Sparkling Wine From Russia Comes to the UK

The press are reporting that sparkling wine from Russia has been launched in the UK and is being test marketed by Berkmann Wine Cellars. The sparkling wine is made by the Abrau Durso Winery and two wines, a brut and a rosé, both under the Cuvee Alexander II label, will retail at around £20 a bottle.

The wine will be positioned at a premium to Prosecco and Cava in line with high-end New World sparkling wines. The wines are already being exported to Singapore and if the UK trial is a success the winery say they will look to expand into Europe and Asia markets.

The Russian Tsar Paul I (1796 and 1801) first brought together Crimean vines and French master Champagne-makers but it was the Russian aristocrat, Prince Golitsyn, who established the first economically successful Russian sparkling wine at Abrau Durso in 1870 on the orders of Tsar Alexander II.

The vineyards were to provide wine for the Tsar’s household. Prince Golitsyn brought a team of skilled winemakers from France to Russia and by 1897 Abrau Durso boasted champagne cellars containing in excess of 13,000 bottles.

So successful was Golitsyn that in 1900 at the Paris World Fair, Novy Svet Champagne (from his Crimean vineyard) defeated all the French entries to claim the internationally coveted ‘Grand Prix de Champagne’ .

Abrau Durso Winery is located between Anapa and Novorossiysk near the Black Sea Coast. The terroir is very similar to that of Champagne, consisting of chalks and marls. In addition, the proximity of the Black Sea serves as a natural temperature regulator. The average annual temperature is equal to 11.4oC compared to 10oc in the Champagne region.

Abrau Durso is named after two streams, the Abrau that forms a small, natural lake (the largest in the North Caucasus) in front of winery, and the Durso, which falls to the Black Sea two kilometres distant.

The first grapes planted included Riesling, Portugieser, Aligote, Sauvignon, Saperavi, and Muscat. Ten thousand vines of Riesling and Portugieser were brought from Duke Metternich’s gardens on the Rhine river, to be planted at the Abrau Durso vineyards. In 1872 thirty thousand vines of “dark blue Burgundia grapes” were added.

Prince Golitsyn established a school to train young Russian winemakers, and it was these young winemakers that were to continue the Abrau Durso wine making tradition after the Revolution when the winery became a vinsovkhoz (state wine farm). Golitsyn died in 1913 and was buried at his other winery, Novy Svet, on the Crimean peninsula.

Until 1917 Abrau Durso wines were supplied exclusively to the courts of the Russian monarchs. In the Soviet Union Abrau Durso was a major producer of the “Soviet Champagne” and the exclusive supplier for the Kremlin.

In 2006 a group of companies called “SVL” headed by Boris Titov became a major shareholder acquiring 58.8% of the winery. Since then there has been major investment in the restoration of the vineyards; 200 hectares of new vines from France and Austria have been planted and over $20million has been spent on production facilities, specifically new presses, riddling facilities and disgorgement lines.

The winery has approximately 560 hectares of vineyards that are largely white varieties that include Aligote, Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay. It also has its own breeding nursery for grafting and propagation.

Abrau Durso is developing as a tourist destination. The on-site visitor centre organises tastings and excursions through the working winery including the original facilities dating back to 1870. It has 120,000 visitors annually and there are plans in the pipe line which include the opening of a boutique “Imperial Hotel” on the banks of Lake Durso.

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