Throughout history, wine has been involved in wars and invasions, from Roman soldiers bringing grapevines to conquered countries to French vintners walling up their wine caves to prevent invading soldiers from looting them during World War II. As armies invade, people attempt to escape, but this is not the case for winemakers who are tied to the land because they see it as an extension of themselves. So now winemakers have found another purpose: making Molotov cocktails for the resistance.
The global reaction
As tensions escalate between the West and Putin’s Russia, the reaction from drinks brands has not been unified. Whilst some leading companies immediately suspended their sales in Russia, others continued to operate. Drinks sales across the industry were significant, for example Russia is second to the United States as a market for Irish whiskey, with an estimated 7.3 million bottles sold there in 2019. However, boycotts of buying Russian vodka brands have had a significant impact. On a similar note, Russia and Ukraine also account for about 30% of world wheat exports, consequently the worsening supply-chain disruptions are creating a commodities shock that is driving up food prices worldwide, where food availability for vulnerable populations is already an urgent global concern. The worldover also relies heavily upon Russia for its energy supplies, so the urgent global desire to boycott is likewise driving up energy prices.
The Ukranian reaction
The seeds of resistance were formed in 2014 when Russia illegally annexed Crimea, the major wine producing area of the Ukraine noted for their light sparkling wines. When Ukraine lost Crimea, it lost half its winemaking industry and Russia has benefited from wine production there. The current Russian attack against Ukraine is further destroying the country’s wine culture. The war is raging in the middle of the 41,500 hectare wine-growing region. Rockets are hitting near the wine centre of Odessa, vineyards and wineries in the country are being shelled or have long since been abandoned. Winemakers, sommeliers and traders are now fighting on the front lines. Until a few weeks ago, Ukrainian winegrowers were still pruning in the vineyards. Now they wear uniforms and machine guns, defending their country, fighting for freedom. Everything else has become secondary. Vineyards and cellars are abandoned, people are afraid of missile attacks, many towns and villages in the wine regions are under constant Russian fire. Will there be a 2022 vintage of Ukrainian wines?
Whatsmore, with Ukrainian cities encircled and under siege and ports blockaded, supply chains are in tatters with shortages biting viciously. Normal manufacture and trade, alongside Ukraine’s primary income of agricultural activity, are either unpredictable or totally impossible. Throughout history wars have also impacted on luxury products, sometimes bringing their trade to a complete halt. Take wine, for instance, Good Wine is the largest Ukrainian importer of fine wine and their warehouse in Kyiv, including its €15 million of stock it contained, was totally destroyed by Russian shelling. Whilst the sale of alcohol is forbidden in the time of war, Ukrainian producers have no operational business right now, so winemakers are bottling not wine, but gasoline for Molotov Cocktails to protect their land from Russian invaders.
The neighbouring reaction
Wineries in Ukraine, Georgia, Hungary, Moldova, Bulgaria, Romania and elsewhere in Eastern Europe have been thrown into uncertain territory, including changing production to housing refugees, bottle supply issues, transportation problems and rising inflation. Swiss glass storage container maker Vetropack also has a large plant near Kyiv, where much of Eastern Europe’s wine bottles are made.
Russia has long used wine as a tool in Georgia. Though Georgia is one of the oldest winemaking regions in the world, when it was incorporated into the Soviet Union, winemakers were forced to shift to mass-production, industrialised wines rather than the complex, traditional wines they had made for generations. In 1985, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev cut vineyard allotments in Georgia to a quarter of their original size. In 2006, Russian President Vladimir Putin placed an embargo on Georgian wine. At this time, Georgia was largely dependent on the Russian market, and it took the opportunity to branch out to Western Europe and the United States. As of 2021, 57 percent of Georgian wines are sold to Russia, about 12 percent to Ukraine, and the rest elsewhere, according to Georgia’s National Wine Agency. This means despite efforts to diversify, nearly three-quarters of Georgia’s market has disappeared.
Eastern wineries also can’t simply sell elsewhere overnight.
“they are not seeking charity, they simply need to continue their business in order to support their employees and surrounding communities, and refugees that are seeking shelter in safer zones”.Managing partner of Marq Wine Group who is working on behalf of several Ukrainian wineries said that wineries are seeking new markets immediately
As a result of this tumultuous past, Purcari Winery in Moldova makes a wine called Freedom Blend, made with saperavi grapes from Georgia, bastardo from Ukraine, and rara neagra from Moldova. All these states have suffered Russian aggression, it is symbolic to take the grapes of these three countries that are still fighting for their freedom in the real sense. They may have independence, but that doesn’t mean they have their freedom.
Those who have already cut Russian vodka out of their drinking routine as a form of protest should see the purchase and consumption of Eastern wine as a similar political act because Russia invaded Georgia back in 2008 to annex winemaking territories, just like Putin did to Ukraine’s Crimea years before its push into the whole of the country. Though buying a bottle of wine may seem like a minuscule and inconsequential act, bolstering the Eastern economy in any way possible at this time is surely a step in the right direction; so you can:
- Choose to buy different wines to support Eastern wineries
- Boycott Russian owned/backed products
- Donate to charitable causes where you can
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