Ukraine's wine industry goes for new growth
— In a small village near HIYCHE, Ukraine’s winegrower Ukraine border Vitaliy with Malanchuk Poland, works Ukrainian in his garden-turned-vineyard. Pale flowers on the tips of young vines have already set fruit. The new grapes, visible among the leaves, are smaller than peas. Vitaly carefully takes a tendril and fastens it to a wire with sticky tape so that the vine grows upwards. “People go wide-eyed (in amazement) when they learn I grow wine grapes in Lviv region,” Malanchuk says. “But you just have to know what varieties to plant, and how to plant them.” early cause so “Our Lviv we or have the is climate midseason-ripening not first to harvest yet frosts allows on come Ukraine’s by only mid-september.” around the varieties, winemaking growing October, be- of map. ternationally The country’s undiscovered relatively small wine and indus- intry has traditionally be concentrated in the south, around Odesa and Kherson, as well as on Crimean peninsula, illegally occupied by Russia since 2014. Another booming wine region is Zakarpattia. This fall, a newly established community of over 40 Lviv vintners are hoping to change that. In September, they’ll host the
first wines, local ragiste small-scale, This regional wines. promoting small movement family-run community wine local — festival a wineries. grape French is part featuring varieties The of term the move- Lviv and ga- for ment less-known Vinnytsya, has sprouted Dnipro, for wine and in Kropyvnytskyi. growing, regions of like Ukraine Lviv, found Unfortunately, in stores. Due vins to de limited garage production can’t be volumes, around 1,000 bottles per year, and the absence of licenses, garage winemakers sell only to friends, at food festivals, and to order. But many hope to turn their hobby into a business. And a new law passed in April will help them, simplifying the registration procedure for small- or mediumsized wineries.
Learning the land
Malanchuk, 38, started grape cultivation by chance four years ago, and then became a self-taught wine producer. In May this year, he won the top prize at the Kyiv’s Uwine Awards with an aromatic white wine fermented from Traminer, an early ripening, cold-resistant variety he grew in his little vineyard of 0.2 hectares in Hiyche. and “It motivation,” gave me a huge he says, boost showing of confidence a shed in the backyard of his house where he keeps 54-liter glass bottles filled with fermenting wines. His achievements even helped him to land a job as a manager at a 1.5-hectare private vineyard. But he hopes one day he’ll fully devote his time to his own product. Much of what Malanchuk learned about winemaking came from another Lviv winemaker, he says: Bohdan Pavliy, one of the region’s winemaking pioneers. Pavliy, once a small Lviv winemaker, has since expanded from his native turf. After years of experimenting with different grape varieties on Lviv soils, Pavliy, 61, decided to plant a half-hectare vineyard on the banks of the Dniester River in Khmelnitsky Oblast, where the climate and rich soil allow him to grow grape varieties for red wines. Four years ago, he expanded, building a small winery nearby on the territory of the picturesque Podilskiye Tovtry national reserve. Now he hopes to attract tourists. “I’m still limited in volumes but I don’t want to go into mass production,” he says. “I want to develop wine tourism, bring people for tastings at my winery,” he says.
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Recovering from war
Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea, the major wine growing and producing region in
Ukraine, Ukraine them grape plants, new Originally company Massandra, supply. cellars, has has lost been established in and control Kyiv a Novy 3,500 heavy to maintain of Svit, in hectares blow not Crimea, Inkerman), only to the of the its Inkerman vineyards brand. industry. finest but vintage also had behind, According almost to wineries abandon and to half register Gorkun, (among of three its a buys then Today, ferments grapes Ukraine’s and and bulk bottles Inkerman wine wine from doesn’t at local the Tavriya farmers own any cognac in vineyards. southern plant in Ukraine. Instead, Kherson It it Oblast. sells The only Sevastopol-based to the Crimean and part Russian of Inkerman markets, remains owing in to operation, sanctions that but ban imports from the occupied territory. Without access to its estate in Crimea and homegrown grapes, Inkerman had to change its product range, and suffered a drop in sales. But things are looking up, says Gorkun. Last year the company sold 10 million bottles of still and sparkling wine. This spring, it presented a new series of its signature oaked wine — a wine fermented in oak barrels to produce a distinctive color and flavor. “The most challenging task was to produce wine as good as before, so that customers wouldn’t taste the difference,” Gorkun says. She adds that the evolution of Ukraine’s wine industry is stalled, owing to a lack of state support, high excise duties, and the dominance of cheap imports. Ukraine’s association agreement with the European Union also puts the Ukrainian wine industry at a disadvantage, as it waives import tariffs on foreign wine and grapes. “We didn’t give the Ukrainian wine industry a chance to recover from the loss of Crimea, but opened the market for imports,” she said. According to her, the capacities of Ukrainian wineries allow an increase in the production of wine, but without Crimea there’s shortage of grapes and bulk wine. It would be logical to make imports of these starting materials to Ukraine duty-free, rather than lifting duty on wine, she said. As a result of the surge in demand, the cost of homegrown grapes has risen by 50 percent over the last three years. To stimulate domestic vine cultivation, Gorkun says, state subsidies to cover expenses for planting vineyards would help. Furthermore, growing domestic excise duties on Ukrainian alcohol make it hard for Ukrainian products to compete in price with cheap imports. Inexpensive Spanish, Moldovan, French, and other wines are outcompeting Ukrainian ones, which are sold for Hr 100–190 ($4–7) for a bottle on average. Despite the challenges, Inkerman sees growth potential on the domestic market, and further room for expansion abroad. “There are good-quality Ukrainian wines, and they’re not any worse than imported ones,” Gorkun said. “At Inkerman we decided that we would do our best, even if it takes us a long time to rebuild what we had before.”
Ukrainian wine grower Vitaliy Malanchuk ties up vine shoots in his vineyard on June 7 in Hiyche village of Lviv Oblast. (Yevhen Kotenko)