Journey with a bottle

The vinery harvest in the Rostov Region. Source: ITAR-TASS

The vinery harvest in the Rostov Region. Source: ITAR-TASS

Russian tourists and Russian vintners look forward to the growing trend of wine tourism.

Viktor Sotnikov, a director for strategic planning at a large Russian fuel company, goes on vacation twice a year. His vacations are of a very specific kind, however. Sotnikov prefers the shade of grapevines and the coolness of wine cellars to the heat of open plazas or the structure of museums. On his travels, Sotnikov delves deep into the nuances of cold maceration, remontage and aging, and enjoys the contents of steel tubs and oak barrels.

“I am a failed tourist in the conventional sense of the word,” Sotnikov said. “Tours of world capital cities do not excite me – I often go those places on business. I’m not athletic, and mountain peaks, deep dives or many hours on a golf course are not for me. That’s why I’ve spent a few years’ worth of vacations on what I really enjoy – good wines.”

His routes are different, but what never changes is the view of vineyards from his hotel room.

Sotnikov does not have elaborate itineraries, but goes wherever the labels of his favorite wines beckon him. In recent years, he has visited Australia, Germany, Spain, Italy, the United States, France, Montenegro and Switzerland – the best winemaking places. He is planning to go to Chile on his next trip. On vacation, he normally visits local vineries, attends wine tastings, meets winemakers and familiarizes himself with the features of local winemaking.

“During the last decade, Russian demand for wine tours has grown much stronger,” said Inessa Korotkova, director of the Tourism Development Agency in France. “French regions are getting especially popular, specifically tours of Alsace, Bordeaux, Champagne, Ardennes, Reims, Epernay, Normandy and Calvados.”

Dozens of travel agencies specializing exclusively in wine tourism have emerged in Russia in the last few years. “We established a wine tour division that has been accredited by embassies and received IATA certification back in 2007,” said Anatoly Korneyev, assistant director of the wine trade company Simple. “When I talk about wine tourism, I mean travel services offering a unique package that is impossible for regular agencies. Our customers prefer Italy – Piedmont, Tuscany. In France, Bordeaux leads the way, followed by Burgundy and Alsace. In Spain, Bilbao is the most popular destination.”

Despite the increased demand, wine is not among the most popular alcoholic beverages in Russia. The country is not known for wine production; the country’s harsh climate makes it difficult to cultivate grapes. Furthermore, there have been many anti-alcohol campaigns over the last 100 years, which has had an extremely negative impact on winemaking.

Nevertheless, Russians seem to be increasingly interested in wines. Each year, more and more Russian tourists visit places that produce the best varieties of the beverage.

In France, Spain, Italy and Switzerland, there are always road signs showing you the way to almost every winemaker, and each winery has a tasting room and a boutique. The most successful winemakers run their own mini-hotels and restaurants, and invite the world’s leading designers and architects to build their wine estates.

As a result, wineries (which often incorporate the main components of the wine business under one roof – fermentation containers, cellars, tasting rooms, shops, hotels and restaurants) are often listed in modern architecture catalogues. They thus are transformed from smaller regional farms only of interest to a narrow circle of connoisseurs into international tourist attractions.

Experts agree that wine tourism has a brilliant future, and despite its lack of wine culture, Russia may become an important travel destination. Several large Russian producers – Fanagoria, Chateau le Grand Vostock, Kuban-Vino, Chateau Taman, Myskhako – have tasting rooms, boutiques and cellar tours.

Abrau-Dyurso seems to have the most ambitious plans. The Russian sparkling wine house, in conjunction with Cronwell Hotels & Resorts, plans to create a chain of hotels in Russia’s Krasnodar Territory, the Moscow Region and Greece, named Abrau-Dyurso Hotels by Cronwell. The wine hotels will cater exclusively to wine connoisseurs. Each themed hotel will have no more than 100 rooms. The hotels will feature wine tastings, access to Abrau-Dyurso cellars, spa wine treatments, and more. Abrau-Dyurso Hotels by Cronwell are working on selling franchising rights to operate hotels in various Russian regions that are suitable for wine themed hotels.

Dmitry Alexeyev is a restaurant critic, Vice-President of the Association of Restaurant and Gastronomic Writers

Dmitry Alexeyev is a restaurant critic, Vice-President of the Association of Restaurant and Gastronomic Writers

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