Crimean winemakers eye Russian drinkers

Crimean winemakers eye Russian drinkers

SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine - Wines from the sunny hillsides of Crimea have been popular with Russians since the time of Tsar Nicholas II - and now some vineyard owners are hoping their new union with Moscow could boost business despite the winds of war.

French actor Gerard Depardieu is among those reportedly to have invested in Crimean vineyards but most of its 25,000 hectares (61,780 acres) are owned by small businessmen like Pavlo Shvets of the Uppa Winery, southeast of Sevastopol.

"I think for business, for wine production, selling wine directly to Russian buyers would be a lot better," Shvets told AFP.

"The Russian market is a lot bigger, richer and is developing faster than the Ukrainian one. That's a fact."

Agriculture is one of Crimea's biggest earners, making up 10 per cent of gross regional product, and grape growing accounts for 10 per cent of that, mainly in the south.

But Ukraine's economy is fragile - its new government says it needs US$15 billion (S$19 billion) to stabilise and restructure while analysts warn it could be set for a debt default.

Many people who voted for closer ties to Moscow in Sunday's referendum cite the economy as a major motivator.

'People afraid of war'

Shvets, a sommelier in Moscow for 15 years before buying his ten-and-a-half hectare vineyard, employs 12 people and produces around 30,000 bottles a year of wines like Pinot Noir and Riesling.

He sells half in Ukraine and exports the other half to Russia but hopes this could increase in future.

"If you talk only about market and about business, I think for my business it will be better if Crimea will become part of Russia," he added.

Conditions for doing business under Russia could also be better than they are now, he said.

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