish Alexey, like a real Zen master, leads the conversation leisurely and resolutely. Even the freezing cold is incapable of suppressing his spirit. He is telling anecdotes and jokes in the unbuttoned sheepskin coat, trying sometimes to test the ground for the subjects the guests might be interested in. But mostly, he is just talking for his own pleasure and love of art…
It’s reminiscences of Soviet studentship, memoirs of a beat cop, a journey into the past of the Bosphorus Kingdom illustrated by artifacts from his private archeological collection, as well as painting and renovation, and of course, winemaking…
One ought to drink “Krasnostop” (a faddish autochthonous variety nowadays) or distillate, and help oneself with steaks, and, probably, your soul will find a refuge in dharma.
Day 4. Vineyards of Gai-Kodzor
The morning at Generalenko’s place was frosty and sobering. Wrapped in blankets, we huddled under the canopy to have breakfast. Someone even gulped a 50 ml shot of alcohol with Alexey. Apparently, daily comfort has become insignificant for us just as for the Master, and we were enjoying his inexhaustible parables. Our minds could hardly fathom reality. At 10 a.m. we had an appointment with Edward, one of the best winemakers in the valley and the owner of “Haykadzor Vineyards”. We couldn’t be late!
And despite the delayed taxi, we arrived at the destination precisely on time! Even a couple of minutes sooner than Edward!
Haykadzor vineyards are a synthesis of gorgeous landscapes of the Anapa Valley, the French winemaking school and sober business vision. Everything is extremely rational and modern. Edward invested his own modest money (borrowed in a French bank) in the project. That’s why every single investment here is thought-out and weighed. Every dime counts. As a result, he makes splendid wine at a price lower than on the market. Why lower? It’s part of the strategy: Edward is currently making a name. Making money can wait. Quite a European approach. No wonder: Edward spent 10 years in France.
By the way, nowadays the investor of his enterprise is Roman Abramovich who is overjoyed by Viognier of Haykadzor, and consumes it almost entirely. Edward is completing the construction of the wine storage and tasting room with a restaurant. As soon as this summer, one we’ll be able to enjoy the best wines in the region, sipping light wines rich in flower scents.
By the way, this place is close to the Utrish Reserve. By summertime we’ll figure out how to match Edward’s winery with the groves of relict juniper and wild beaches of Utrish. Now what shall we chose? Trekking or horse-back tours? That is the question…