Mussels, oysters, quality wine – from Russia? Well, yes!

­Russia’s Black Sea coast is not famed across the globe for it is gourmet dining – yet. Now, a growing number of pioneers are trying to put the region on the world food map.

­The only mussel and oyster farm in this area of the Black Sea coast, as RT’s Tom Barton discovered, is run by four ex-scientists who used to study the region’s marine life back in Soviet times.

­Still too exotic

­“When the country collapsed, science collapsed,” says mussel farmer Sergey Pankov. “We were fired from our jobs in a marine research center. But we were good at growing mussels and oysters. So we approached a company and arranged some million roubles for a start-up.”

It is a risky business where a single storm is capable of ruining a year’s work. But without any major setbacks, they can harvest 20 tons of mussels a year. The problem then is trying to sell them. Pankov says that even on the Black Sea coast, this is not everyday fare.  

“Only in the last two decades have Russians started traveling abroad and seeing foreign menus, so have started asking for more mussels,” he explains.

Mussels and oysters are not currently very popular in Russia. In fact the efforts of these farmers are unique. But they are hoping to grow markets for their underwater bounty, and they are not the only ones striving for a place on Russian dinner tables.

­‘Our wines as good as French’

­At a vineyard and tourist center inland, Yanis Karakizidi and his family have been farming for decades. He is of Greek descent and helped his father establish the farm. Recently, he decided to try and make wine here.

“We need three years to establish the vine, then five years for a good product. In a few years, I hope we can produce great Russian wine,” Yanis believes.

The climate and weather of the area are good for grape growing. But Yanis is hesitant to try and make this into a proper business. It is corruption that is putting him off:

“I look at all this like an artist painting a picture. If I wanted a serious business I would be too scared of corrupt officials taking it from me. But with a creative approach I am not scared. The people in authority are the ones who should be kept from power. They do not respect us citizens.”

Yanis complains that a license to sell his wine costs one and a half million dollars, far too much for a small producer like himself. This also prevents a good wine industry from developing in Russia’s south. But he still loves the region and has not given up hope of making it productive.

“There are some good grape-growing areas in Russia. This is a favorable area, so if the authorities do not interfere, we can promote our brand and prove ours is as good as any French wine,” adds Yannis.

At the moment, you have to look carefully to find local wine and mussel producers on Russia’s Black sea coast. But who knows? Within a few years this region could become a center for gourmet Russian dining.