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Ukraine’s defiant winemakers look to EU and exports

Ukraine's winemakers are seeking to grow exports and are monitoring European Union (EU) moves to unlock funds from frozen Russian assets, after a year of facing occupation, damage to vineyards and a collapsed domestic market.

EU officials are exploring whether funds from frozen Russian assets in Europe could be released to help reconstruction in Ukraine, and the idea is of interest to Ukrainian winemakers impacted by Russia’s invasion 12 months ago.

‘We are raising the question of funds with the European Commission,’ Volodymyr Kucherenko, director of Ukrvinprom, Ukraine’s wine industry body, and director of the Ukrainian Wine Institute, told Decanter.

European wine trade body CEEV (Comité Européen des Entreprises Vins) said it would support the move, although it is acknowledged that any funds may be needed more urgently for key infrastructure.

With wineries and vineyards mainly located in the south and east of the country, Ukraine’s wine industry has suffered alongside communities in the year since Russia’s invasion in February 2022.

‘We have several mutilated vineyards and damaged wineries due to massive rocket attacks,’ Kucherenko told Decanter. ‘Also, some wineries in Zaporizhzhia, Mykolaiv, Kherson and Donetsk regions remain under occupation.’

He added, ‘These are tough times. Since 2019, with the beginning of the pandemic, Ukraine wine production and sales have fallen. During 2019-2021, the wine production area decreased by 18.6%. And since the start of the full-scale invasion the situation has worsened much further,’ he said.

Ukraine wineries on the frontline

Valery Zavorotny, owner of Olvia winery in the Mykolaiv region, and Tairovo winery in the Odesa region, said 585 hectares – more than half of his vineyards – had been damaged over the past year.

‘The material loss is severe, many people have left the country and won’t return, and we have 100 of our staff fighting in the war,’ said Zavorotny.

Andrii Strelets, general manager of the historic Prince Trubetskoi winery located in the Kherson region, said Russians had looted $1m-worth of its wine collection, with 32,000 bottles and buildings destroyed by bombings.

‘The winery is located on the right side of the Dnipro River which has now been liberated, but at the moment we are unable to go to and fully assess the damage as we are under constant fire from Russians on the left side of the river,’ Strelets said.

Oleksandr Mironenko, owner of Graevo wines and Wines of Zaporizhzhia winery, said some of his vineyards remained occupied by Russians. Falko, a producer in the Mykolaiv region that was mined five times, said cluster bombs had damaged vineyards, storage facilities and killed animals.

Meanwhile, Artwinery said it was looking for a new production base as a consequence of war in the besieged city of Bakhmut.

‘The city is under constant fire and we cannot access production facilities at the moment,’ said Alexandra Cherednichenko, Artwinery’s marketing director.

But Cherednichenko added, ‘We are selling our wines and we’ve been able to resume production of the most popular varieties of Artemivske sparkling wine in the region of Odessa by using the facilities of our partner.’

After the Russian invasion began last year, Artwinery said it was able to evacuate staff and mature, ‘ready for sale’ sparkling wines from its cellars.

Turning to exports

While some Ukrainian wine producers are supplying the country’s army with wine and brandy, a collapsed domestic market means companies have been trying to generate more exports.

‘65% of still and sparkling wine in Ukraine were consumed by women, but millions of women have left the country,’ said Giorgi Iukuridze, cofounder and CEO of producer Shabo, which owns 1,200ha of vineyard in the village of Shabo on the Black Sea.

‘Fortunately, we’ve managed to export 105,000 bottles of wine to Denmark and we’re hoping to increase exports there to a million bottles this year,’ Iukuridze said.

Ukrvinprom has been seeking support for Ukraine at European wine fairs, and attended the recent Wine Paris and Vinexpo Paris show.

Despite the prevailing darkness in Ukraine, there was some lightness to cheer the mood during the 2022 harvest, where several producers said they had been able to pick healthy grapes.

‘We think it is the best vintage in recent history,’ Iukuridze said. ‘In terms of climate, at least, it’s [as] if the gods had been helping us.’

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