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13 Oct, 2009 08:46

Stavropol: the heartland of Russian wine

In RT’s latest Close-Up series we are getting a taste for wine, which is made in the Stavropol Region in Russia's south. The area’s rich and fertile ground is famous across the country for its vast vineyards.

The local wine has been produced there since the end of the 19th century. The industry survived the Second World War, and many other difficult challenges, and these days continues to prosper.

Looking across the stunning landscape of the Stavropol region, as the sun peeks gently through the leaves, it is easy to understand how a rich agricultural tradition has been cultivated here.

“It is a hard job!” A woman in the fields told RT.

“You should do everything with your own hands and to do it you should have a strong desire to do it, and you must love working in the ground. Since I was a kid I always wanted to work with plants.”

Though the climate might not seem ideal, the area is known for its unique vineyards.

“Since ancient times there have always been grapes planted here for wine, but on the commercial level only since the 19th century,” Aleksey Lysenko, the deputy director of “Stavropol Vinograd Prom” explained.

The winemaking process is time-consuming and labor intensive, and since RT caught up with this particular vineyard during a particularly busy harvest season, the locals were eager for us to help:

“We have journalists here today? Well as long as they are here to help us,” one of them said.

Each grape is harvested by hand where it is then taken to be processed and turned into juice, where it can in turn be turned in to wine.

Though profitable now, the wine industry has had some setbacks. In 1985, as leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev ordered all of the vineyards there to be raised. This was all part of his campaign against alcoholism. The region then became a leading producer of table grapes, but as soon as restrictions were lifted, the producers went back to their roots.

“Now that time has passed and now we are doing two things: we are starting to increase the quality and variety of grapes and also increase the quantity,” Lysenko explained.

Picked from the fields, the grapes are hand counted and hauled off to the industrial press where the precious juice is collected.

It is then brought to the award-winning Praskoveyskoe winery and distillery, which has been operating continuously for over a hundred years.

Natalya Alimova, an employee of the Praskoveyskoe winery explains the establishment’s history:

“Our company was established in 1892. We produce table wines and cognac and now we are in the storage of our collection of wines. We started building this collection in 1945 right after the war, and up until now we are continuing to build up our collection.”

So how do they choose which wines get the honor of resting in their prize cellar?

“Collectable wine is our quality wine that has been stored in the bottle for more than three years,” Natalya explains.

“And we also produce these precious wines and age them for at least five years and only then do we send it to market.”

In addition to the wines, the grape plants also produce a cognac style brandy, which by definition is twice distilled and turned into spirit.

The spirit is then aged even further in oak barrels for a minimum of five years before it is bottled and shipped all over Russia.

It should be known that none of this viticultural success occurred by accident. The rejuvenation of the industry was carefully calculated by officials, to help establish a positive image for the region:

“We have good conditions created thanks to the help of our government and parliament. Now we are in the stage of planting a variety of different grapes to make wine,” Lysenko explained.

From vine to bucket to barrel to glass, the hope is that Stavropol wine will eventually grace tables across Russia, and beyond.

Oily business

The Stavropol region is not only famous for its wine industry, but it is also a renowned agricultural centre in Russia. A wide array of agricultural companies is budding in the area.

Arevik Gevorgan is a representative of a company which produces sunflower seed oil.

“It is a highly developed industry here,” she told RT. “Our firm produces sunflower oil and I should say that it is a very great product because it’s rich in vitamins A, D, E and F.”

Grainy thoughts

Vodka, one of Russia’s signature products, is produced from grain, which is also abundantly grown in the Stavropol region.

“We use rye, we use wheat to produce the best quality vodka ever,” Darya Zavezionova, the PR manager of an agricultural company explained.