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Ukraine Turns Off Crimea's Water, But the Wine Keeps Flowing

With sun, sand, sea and wine, why did this idyllic part of the world get its knickers in a twist and decide overwhelmingly to reunite with mother Russia?

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

Paul Goncharoff is Chairman, Disciplinary Committee, National Association of Corporate Directors, Russia.

"In vino veritas, in aqua sanitas", i.e., "In wine there is truth, in water there is health." So, let’s take a look now that three years have passed since the people living in Crimea reunited with Russia, and let’s pay homage to both wine and water.

<figcaption>A toast to Crimea!</figcaption>
A toast to Crimea!

Winemaking in Crimea has existed in some form for over two millennia but it wasn’t until Russia’s Count Mikhail Vorontsov planted the first commercial vineyards in 1820 and shortly thereafter a large winery near Yalta. The Tsar then founded the viticulture research institute on Crimea in 1828. The pioneer of the now famous Crimean sparkling wines is Prince Lev Golitsyn, who first produced and bottled Russian “Champagne” after the Crimean War (1854 to 1856) on his properties.

The life of the grape has not always been easy in Crimea; the decision of 25 May 1985 "On combating drunkenness and alcoholism" saw the destruction of many vineyards and wineries in the futile effort to combat Bacchus. However, the greatest loss in both number and size of vineyards with consequent severe drop in wine production occurred after the collapse of the USSR and under the stewardship of Kiev. Since that governance experiment failed, Russia’s Medvedev set out in 2014 to increase the total size of Russia’s vineyards from 90,000 hectares to 140,000 by 2019, which includes Crimea.

In its heyday, Russia’s vineyards totaled 200,000 hectares in the early 1980s, falling to 90,000 hectares today, 30,000 of which were came on stream with Crimean reunification in March 2014.

Approximately 300 million rubles are annually designated to support the industry since 2014 and the Government officially recognized wine as an “agricultural product” making it eligible for state subsidies. These subsidies account for only 10 to 20% of the cost of grape cultivation, compared to most countries who compensate 60 to 80%.

The development of viticulture and winemaking in the Crimea recently has been a reorientation process from supplying the Ukraine market to supplying Russia, and the process of adapting to the more defined and enforced quality, and regulatory framework of Russia. In general, since reunification the growth of the Crimean wine export market has been strong both through satisfying local Russian needs, and through export to countries like Italy. Currently the better known export brands are "Massandra", "Inkerman", "Sun Valley", "Gold beam", "Koktebel", "Magarach", "Suter", "New World," and "Legend of Crimea".

In February of this year in Rome two Crimean producers were included in the wine fair "I migliori vini italiani" ("The best Italian wines"). Crimea is the leader among Russian winemakers that do not use any imported raw materials. The wines from the Crimean peninsula were appreciated not only by ordinary connoisseurs, but also by several professional critics, and resulted in two small but promising long-term supply contracts to Italy.

Key to further developing viniculture on Crimea is accessible water, and transport logistics, so it is a relief that Moscow has been taking the necessary steps to physically connect with the mainland directly. A railroad is under construction and will begin running in seven months (September 2017), and the Kerch Bridge, when finished in late 2018, will allow unencumbered car and truck traffic with Crimea. For now, the airport and a ferry are the only grape gateways for those wishing to travel directly from mainland Russia to Crimea.

As far as providing water to the people living and farming in Crimea, this has been an unpleasant period as the Ukrainian Government saw fit to petulantly dam off and block 85% of the water normally supplied to Crimea. Alternative measures have been implemented and long term solutions are in works. Most seriously affected was the eastern part of Crimea, which has experienced the strongest difficulties due to Ukraine’s move to turn the water off.

With sun, sand, sea and wine, why did this idyllic part of the world get its knickers in a twist and decide overwhelmingly to reunite with mother Russia? All sorts of reasons are out there, from the emotional to the absurd, but what it boils down to for many people, was the issue of language. The Ukrainian language was imposed in schools, and radio/TV stations forced to broadcast in Ukrainian. The people, however, had always considered themselves Russian and wanted to speak only Russian. Other factors play key roles as well, the fact that since Ukrainian independence from the Soviet Union, the Crimea was ignored and its infrastructure crumbling even while their taxes were paid to Kiev, hence many Crimean’s felt shafted.

It should be interesting to read about the observations and statements attendees to the Yalta International Economic Forum (YIEF) on April 20-22, 2017 will have. This event is scheduled to include over 40 countries and a US delegation. Perhaps seeing the truth may even break through the babble of noise and misinformation the world has been subject to regarding Crimea.

While as of this writing there is still no 2017 sociological data on Crimea, however according to a 2016 public opinion poll the proportion of satisfied to dissatisfied Crimean’s was 78 percent to 12 percent, with 10 percent undecided. Whatever one thinks, most countries would be salivating with pleasure to get such ratings from their own citizenry. That certainly earns a deserved toast!

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