Winemaking in Krasnodar Krai
Author: CDV experts
Public interest in wines of the Kuban region is growing stronger every year, gaining more and more fans among both professionals and adventurous amateur wine-lovers. The vineyards of southern Russia have been well-known in the global wine community for a while now, thanks to the area’s unique climate and unusual terroir.
More than 150 years ago, wine experts evaluating the capacities of the Black Sea lands claimed this area was one of the best terroirs in the world.
The wine blend produced by Kuban winemakers from overseas and local varieties of grapes continue to win top grades for the wines of Krasnodar Krai.
Krasnodar Krai is the southernmost region of the Russian Federation. In the northeast, it borders with Rostov Oblast, Stavropol Krai in the east, and Abkhazia in the southeast. To the northwest, it opens onto the Azov Sea, and is lapped by the waves of the Black Sea to the southwest. Its total area spans 75.5 thousand km2.
This region is very rich in mineral resources (more than 60 different kinds), including deposits of oil and natural gas, marble, iodine-bromine waters, limestone, sandstone, gravel, quartz sand, iron and apatite ores, and rock salt. It is also home to the Azov-Kuban fresh underground water basin (the largest in Europe), as well as numerous thermal and mineral underground springs. The Krai is likewise famous for the valuable wood species growing here. Here visitors can also find the largest lake in the North Caucasus — Abrau. The main river of the region is the Kuban.
Throughout most of the region, the climate is moderately continental, with a semi-dry Mediterranean on the Black Sea coast from Anapa to Tuapse. The average January temperatures on the plain are around –3°C, and +5°C on the coast. In June, the average temperature reaches +24°C. Annual precipitation ranges from 400 to 600 mm on the plain, and over 3,242 mm in the region’s mountainous areas.
The potential of these well-drained clay and gravel-limestone soils with subsoil featuring a high content of chalk and shale can compete with that of a true Grand Cru Bordeaux. The proximity of the sea and mountains have formed a soil with a unique mineral composition, which naturally enhances the quality of local wines and imbues them with a uniquely recognizable flavor and nose. All these characteristics combine to form the ideal conditions for wine production in the region.
One of the founders of the Russian wine industry, Feodor Geyduk, during his research into the history of the Caucasus, came to the conclusion that the northwestern coast of the Caucasus boasts one of the best terroirs in the world.
Krasnodar Krai accounts for more than 60% of all vineyards in the south of Russia and total wine production, with more than 32 thousand hectares of vineyards.
To date, the viticulture of Krasnodar Krai is concentrated in the Anapa-Taman area, and we are confident in the assessment that it represents the highest achievements of Russian wine production.
The History of Winemaking in Kuban
As legend has it, in 542 BC the famous Greek warrior Phanagoras of Theos and his troops arrived on the Taman Peninsula. He stayed here and founded the city of Phanagoria on the bank of one of the branches of the Hypanis (Kuban). The city flourished, and its wine quickly became renowned along all the Black Sea shore, and even in Thrace and Greece.
In addition to the grapes brought here by the Greeks, there were also local wild varieties. The question whether they were actually used to make wine remains unanswered, but since that time, vines have been growing strong throughout the Taman Peninsula, North Caucasus and banks of the Don river. Everything here just seems to fall into place—the climate, soil, proximity to the sea.
The civilizations and cultures of Taman came and went, and the grape vine endured all these changes and troubles together with the area’s inhabitants. There were periods of rise and decline, even a time when the vineyards in Crimea and the North Caucasus were destroyed, only to be resurrected again like a phoenix from the ashes.
Some of the cultivated varieties turned wild again, others cross-bred naturally and gave a start to new types that in no respect resembled their «parents.»
Most researchers believe that several centuries of history is enough for a grape to be considered a local, aboriginal variety, and the longer it persists in a given area, the more information its structure accumulates.
Geneticists have yet to find traces of the ancient grapes cultivated here during the reign of the legendary Phanagor, but at least we can still find here some varieties that have been growing in the region for the past 200–300 years.
The history of Russian viticulture on the Kuban and Don rivers begins in 1663, when tsar Alexis of Russia ordered the cultivation of vines in Azov and Astrakhan. During the Azov war in 1706, his grandson Peter the Great planted vines on the slopes of the Don and Kuban. Then in 1783, after yet another Russian-Turkish war, Prince Potemkin, on the order of Catherine the Great, brought more than 20 thousand Tokay vines from Hungary to Crimea, and planted them in the Sevastopol region. Thus, the grapes brought to Crimea have been flourishing for 220–250 years, and for more than 300 years near the Don.
Some of the world’s most outstanding winegrowers have worked here, including Feodor Geyduk, the Czech agronomist who planted the first vineyards near Novorossiysk, Dmitry Pilenko, Franz Gaske, Mikhail Penchul, and many other experts. The Russian prince Leo Golitsin also deserves a special mention in this respect. His words «grapes and wine are the products of their terroir» became the motto of Russian winemakers. This means that two equal vines, even with the same techniques, will produce two distinct grapes and two different wines, when cultivated on two plots with different soils.
A special branch of viticulture, ampelography (from the Greek ‘ampelos’ — ‘vine’ and ‘grafo’ — ‘write’) is concerned with local grape varieties and their selection based on the terrain. Ampelographers study local grapes, find them among privately selected varieties and classify them. This process is called naturalization. Then, mainly by means of cloning and intraspecific breeding, they enhance such grapes (strengthening frost resistance, resistance to pests, etc.) to be used in industrial winemaking. As a matter of fact, the best intraspecific breeding results are achieved by combining grapes from different regions.
However, experts also emphasize that it is important to preserve original varieties retaining their original characteristics. Finding such «clean» varieties is one of the tasks of modern ampelography.
Wild grapes can be still found in the mountains and on abandoned lots of land. It is interesting to note that wild vines growing in the forest can reach up to 40 m long and climb up to the tree tops. This is why in the past, people often planted vines next to tall trees. Wild vines produce smaller bunches of tiny, sour berries.
Alexander Negrul laid the foundations of studying wild grapes in modern science. He is a professor at the Timiryazev Moscow Academy of Agriculture. Professor Negrul developed the genetic basics for vine breeding, the theory of the origin of cultivated grapes, and many other concepts. He also headed a scientific team, which in the middle of the 20th century published a unique five-volume work titled «Ampelography of the USSR.»
He emphasized that in order to establish the origin of cultivated grapes, we need to learn more about their ancestors. Today, wild grapes do not get the attention they deserve from researchers. According to scientist Leonid Troshin, wild grapes should be treated as if they were an IUCN Red List plant.
In Kuban, cloning and intraspecific selection are part of the responsibility of the AZOSViV (Anapa Zonal Experimental Station). The Anapa Zonal Experimental Station of Viticulture and Winemaking was established in 1922 on the premises of the former Kuban Cossack Experimental field. Years of the Anapa Zonal Experimental Station’s efforts have resulted in new viticulture technologies, varietal agrotechnics, planting schemes, original grape varieties and their technological evaluation, and new brands of wine.
The station has coordinated scientific activity in the North Caucasus region, conducted its own research in the Black Sea area of Krasnodar Krai, and since 1928 has published works on viniculture systems, clonal selection, soil content, microfertilizers, root system development, protection of grapes, microvinification, new types of wine yeast, the technological evaluation of grape varieties, storage, and other topics.
At the moment, their main fields of work include the selection and study of the grape genetic fund, grape technological systems, soil fertility management, cultivation, and winemaking technologies. Its ampelography lab is also operational.
The Anapa Zonal Experimental Station has achieved significant success in producing high-quality dessert wine from both traditional and original selected grapes. Their product range includes such famous trademarks as Zolotoy Bereg, Gorgippiya, Buket Anapy, and Chernomorskaya Roza.
Other important scientific centers include the department of viniculture at the Kuban State University of Agriculture, and the Scientific Center for Winemaking at the North Caucasus Science and Research Institute for Gardening and Viniculture.
The principal areas of work at the Center for Viniculture led by professor Guguchkina include the technological study of grapes and clones, and the development of progressive methods for determining wine quality. In cooperation with AZOSViV, they develop and produce dry and aged wine from local selected grapes for microvinification.
The main international varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Pinot Franc are cultivated in Krasnodar Krai. Among white grapes, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Aligote and Bianca most predominate. Local farmers also cultivate various local varieties, including Krasnostop Anapsky, Granatovy, Sibirkovy, Saperavi, Rkatsiteli, Mitsar and many others that produce wonderful aged dry red wine, dessert wine, and fortified wine. Recently, the winemakers of Krasnodar Krai began paying more attention to local varieties in their support of the worldwide trend for the more active use of national grapes.
The ancient Don grape, Krasnostop Zolotovsky, deserves special mention here. Its history dates back to the traditions of viniculture and winemaking in the ancient states situated in modern-day Dagestan. It is prized for its high-quality red dessert wine with unique notes of cherry in the flavor and nose, in addition to wine material for the renowned Tsimlyanskoe sparkling wine. Some of the early harvests also make for great red table wine, sometimes with increased acidity.
Krasnostop Anapsky, which is cultivated through clonal selection, produces a wonderful dry red wine of the highest quality, which can be characterized as Grand Cru. They are very balanced, with a pleasant bouquet of red berries, flowers, fruits and a vivid note of currant in the taste. They also make excellent dessert wines as well, which are fragrant and lightweight, despite their intense color and density.
Wine Houses of Krasnodar Krai
There are four viniculture zones in Krasnodar Krai: Anapa-Taman, Black Sea, South-Piedmont and the Central zone. The bulk of winemaking businesses in the region with the top prospects are concentrated in the Anapa-Taman and Black Sea zones.
The Taman Peninsula is a true natural reserve, its own type of outdoor museum. This is the only place in Russia with such a tremendous concentration of ancient artifacts and monuments, indicating that the area was a focal point for the leaders of many nations throughout history for its strategic geographical position, natural resources and unique soil and climate.
In Taman, the terroir and climate coincide to form a beautiful coalition of natural elements. The peninsula is located at the 45° north latitude (like Bordeaux) between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, in the foothills of the northwestern Caucasus. There are many sunny days in a year, and the autumn is long and warm with minimal precipitation.
Today, there are numerous wineries dotting Taman. The most noteworthy followers of classic winemaking traditions in the region famous for their quality are Chateau le Grand Vostock, Fanagoria OJSC, Kuban-Vino LLC, and PJSC Kubanskie Vina.
AZOSViV is in charge of research in the area. Since 1922, this winery has focused on the breeding and study of local varieties of grapes, including Krasnostop Anapsky, Tsimlyanskoe Chernoe, Sibiryok, and others. AZOSViV’s collection includes dozens of 1st and 2nd place awards from international contests. The famous Krasnostop Anapsky was first cultivated here by cloning the old aboriginal variety of Krasnostop Zolotovsky.
Krasnostop Anapsky produces a well-balanced red wine with a bright floral aroma and the taste of currant, with the potential for long-term ageing. Krasnostop can be used for both one-grape wines, or blends.
PJSC Kubanskie Vina, located in Temryuk, is one of the oldest winemaking factories in the region. In 2003, it joined the Gerrus Group holding company, installed new equipment and in 2004 launched the elite Zvezda Tamani (Star of Taman) line of wine. This is also the only winery in Russia that produces Jerez wine, using the traditional technology of the Spanish region of Solera.
The current goal of Russian wine producers is to achieve an internationally recognized quality level, so they often invite oenologists from other wine regions, such as France, Australia, Israel, and South Africa. For example, Kuban-Vino LLC has launched a new line called Chateau Tamagne with the help of Jerome Barret and Vanda Botnari, lead specialists of the Institute of Oenology in Champagne.
Our experts believe the best wine in the line to be the red Chateau Tamagne Premier Rouge Reserve 2006. The proportions of this blend are 40% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 30% Saperavi. The wine ages in barrels of Apsheronsk oak. It is balanced with a light acidity, velvety aftertaste, filled with tannins and a bouquet of red berries, tones of currant, lingonberry, blackberry and notes of chocolate and spices.
The young wine Yuzhnoe is a brand new project for Russian winemaking created with the contributions of French oenologists. It is crafted with the use of Beaujolais technology, where the grapes are not pressed before fermentation, and sugar turns into alcohol inside the berry. The result is a wine with a low alcohol content (8.5–9%) and deeply rich fruit tones in flavor. It is best consumed when young.
Fanagoria Wine House has also invited a renowned oenologist from overseas—Australian John Worontschak. This wine house was named after the famous ancient city of Phanagoria, founded on Taman around 500 BC by the Greek warrior Phanagor.
Over the last decades, Phanagoria has presented two outstanding lines of collectible wine: Cru Lemont and the Nomernoy Reserve Collection. Each collector’s bottle has its own serial number.
The young Russian-French project Chateau Le Grand Vostock, designed after a traditional French chateau, is an example of the success that can be achieved over just a short period of time thanks to the natural advantages Taman offers. Winemaking is pursued here full cycle, from the cultivation of the grape to bottling. It was established in 2003 using the vineyards of Avrora, a major agricultural company, as the basis. At the moment, two famous French oenologists are working here: engineer Frank Duseigneur, and lead lab expert Gael Brulons. Another consultant on the project is Gilles Rey, manager of the vineyards at Chateau Mouton Rothschild, France.
Over its short life, this Chateau has collected an impressive «harvest» of medals and awards. For instance, the wines of Chateau le Grand Vostock were awarded the Seal of Approval at the highly-acclaimed International Wine Challenge tasting contest in May 2005, organized as part of the International London Wine & Spirits Fair.
Wines Le Chene Royal 2005 and Selection Cabernet Saperavi 2007, produced at Chateau le Grand Vostock, also recently won bronze medals at the International Wine & Spirits Competition.
The red Le Chene Royal is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Saperavi and Krasnostop Anapsky. The grapes are collected by hand, and the wine ages for 3 weeks on pomace in special vats at 20°C to guarantee the maximum concentration of flavor and color. Then, the wine is moved to French oak barrels for 12 months. The resulting wine has powerful tannins, and glistens with an intense ruby color. Tones of blackcurrant and prune, currant jam and vanilla dominate the bouquet.
Its taste is rounded and balanced, with notes of fresh-baked pastries, red fruit, and dark chocolate. This wine is self-sufficient enough to be consumed on its own, but can also be combined with sophisticated meat dishes, soft cheeses, and vegetable dishes.
We also simply cannot ignore the white Le Chene Royal. This blend consists of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc aged for 12 months in new oak barrels, acquiring an intense and expressive taste. It has a golden color with a soft glow. The bouquet features notes of lilies and white hydrangea flowers, and savory shades of oak and vanilla.
The taste is full, balanced, fruity, and gradually switches to creamy tones, leaving a long-lasting and pleasant, slightly mineral aftertaste. It matches well with cheeses, seafood, fresh French baked goods, and steamed whitefish.
Wine of the Black Sea Region
The Black Sea coast from Anapa to Abkhazia features such well-known Krasnodar Krai wine businesses as Myskhako, Derevenskoye Podvorye, and Abrau-Durso.
The winery of Abrau-Durso recently celebrated its 130th anniversary. This estate of the royal family was established in 1879 by the decree of Emperor Alexander III. At the time, governor Dmitry Pilenko ordered that vineyards be planted and cultivated here.
In 1891, prince Lev Golitsin was appointed the manager of this wine house, and initiated the production of Russian champagne using classical methods. The sparkling wine of Abrau-Durso was served only for members of the royal family and high nobility. Even today, it continues to win international contests and blind tasting sessions, to say nothing of it being a one-of-a-kind product in the Russian context.
The Myskhako agricultural company is the oldest winemaking business in Novorossiysk. The first vineyards were planted here in 1887, and in 1903, the first wine was made. Currently, the winery is undergoing capital reconstruction of its vineyards, modernizing its equipment, and the owners are signing contracts with suppliers of the best materials. Winemakers from Australia, Israel, and South Africa assist in the production of the famous dry wines of Myskhako. Their line includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Aligote, and the Yuzhnaya Noch and Ice Wine brands.
This area indeed has a fascinating history, as during the World War II, the army fighting in the battle for Malaya Zemlya was stationed in Myskhako. Then in 1976, by the order of the General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev, a tasting room was established here, which still preserves the style and atmosphere of the Soviet era to this day.
Derevenskoye Podvorye OJSC from Yuzhnaya Ozereyka occupies a special place in the list of wineries from Krasnodar Krai. Its owner is Yanis Karakezidis, a hereditary winemaker and poet of wine. Created by a talented winemaker, this blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Saperavi with the occasional addition of Pinot Noir is truly amazing. It is a lively wine, with a full body and robust character.
It is made from slightly over-ripe grapes collected in the first decade of October. Wort obtained traditionally by feet pressing or with wooden crushers, ferments for 3 to 5 days in the open air with regulated exposure to oxygen. Then it is poured into Caucasian oak barrels and left to age for three years. The resulting wine is ultimately poured into bottles or jugs.
It has a dark ruby color, and bright fruity aromas with notes of prune and nuts. The taste is expressive, yet balanced, while the aftertaste is pleasantly velvety and long-lasting. It is traditionally paired with cheeses, especially the local Suluguni and goat cheese.