War and Wine

Ukrainian Winemakers Are Helping Their Country Resist the Russian Invasion

“If our army needs help from us, we will help."

By Bob McGinn March 8, 2022

A vineyard in Ukraine.

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 enter, the populace attempts to escape. Not so for winemakers. They are tied to the land, because they see it is an extension of themselves. The ongoing struggle in Ukraine is an example.

As a token of helping the Ukrainian people, noted wine writer Jancis Robinson recently published an online diary from Yulia Kryvoshei. Kryvoshei had just returned from an expo in Paris, hoping to bring new wines to her market in Kyiv. Now, she is aiding victims of the Russian invasion.

Not only does Ukraine produce wine but also promotes wine bars—at least it did. The Like a Local wine bar opened in 2016 and was the first to start pouring only Ukrainian wines. Today there are three Like a Locals, one across the street from the Chernobyl museum. There are numerous wine bars outside Kyiv, as well.

Incoming wines have to be inspected rigorously because quality can vary dramatically. A number of the wines are even made in garages. While Ukraine has an indigenous varietal, Telti-Kuruk, winemakers are having more success with popular blends like alicante bouschet and cabernet sauvignon. Overall, the country produces around 1 million bottles, or 83,000 cases, each year.

Euronews recently published an interview with Eugene Shneyderis, the owner of Beykush winery. Significant Ukrainian resistance is found in the wine industry. Now winemakers have found another purpose: making Molotov cocktails for the resistance.

“If our army needs help from us, we will help. I don’t know what I can do more,” said Shneyderis. Beykush is located in a bucolic setting overlooking the Black Sea. Unfortunately, now it is surrounded by Russian warships aiming to take the Ochakiv port.

The seeds of resistance were formed in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea, the major wine producing area of the Ukraine. “When Ukraine lost Crimea, it lost half its winemaking industry,” Shneyderis explained. Wineries like Golitsyn in Crimea are noted for their light sparkling wines. It is rumored that Boris Yeltsin once passed out from drinking in their wine cellars and had to be removed.

Echoing the sentiments of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, and most residents, Schneyderis said, "What we can do? I will help our forces, our armies. I will continue my work."

Upcoming Event

Join Round Pond Estate winemaker John Wilson and chef Paul Mattison, owner of Mattison’s Restaurants and Catering, for an immersive five-course wine dinner. The event starts at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 24. Reservations are required, and the price is $125. Call (941) 921-3400.

Bob McGinn has spent his entire career in the wine industry—forming wine clubs, working in wine sales marketing and engaging in all facets of the winemaking process, including vine management, fermentation and yeast analysis. He has developed wine programs for companies such as Marriott, Sheraton and Smith & Wollensky, and consults with local restaurants. You can read more of McGinn’s work at gulfcoastwinejournal.com.

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