“Kuban originality”: secrets of the wine business
15.04.2024 18:10

The largest Russian wine producer, Kuban-Vino, became state property. This was reported by RBC with reference to data from the Unified State Register of Legal Entities. Previously, the owner of the wine company was the Ariant group of companies. Now 100% of the share in the capital belongs to the Russian Federation. Changes to the database were made on April 10. Despite the righteousness of anger towards former business owners, Rucriminal.info will try to objectively assess the prospects for domestic winemaking. And these prospects do not look rosy.

The recent prehistory of large wine nationalization dates back to February of this year. The Ariant company was one of those that, at the request of the Prosecutor General's Office, were seized from their owners during the proceedings at the Chelyabinsk Electrometallurgical Plant. On February 7, the Arbitration Court of the Sverdlovsk Region agreed with the request of the Prosecutor General's Office to arrest the shares of Serov Ferroalloy Plant JSC, Chelyabinsk Electrometallurgical Plant JSC and Kuznetsk Ferroalloys JSC, which belong to Etalon Company JSC, the parent company of the industrial group of the Chelyabinsk Electrometallurgical Plant. On February 26, the Sverdlovsk Arbitration Court satisfied the claim of the Prosecutor General's Office and transferred all these enterprises to state ownership. And on the same day, the ex-owner of ChMEK Yuri Antipov was detained.

Representatives of the Prosecutor General's Office argued that the assets of the factories were transferred abroad in order to harm national interests. In February 2023, Yuriy Antipov registered the assets of Etalon JSC, after which the ChMEC factories came under the control of firms from unfriendly states (we are talking about the Swiss RFA International), according to prosecutors’ convictions. All that remained was to wait for the Prosecutor General's Office to take over other businesses of the disgraced owners of metallurgical enterprises. In particular, winemaking.

The history of "Ariant" dates back to the beginning of the century. In the Krasnodar Territory, a new governor had just been elected - Alexander Tkachev. One of the young governor’s “tricks” was precisely his concern for the development of winemaking. Taking into account the fact that at that time, Adygea unexpectedly became almost the champion of the Russian Federation in terms of wine production, where there are no large-scale vineyards at all (what was called Adygea wine on the market shelves was made from incomprehensible concentrates), it is clear that Tkachev sought to make Krasnodar The region is the main wine-growing region of the country. After all, the overwhelming percentage of Russian vineyards are Kuban vineyards, and the task seemed to be logical.

And it was “Ariant” that became a symbol of a new, modern approach to winemaking in the region. Although at first everything did not go so smoothly.

Among the Kuban vice-governors recruited by Tkachev “under arms” at that time, two had anything to do with the Ariant story: Alexander Fontanetsky and Leonid Baklitsky. Chelyabinsk residents - owners of the metallurgical business Arestov and Antipov - began to show interest in the farms of the most fertile viticultural region of the Krasnodar Territory - Temryuksky. Negotiations were held with the management of seven Temryuk farms located in Golubitskaya, Gorkusha, Starotitarovskaya, Kurchanskaya, Taman. Vitsik Fontanetsky, they said, was well motivated by the Urals for lobbying their interests. And for some time the process of buying up shares and “separate negotiations” remained outside the attention of Tkachev, who then stood up for Kuban originality. But when the young governor found out about the wine-undercover investigation, a “tank” was sent to “resolve the issue” - another vice-governor - Leonid Baklitsky. Which all seven directors firmly promised to individually roll into the asphalt everyone who encroaches on the Kuban wine heritage. As Boris Chigrik, the then director of the Yuzhnaya agricultural firm located in Taman, later said, the directors, after Baklitsky’s trends, got together, “rubbed out” the prospects, and decided to ignore the imperious anger. They sat down, flew to the Urals and concluded agreements. The Yuzhnaya agricultural firm, which at that time owned more than 6 thousand hectares of vineyards (in 2015, the company increased the vineyard area by another 2.5 thousand hectares, becoming one of the largest owners of vineyards in Europe. Now the area of Yuzhnaya vineyards is off the charts for 9 thousand hectares).

The winery in Kurchanskaya, the winery in Starotitarovskaya, where, in fact, bottling was carried out (Starotitarovka is designated as the place of production of all Kuban-Vino products) and a number of other enterprises came under the wing of Arianta.

Tkachev, although he received an unpleasant slap on the nose because his opinion was ignored, was still one of those leaders who could shove personal grievances far away if the “opponents” showed obvious results. In the first year, Ariant invested more than 50 million euros in production. The centuries-old winemaking rubbish was replaced with modern equipment. Then, over the next five years, another 70 million euros were invested o to the vineyards. Vine seedlings were purchased throughout wine-producing Europe. The most authoritative oenologist Jerome Barre, now director of the Institute of Oenology (French province of Champagne), was invited as a consultant.

To mark the opening of a new production, he was cutting the ribbon... Tkachev, who, having replaced his anger with winemaking mercy, remarked: “Well, they certainly won’t take out either the vineyards or the equipment, which means all this is for the benefit of the region.” Although he did make Fontanetsky one of the vice-governors. With a vague wording: “Thank you for the work done,” with wishes for further success.

The new wine brand “Arianta” - “Chateau Taman”, began to win the hearts of Russians who love good wine.

As part of import substitution, the largest nursery in Russia and the CIS countries was created (and in Europe it has no equal in terms of production volume).

And now the story ends. Business comes under the wing of the state. And, in principle, in the foreseeable future, unfortunately, it is quite possible to talk about an inevitable kerdyk. Investments in the development of viticulture and winemaking are “long-term money”. There is no such thing as rapid return here - that's out of the question. And the necessary investments for areas of thousands of hectares of vineyards and processing equipment amount to hundreds of millions of euros. The fact that the state is now listed as the owner of the company in the Unified State Register of Legal Entities does not mean at all that the state is ready to invest in the same volumes as private businesses. Our state already has somewhere to spend money.

In general, viticulture and winemaking are a delicate area that depends on many factors. Natural conditions? Of course yes! There are not many areas in the country suitable for growing grapes: Kuban, Crimea, Don, Dagestan, Stavropol - that’s probably all. In Kuban, by the way, yield records have been set in recent years (winners harvest more than 200 thousand tons, with good sugar content). But even taking into account the harvest of other named regions, the country lacks wine materials.

For many years, almost all wineries in Kuban worked according to a simple scheme: part of the wine produced is wine made from local raw materials. But due to a shortage of local raw materials, the capacity simply could not be used year-round. And, most importantly, wine bottled with a “protected geographical indication of wine” on the label (a sign that the wine was produced specifically in Kuban, in this case) cannot be cheap. And the other, significant part of what was produced until recently was wine made from beam - wine material produced by Kuban wine suppliers sent throughout the wine-producing countries to the same wineries. Where did the wort come from to the Krasnodar region? From Panama, Chile, Spain, Montenegro... Often this product, due to its not outstanding quality, cost mere cents. Brought to the port of Novorossiysk by wine-carrying ships, this wort spread to wineries for “secondary production” and bottling as... Kuban wine. Any observant Russian driver who drove into the coastal territories of the Russian Federation could often see trucks with 30 cc stainless steel tanks on the roads. Two options: either palm oil was transported from Novoros, or from the same hero city - bulk to wineries.

Basically, the entire wine trade was maintained on the beam, providing winemakers with a more or less decent income. But from the end of 2023, the import of beams into the Russian Federation is prohibited. So, many wineries are either already collapsing or will collapse in the near future. The wine law initiated by the strange Kuban governor Kondratiev, which was not fully thought out and therefore extremely crude, added a “bug”. An example of the consequences of this Kondratieff “achievement” is the Rostov Champagne Wine Factory. In January 2021, one of the oldest enterprises in the industry in the South of Russia, which had been operating for almost 100 years, was closed. The plant does not have its own vineyards; all wine materials were purchased abroad. So, thanks to Kondratiev and his law on wine, the Russians, it seems, said goodbye to Tsimlyansk fizz forever.

The fact that the production of wine from balka has actually been stopped is presented for some reason as a victory in protecting the interests of domestic winemakers. But... not every Russian will buy a very simple, geographically protected domestic bottle at a price of a thousand re, when he is used to buying bulk “Kuban” for 300-400. And it’s not worth talking about the mass purchase of more decent domestic wine at a price of 3-8 thousand re. “Ariant”, despite the fact that it seems to have enough of its own vineyards, also used Balk. In Taman, wine trucks with bulk from Novorossiysk were constantly standing at the entrance of Yuzhny.

Assessing the hope for the state in bringing the expropriated “Ariant” to new wine frontiers, it is probably worth saying that these hopes are unlikely to exist. For some time, taking into account the fact that all the specialists remained at their jobs, the enterprise will last (and there will certainly be official reports of incredible successes, thanks to the tireless care of the Kuban authorities and the state as a whole) , but without significant investments the business will simply die out over time.

In principle, there seems to be a way out of the current situation, and it has already been tested in the Russian Federation more than once. When a sufficiently profitable enterprise is seized (under various beneficial formulations) from some owners and transferred to others. So, if in the case of Ariant the state simply acts as an intermediary before transferring production to other interested private hands, then there is a chance. Although not a fact.

After all, the “hands” should not only be those who strive to obtain wine “money”, but, first of all, those who know how to professionally and competently organize a very specific production. And the rich, interested, and at the same time knowledgeable businessmen in winemaking in the Russian Federation can be counted on one hand. Even those who consider themselves such are not always able to pull it off.

It’s a long way to go, just take one more Taman example: the Primorsky winery. The actual owner of which was then the president of the Russian Union of Winegrowers and Winemakers, Valery Loginov. Initially, the plant bottled very worthy wines – Cabernet, Merlot “Star of Taman”. But then Loginov moved the bottling from Temryuk to Kaluga. And the wine turned into outright crap. It was simply impossible to drink. As a result, the brand simply disappeared. Now Loginov is advocating for garage winemaking. And he promotes his own author’s brand “VL-Valery Loginov”. Our wine fidget has now settled in Crimea.

There is another critical success factor in the industry: winemakers. Piece goods. There is a real “hunt” for professionals here. Owners of wine businesses lure specialists without skimping on bonuses. The question became especially relevant when you can no longer invite French winemakers to the country. For example, the director of the Yubileiny winery, Sergei Dubovik, a highly qualified, respected specialist, was lured away by the Myskhako winery. Having made him not only the main winemaker, but also a partner of the company.

If we assume to whom the management of Ariant may ultimately be transferred by the state, then there is a question. To the owner of Abrau Titov? But, excuse me, Abrau-Durso champagne is now a very strange production. Despite the fact that around Abrau-Durso there is a very colorful show with excursions and tastings. Yes, in the tunnels there are still master remuors twirling bottles on music stands. But what comes from there, that is, classic champagne, goes either to the tasting room or to the festive tables of “our own people.” The vast majority of what goes on sale is a very mediocre, or even simply disgusting, acratophoric drink. Brut “Victor Dravigny” can be considered more or less worthy (the price here is around 1000 rubles). Even the Abrau employees themselves will not recommend you buy the rest, if they are honest.

And the fact that the same governor Kondratiev, in his incendiary speeches, presents as an incredible international competitive success, including his native champagne (there were medals, that’s a fact), looks, to put it mildly, crooked. Few Russians have tried the victorious super-champagne, Abrau, at the price of Veuve Clicquot, except perhaps those whom we see on TV in the Vremya program.

Which other non-poor Russian has become interested in winemaking in this century? Gennady Timchenko and his estate “Divnomorskaya”. But there are only 47 hectares of vineyards there. Prices start from 1 thousand rubles. The estate's wine has also represented Kuban more than once at various international wine competitions, and even received medals and diplomas. The truth is not consumer goods, but what you can buy from us for 3-8 thousand rubles.

Another positive example: Alexander Sikorsky near Anapa (in the Semigorye region) organized the family estate “Sikory” (45 hectares). His main business is paving slabs (the company “Vybor”), which covers the entire Krasnodar region. The wine is quite good, and also has medals from exhibitions. But even there the prices for a bottle of normal wine are “not for pensioners.”

There are also a number of “respected” people who have become owners of wine businesses in recent years. But there’s no point in even talking about them. For those, winemaking is not a matter of life, but a status. In the 90s, the signs of a “real boy” were crimson jackets and 600s “geldings”, then palaces in elite villages, then yachts, then deputy badges. Like: “Do you have a deputy badge? No? So you’re not a kid!” Nowadays there is a trend for such things in wineries. “Do you have a winery? No? Well, what should I talk to you about? These, when the fashion for personal lordly wineries passes and the sign of “real boys” becomes something else, they will calmly go out of business.

  There is another new winemaker - the former Kuban governor Tkachev (Vyselkovsky agricultural holding). His Chateau de Talus produces classic wines in the unique terroir of Gelendzhik (183 hectares). And at a very reasonable price. But it is unlikely that Tkachev or anyone from his circle should be considered as possible “keepers” of “Ariant” afloat. The current governor of Kuban, Veniamin Kondratyev, who owes his career 100 percent to Tkachev, if he had been given free rein, would have crushed his predecessor into a fine powder in a mortar.

Hope that then the state that has become the owner will start pouring money into Ariant, it’s not worth it. Today there is also no reason to dream that someone from a large business will come to manage one of the largest wineries in Europe.

So what awaits domestic wine lovers in connection with this? It seems to be the same disappointment that is present today in conversations about industry destroyed during privatization. The collapse of Ariant is not the ruin of some Rostov fizzybrew factory. The inevitable problems of the country's largest winemaking enterprise will affect the Russian wine market as a whole.

The total area of vineyards in Russia today is just over 100 thousand hectares. Arianta Vineyards, consider it a tenth. And today the only force that is interested in maintaining production is the employees themselves. Yes, of course, Kuban winemakers are special people. In some ways, even aliens, if you like. Their love for their work cannot be measured by any instrument - they will simply go off scale. Example: when the winery in Sauk-Dere collapsed, employees stored wine in the cellars, coming to work, and not receiving a penny. But then, Sauk-Dere, is a small winery. And today there are already 9.157 thousand hectares of vineyards, 95.5 million bottles of wine in 2023!

So what to expect? Whom to rely on? Let us pray to the patron saint of winemaking and wine, Saint Urban. Maybe he will enlighten and instruct. We publish the icon just in case.

Roman Trushkin

To be continued

Source: www.rucriminal.info