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EU's Wine War: Crimea Growers Urge Russia to Fire Back

The EU banned Crimean wines last year. Crimean wine growers are saying it's time to return the favor

As the EU took the decision to lengthen the ban on Russian imports this week, wine producers in Crimea intend to make the most of this opportunity. The Crimean Grape Bureau plans to approach the Russian government in order to appeal for a ban on EU wine imports.

It was a year ago that the EU imposed its sectoral sanctions on Crimea’s top wineries - Massandra, Novy Svet, Magarach and Azov. Chairman of the Crimean Grape Bureau, Yanina Pavlenko, condemned the move:

"We consider this as an unfair competition. We have been simply withdrawn from the European markets and this is rather selective."

However the lack of competition from European wines will likely see a boost to consumption of domestic wines, which appeal to the Russian palate and since the Soviet era have graced the Russian dining table.  The typically semi-sweet wines, many of which are based on concentrate, are traditionally preferred to the dry wines favoured in the west of Europe. Director of the Inkerman winery, Alexei Lipko, believes that this could be the time for Russians to support their national producers:

"Judging from the price-quality ratio, the European wines are no rivals for us. But if European partners start ‘trolling’ us, put it in crude terms, then I as a patriot of the country and the whole our team will unanimously back the policy of the Russian government. We are for the support of a domestic manufacturer,"

Russia is, contrary to popular knowledge, a major wine producing country.  In 2007 it was reported to have produced around 7.3 million hl - just behind Chile and Portugal. If Russians were to be more limited to the domestic market, European wine producers would lose out to what is by far the largest market in Europe.

Indeed consumption patterns according to the a report issued in 2012 by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada indicate a doubling of overall wine consumption in Russia between 2005 and 2010.

Accordingly, in the period 2009/10, there was a 75% increase in imports of Italian wine at almost $205 million and a 45% increase in French wine to Russia at around $182 million.

With such figures, the question is how long EU producers can tolerate the policy of sanctions towards Russia.