The history of wine in Russia can be traced back to ancient times, with wild grape vines growing in the regions surrounding the Caspian, Black, and Azov seas. There is archaeological evidence of wine cultivation for trade with the ancient Greeks in the Black Sea coastal settlements of Phanagoria and Gorgippia. Some even claim that the Black Sea area is the world’s oldest wine region.
Modern Commercial Winemaking in Russia
Prince Lev Golitsyn is credited as the founder of modern commercial winemaking in Russia. This Paris-educated aristocrat established the first Russian manufacturing of sparkling wines at his Crimean estate of Novy Svet, and in 1889, his winery won the Gold Medal at the Paris exhibition in the nomination for sparkling wines. This accomplishment was all the more impressive, following only a few years after a devastating Phylloxera infestation in the wine regions of Russia.
The Soviet Era
After the Russian Revolution of 1917, most French-style wine growers and sellers fled Russia. However, the industry was gradually reestablished and made more accessible to the majority of the Soviet population. Before 1917, primarily, the aristocracy consumed wine. The wine industry rebounded in the 1940s and 1950s during the Soviet era but faced difficulties from domestic reforms pushed by Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985 to combat alcoholism.
Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev toasts a glass of American wine with Richard Nixon at the American Exhibition in Sokolniki Park, Moscow
After the fall of the Soviet Union, the transition to a market economy was accompanied by the privatization of land and the reallocation of many of the wine-producing regions’ prime spaces for other purposes. This led to a decrease in the total area used for viniculture, which fell from 150,000 hectares in the early 1980s to 72,000 hectares by the turn of the century. Despite these challenges, the Russian wine industry has made significant progress in recent years.
Russian Wine Market
Semi-sweet and sweet wines account for 80% of the Russian wine market, with this market share exceeding 90% among lower-priced or “economy” vintages. Since 2006, Russian wineries have largely adopted modern European techniques and standards for production, and the Abrau-Dyurso winery remains the flagship of the industry. In 2018 and 2019, several Russian wines were included in Robert Parker of The Wine Advocate’s yearly ratings of the best vintages and scored between 80 to 97 points.
The history of wine in Russia dates back to ancient times, with the Black Sea area being considered the world’s oldest wine region. Modern commercial winemaking in Russia is credited to Prince Lev Golitsyn. The wine industry faced challenges during the Soviet era and the transition to a market economy. However, the Russian wine industry has made significant progress in recent years, with wineries adopting modern European techniques and standards for production. The future of Russian wine looks bright, and it will be exciting to see how the industry develops in the years to come.
In 2020, Fanagoria Blanc de Blancs Brut, a 2017 wine produced on the Taman Peninsula in the Black Sea, was awarded a gold medal at the “Chardonnay du Monde” (“Chardonnay of the World”) international tasting competition.