The former Soviet Union (FSU) produced 4.8 billion liters of wine in 1980, over three times as much as the United States, making it the fourth largest producer in the world behind Italy, France, and Spain. By 1990, wine production had declined to 1.6 billion liters, primarily due to USSR President Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign during which vineyards and production facilities were destroyed.
Georgia is considered to be the source of the first domesticated grape vines. Wine was produced in Greek settlements along Russia’s Black Sea coast over 2,500 years ago. In the late 19th century, there was a brief revival of the wine industry with the founding of several wineries including Abrau Durso in Russia, and Novy Svet and Massandra on the Crimean peninsula. After the Revolution, wine production was industrialized and developed by state and collective enterprises. Most of the republics of the USSR produced some wine, however the largest producers were Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia, and Russia. Russia’s wine grape growing areas developed in the Krasnodar, Stavropol and Rostov regions and the semi-autonomous republic of Daghestan, all in southern Russia between the Caspian and Black Seas.
Russian consumer taste has always favored sweet and sparkling wines. During the Soviet era, strong or “fortified” wines became very popular carrying names such as portwine, madera, or sherry. Sparkling wines are very popular in Russia and are produced from “wine material,” a technical term for grape juice that has been fermented either at Russian wineries or imported from other countries. It is estimated that as much as or more than 80% of wines labeled as Russia wines are actually made from such imported wine material or from imported grape concentrate. For wineries outside of Russia’s grape growing region, such as those in and around Moscow, imported “wine material” is the principal base for Sovietskiy Shampagnskoye (“Soviet Champagne”), which is ubiquitous at Russian New Year and Women’s Day parties.
Still table wines include white and red wines French varietal grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Aligote, Muscat and Sauvignon Blanc, and Georgian and Russian varieties such as Rkatsiteli, Krasnostop, and Saperavi. There are now very good and even excellent natural Russian wines produced in southern Russia at about a dozen wineries in Krasnodar and Rostov regions. Due to financial circumstances and/or by choice, many Russian grapes and wines are produced with little chemical intervention.
The Russia Wines website only features wineries that produce wines from Russian grapes, either from their own vineyards or purchased from neighboring vineyards. Even with this restriction, we are aware that some of the wineries listed also produce wines from imported “wine material” or concentrate. To the degree possible, we try to limit our information to authentic Russian wines produced from grapes grown in Russia.