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31.03.11 Grape-vine images

Can grapes grow in Belarus’ climatic conditions? Local farmers have long known how to grow this traditionally southern plant but wine bottlers in Minsk are importing supplies from Moldova and France, for later export

Deliveries from California may begin in the future. The most contemporary equipment has been purchased for bottling imported wine and is operating successfully. In particular, Minsk’s Grape Wines Factory is bottling French wines from Bordeaux, under the trademarks Chateau Des Chevaliers Bordeaux and Chateau Les Agneras Bordeaux.
The first French Bordeaux wines are on sale in Belarus, similar to those exported from France in bottles, yet much cheaper. In this way, our country is substituting imports while creating new jobs for local specialists and developing its business presence.
The bottling of French wines is being performed under franchising (renting of another manufacturer’s trademark); an agreement has been signed between the Maison Rivière and Minsk’s Grape Wines Factory, following a visit by Maison Rivière managers to the Belarusian company. “The French assured themselves that our enterprise is equipped with high-tech equipment, enabling us to bottle wines using the ‘cold method’; we’re able to preserve the quality and flavour of their wine,” notes Director Denis Moroz. “By the end of this year, the factory will have raised its share of natural grape wines under franchising to 30 percent of its total output. This proves that, although Belarus doesn’t grow grapes in industrial volumes, it can manufacture high quality wines.”
The 2009 harvest is being supplied from France to Belarus; it’s considered to be one of the best of the last ten years. Ivan Trotsky, the country’s chief wine-maker and a member of the Central Degustation Committee of Belarus, explains that only one grape variety from one definite vineyard (controlled by specialists) is used when producing the wine. The final product is cheaper than that imported in bottles, since the French manufacturer doesn’t need to spend money on supplying and promoting its produce.
Rkaziteli, Saperavi, Tbilisi Legend and Mtsvane (by Georgian Kindzmarauli Marani trademark) are also manufactured in Minsk, under franchising conditions. Soon, Spain will be represented by the Castillo Las Veras trademark and Italy by Castelli Romani Bianco and Castelli Romani Rosso.
Several enterprises in Belarus bottle grape wines, but only the Minsk Grape Wines Factory uses ‘cold bottling’ technology, enabling it to manufacture beverages which rival foreign wines, or even outstrip them.
“Due to the strict quality requirements of the state, we have the opportunity to produce good quality wines and develop our business. The import-substitution policy has enabled Belarusians to taste products by world famous trademarks, which are rarely affordable in the original,” stresses Mr. Moroz.
Mr. Trotsky explains that wine from any European region can be delivered to Minsk, transported in thermos insulated wine carriers, which preserve the necessary air temperature. In winter and summer, the temperature in these wine carriers remains stable, as does its quality, regardless of weather conditions. One variety of grapes, grown at one particular vineyard, under strict control by specialists, is used to manufacture such wines.
Belarus pursues a very strict policy regarding excessive alcohol drinking, with the state encouraging citizens to drink only in moderation, and to choose good quality beverages. Meanwhile, according to Mr. Trotsky, the increase in wine output will guide Belarusians towards drinking the safest alcoholic beverage from the point of view of their health. “In other countries, strong alcohol consumption per capita has fallen by increasing the share of those who consume wine. Wine consumption in Belarus isn’t yet at a high level. If it were not for an inclination towards grape wines, the ‘total alcohol degree’ per capita in Belarus would have fallen.”
Does wine pair well with Belarusian cuisine, which is traditionally eaten with beer, kvass, honey and vodka? To my surprise, Mr. Trotsky wasn’t even puzzled by my question.
Name a dish and I’ll tell you which wine to serve.
Draniki (potato pancakes).
Do you mean draniki or kolduny (potato pancakes with meat); there’s a difference. Dry white wine complements draniki while I’d recommend dry red wine for kolduny, since they’re more fatty and stuffed with meat. In other words, heavy food tends to be served with stronger tasting wine. Dry red wine is always good with rich dishes while white wine is the best choice for light meals.

What about bigos (cabbage and pork stew) and stewed cabbage?
If it is slightly stewed in animal or sunflower butter, you can use white wine; however, if the meat is cut into big pieces, red wine is preferable.
As far as the country of origin is concerned, Mr. Trotsky sees a difference only in flavour, rather than in quality.
Moldovan wine is lighter, while Western European varieties have a lower acidic content and a higher alcoholic content. There’s more sunshine in Spain and France; however, in Moldova, some regions are similar to Champagne and Bordeaux in their climatic conditions.

Which characteristics does Georgian wine possess?
I’d compare them with those from Spain. Only Georgia’s Saperavi variety really stands out. Grapes usually have a red skin and white core but Saperavi grapes are red inside too, making their wines very dark. At present, this grape variety grows everywhere, but its homeland is Georgia.

Not all shop assistants are trained to explain these aspects. How can we choose appropriately?
It depends for what purpose you are buying wine. You might be choosing a French labelled wine, thinking it’s better quality, but this would be in vain. Many think French wines are superior to those from Moldova but even wine-makers can’t distinguish between French and Moldovan wines if they’re manufactured in equal conditions and from the same grape varieties. If Chardonnay is manufactured in line with the rules, it doesn’t matter where it was produced. Of course, there are ‘great’ years, when ideal conditions of sun and rain bring a good harvest.

Which years have been best?
2009 was a good year in Moldova; in France, this was true of 2005. These are the years when wine was bottled into containers, not into the final bottles; don’t buy wines which were bottled more than a year after harvest; check the back label.
Lots of Chilean and Argentinean wines have appeared recently. These are quite cheap, although transportation should cost a great deal. Why do we import wine from these countries and why do they have such a low price?
Grapes in these states harvest twice a year, so wine is cheaper. However, the first harvest is always richer, which should be noted.

How can I know which wine is from the ‘first’ and which is from the ‘second’ harvest?
It’s impossible. As far as difference in flavour is concerned, Chilean wines tend to be ‘rough’ and heavy. These should only be drunk with food.
At the end of our conversation, Mr. Trotsky told us a pleasant piece of news, primarily for our readers in America. By the New Year, a batch of famous ‘Sovetskoe Champagne’ is to be delivered from Minsk to New York, which will delight the diaspora from the former Soviet Union; they are well aware of the quality of Minsk’s holiday drink. From 2011, supplies will become regular; Belarus is truly becoming a major wine exporter.

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