Author: Anton Khmyrov
If you want to be happy for one night, have a glass of good wine.
If you want to be happy all your life, plant a vineyard.
Krasnodar Krai proverb
When one speaks about the amazing potential of the winemaking industry in Russia, they’re mostly referring to the climate and soil. But as for saplings and vines, the majority of enterprises that want to make good wine ship them in from other countries. The achievements of Russian vine selectors and the possibilities they have discovered indeed remain largely unnoticed.
We are proud to include in this issue an article by Anton Khmyrov, Russian oenologist and agriculture expert. Thanks to Mr. Khmyrov, numerous national Russian grape varieties have been saved and improved upon.
Quality winemaking in our country is still in the process of establishing itself. Large enterprises with long histories on the market often single out a certain segment of their products (premium class), and maintain it at top quality levels. Unfortunately, this segment is slim, and for some reason most factories that offer accessible products cannot provide stable quality that can be qualified as satisfactory. They hold out hope that consumers will continue to buy their products, and not complain about any of their weaker characteristics.
Today, producers with large production capacities cannot practice a detailed and careful approach to their cultivation technology. They are simply unable to come up with a sequence of technological operations resulting in a quality product, and first of all, high-quality grapes with the right amount of sugar, tannins, and correct color, i.e. characteristics that are essential to make good wine from this grape.
Sure, there are a number of small-scale businesses that practice strict control and an individual approach. As a result, the quality of the product they offer surpasses anything that large-scale producers are able to supply on the market. However, the market of quality winemaking in Russia is still underdeveloped, and the products of a very few number of wineries, such as Fanagoria, Chateau le Grand Vostock, etc. deserve to be studied. Even so, their product lines are quite limited.
The first thing that needs to be done to guarantee good grapes and good wine is to introduce better production technologies. At the moment, Russia is at the very start of this stage. Logically, if we want to make good wine, businesses require investments, and a solid foundation for scientific research. It is likewise important that investors have the sense to adopt overseas techniques, grape varieties, and international cultivation and production experience.
For instance, the AZOSViV experimental station has accumulated over eighty-five years of knowledge and experience in winemaking, but their facilities are not enough to provide a product to the mass market. Therefore, they make just 50 liters of every wine sample, enough to demonstrate that it is possible for a professional to make high-quality wine under the right conditions. Their science center then organizes tasting sessions for industry specialists to interest them in their local grape varieties.
One of the wines they offer is Lyogkaya Vual (Light Veil), made from Cabernet AZOS. It is a full-bodied wine with a dark ruby color, mild and balanced, with notes of blackcurrant in its flavor and tones typical of Cabernet Sauvignon. Dostoynoe Anapy (Worthy of Anapa), made from Dostoyny grapes (Dzhemete and Hamburg Muskat), has an intense ruby color with a full body and intensely velvety texture. Its taste consists of a balanced combination of fresh notes and blackcurrant tones. The Barkhatny Sezon (Velvet Season) dessert wine made from Dostoyny is a balanced but potent wine, with a dark pomegranate color and aroma of blackcurrant and blackberry. Its taste is full, balanced and has the freshness of forest berries. Sindika, made from Krasnostop AZOS grapes, has a clean varietal nose with tones of prune and chocolate, and a full and rounded taste, which combines bright tannins and mildness.
Scientific knowledge is a type of intellectual property developed to be sold and used to produce quality wines. Yet sadly, the majority of national producers show very little interest in the possibilities Russia has to offer, even though domestic viticulture boasts a brilliant scientific base and a long history dating back several centuries.
Russian National Grape Varieties
Krasnostop Zolotovsky is an old grape from the Don region. It earned its name because when it is ripe, the stalk near the berry turns bright red («krasnostop» roughly translates to «red foot»). It is a middle-late variety with an average yield of 6 to 7 tons per hectare. The leaves are medium-sized, rounded, almost flat, slightly divided, five-lobed, and usually have a very wide middle lobe. The bottom leaves are covered in bristle fluff. The petiolar cavity is open, rounded or lyre-shaped, or closed, with an oval or ovoid gap.
Bunches are small, rarely medium-sized (60–120 g), conical, and of a medium density. Its berries are small, rounded, dark blue and covered in a bluish waxy coating with medium-thick skin and juicy flesh. Their taste is delicate, with a high sugar content, but at the same time fresh. The sugar content of berries is 18–25 g/100cm3, with a titrable acidity of 7–8 g/dm3. This variety is quite resistant to cold, and restores its above ground parts damaged by frost faster than other Don grapes. It is a commercial grape that results in potent, full-bodied wines. It has no resistance to white and gray rot.
When Krasnostop Zolotovsky was first brought to Kuban, it suffered from low productivity. Viniculture scientists thus conducted a thorough selection process, leaving behind to grow only those bushes with higher yields and quality. Back then, everything was measured by Soviet standards: the more berries a vine has, the more medals it wins. So, they singled out the most highly productive clone and called it Krasnostop Anapsky. This marked the start of the selection of future generations of Krasnostop.
Scientists are also very proud of this achievement because this grape is becoming more and more popular among wine producers. It probably won’t be what Cabernet Sauvignon is for France, but it definitely has its place on the shelves.
Krasnostop Anapsky is characterized by large bunches with a high productivity and yield. It has average bunches (130 g) in the shape of a cylinder or cone with medium or high density. Its berries are small, rounded, and dark blue, with juicy flesh and medium-thick skin. Its growth speed is medium, and its fruit-bearing rate is 1.2; yield is 11,000 kg/ha at a sugar content level of 20.0–22.0 g/100cm3 and acidity of 9.0–12.0 g/dm3.
Its flowers are hermaphroditic, and its leaves are medium-sized, rounded, with three or five-lobes, and less often strongly dissected. Its lower lobes are slightly elevated. The upper surface of the leaves is dark green, slightly glistening, from smooth to small-bubbly, and the lower surface has dense, bristly fluff. The upper cut-outs of the leaves are medium-sized, open, lyre-shaped or closed, with an ovoid gap. Lower cut-outs are small, open, and in the shape of sharp angles. The teeth on the ends of the lobes are convex. The petiolar cavity is open and lyre-shaped, with a rounded bottom, and the stem is smaller than the main leaf vein.
Dessert wines made from it have received grades of 9.6 at tasting sessions. Krasnostop Anapsky produces excellent dessert wines with an intense color, pleasant aroma, tones of blackcurrant and a mild balanced taste. Resistance to diseases and pests is the same as for the majority of Vitis Vinifera. Its winter-resistance is increased.
As for its use in production, Krasnostop is a very low-maintenance grape, and is incredibly frost-resistant. There was one time when temperatures dropped to –30°С, and Krasnostop still survived! As a winemaker myself, I find working with it very easy and pleasant. Recently, I tried Krasnostop from the 1960s, and it still had fairly decent characteristics.
Lead Product Engineer at AZOSViV
Krasnostop AZOS is a product of cross-breeding Krasnostop Anapsky and Dzhemete, named after the village where its vines, resistant to phylloxera, were discovered. The resulting variety ripens early, and is resistant to phylloxera, a main pest for grapes, while preserving the best qualities from Krasnostop Anapsky. It is actively used in modern winemaking, and its characteristics are still being studied. Relying on Dzhemete grapes in a similar manner, the following varieties were selected: red table Dionis and red Cabernet AZOS, Kubanets, Dostoyny, Lazurny, and Pamyati Zotkinoy.
Among the old Don grape varieties, we would like to also mention here Bruskovatenky, Varyushkin, Kushmatsky, Olkhovsky, Plechistik, Pukhlyakovsky, Suburkovy, and Tsimlyansky Chorny. The origin of certain other old grapes, such as Silnyak, Stary Goryun, Shampanchik Konstantinovsky, remains unknown. Today’s winemakers hardly ever use them. Some of the grapes described in Ampelography of the USSR have been lost for good, for instance, Kubansky Chorny, Bezymyanny, Krasnyansky, and Krestovsky.
The future prospects of many varieties are vague, but we are proud to have a variety of local grapes that can be used for wine production with excellent results. Below is a description of some of them.
Plechistik (also known as Letun, Rogataya Kist, and Chorny Vinny) refers to Black Sea region varieties. Researchers believe that the history of this grape dates back to the distant past, and inhabitants of the Don often mistake it for the Tsimlyansky grape. As of today, this variety is nearly extinct.
Plechistik is a middle-ripening grape—it takes about 135 days to ripen to commercial grade. Its vines are sturdy, with a productivity rate of 0.6–0.7. The yield is about 5,000–8,000 kg/ha.
Bunches of Plechistik grapes are medium-sized, up to 200 g, and shaped as cylinders or cones, mostly with two lobes. One interesting peculiarity is that its berries are flattened on one side. Its berry skin is thin and fragile. The berries are mostly medium or small, round, the color of dark ink, and covered in a thick waxy coating. The berry juice is colorless. The leaves are medium-sized, often rounded, deeply divided, with five distinctive lobes, dark green, and with thick web-like fluff on the bottom.
Among its negative qualities are poor frost and drought resistance. It is also known to shed its berries before they are ripe, demands special pollination methods, and has poor fungal resistance. It is often used to make Tsimlyanskoe sparkling wine in combination with Tsimlyansky Chorny grapes.
Sibirkovy (known also as Sibirek or Sibiryak), despite its name, did not come to the Don from Siberia. Indeed, most researchers believe that this variety was brought to the Don vineyards from Hungary or Bulgaria. Others argue that it first appeared in the Don region as a result of sowing seeds brought in from other regions. Sibirek most likely first appeared around the 18th century.
Sibirkovy is an early-middle ripening grape, reaching commercial grade in 130 days. The vines are very strong, with a fruit-bearing rate of 0.6–1.0. The yield is about 6,000–9,000 kg/ha.
The bunches are medium-sized (up to 150 g), conical or cylinder-conical, often loose and with wings. The berries are medium, oval-shaped, and light green. When completely ripe, they turn yellowish. Berry skin is thin, very fragile, almost transparent, and covered in a thick waxy coating. The berry flesh is very juicy. Leaves are large, deeply divided, with five lobes. The fluff on the bottom part is of medium density.
Among its negative qualities are poor winter-resistance and vulnerability to fungi. They also need to be covered in wintertime. It is mostly used to produce light table wines.
Varyushkin is another old grape from the Black Sea region, with a very long history all but forgotten by today’s winemakers. It falls into the middle-late ripening group, as the grapes reach commercial ripeness in 140–150 days. Its vines are medium-grown. The yield is about 5,000–8,000 kg/ha.
The bunches of Varyushkin are medium-sized, conical, with small wings and a medium density. Berries are small, round, almost black, with a thick waxy coating and thick skin. The berry flesh is very juicy. Leaves are medium-sized, deeply divided, and partially fluffed on the bottom.
Among its positives qualities are excellent winter-resistant and fungus resistance. It is a great choice for high-quality red dessert wines.
Silnyak is a late-ripening grape with a low yield. Its vines are medium-grown. Its leaves are medium-sized and rounded, with a shallow division. The bunches are medium and loose. Its berries are small and dark blue with a very high sugar content. Experts note that red wines made from Silnyak have very intriguing characteristics.
Stary Goryun is a universal middle-late grape. It has medium-sized rounded leaves, and is moderately divided. Its bunches are medium-sized and dense, with small and average dark blue berries. The sugar content is high. This grape is predominately used to make red table and dessert wines.
We would also like to mention an excellent selection variety known as Dostoyny Vinny. It is a late-ripening variant with strong, medium-sized vines. Its leaves are medium-sized and heavily divided, with conical and dense bunches. Its berries are small and dark blue with an above average sugar content and acidity. Wines made from Dostoyny Vinny have an intense bouquet. The grape is resistant to phylloxera and a number of other grapes pests, and is also frost-resistant and high-yielding. So it comes as no surprise that local winemakers grew to love it. At the moment, its plantations occupy a total area of 100 ha. A number of wineries use this variety in their blends.
Among white varieties, Beysug and Yekaterinodarsky deserve special mention. They were created by specialists from the North Caucasus Zonal Science and Research Institute for Gardening and Viniculture as incredibly frost-resistant vines that can survive in temperatures as low as –26°C. Wines made from Beysug have a sublimely floral nose; 2008 was an exceptionally favorable year for this variety. The Granatovy commercial grape is amazingly expressive, and the agricultural company Yuzhny loves combining it in their wines.
At the 12th International Specialized Exhibition of Viticulture and Wine, Beverages, Technologies, Raw Materials and Equipment hosted in Krasnodar, the red wine made from Alkor grape (1998) took 3rd place, while the 1988 Mitsar wine took home the gold. These achievements are all thanks to the outstanding grape grower Lidia Kokhanova, who has worked for many years in the North Caucasus Institute for Gardening and Viniculture. In fact, she helped create the Alkor grape, which 21 ago was used to produce a Grand-Prix winning wine.
Perhaps, if the government paid more attention to its domestic viticulture and winemaking industries, both in words and action, they would be much better positioned globally. From our colleagues in France and Germany, we learn that all their scientific institutions engaged in viniculture studies are exclusively state-financed, as the authorities also have an interest in the high quality of its national products.
However, the involvement of private companies mustn’t be ignored either. The issue is simply that not enough people recognize the strength of Russia’s scientific foundation, and that it is poised to reveal its full potential with adequate investments.
About the author
Anton Khmyrov was born in 1980. He graduated from Michurinsk State Agrarian University with a degree in Horticulture and Viticulture. Anton was first introduced to scientific viticulture during his internship at an experimental station in Orenburg, where he was part of the team cultivating vines in open and protected ground, studying different varieties and selecting grapes. He has worked in the Zander vineyards in Germany (Rheinhessen region), as well as in Switzerland. For several years, he collaborated with the AZOSViV (Anapa) scientific center, where he headed the grape selection department. Currently, he takes an active role in the development of winemaking farms of the Krasnodar Krai and other regions of Russia as an oenologist, agronomist and winegrowing consultant. He also manages his own nursery farm project with local grape varieties.