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Home > Food> Drink > Ukrainians brew wine for victory

Ukrainians brew wine for victory

Winemakers across the war-torn country continue to harvest grapes and produce wines despite the extraordinary adversity

A sticker that proclaims ‘We are from Ukraine’ are seen at bottles on a production line in Koblevo Winery, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Koblevo a town near Mykolaiv, Ukraine, (REUTERS/ Umit Bektas)
A sticker that proclaims ‘We are from Ukraine’ are seen at bottles on a production line in Koblevo Winery, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Koblevo a town near Mykolaiv, Ukraine, (REUTERS/ Umit Bektas)

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Six months after a rocket landed in his vineyard in southern Ukraine in the first weeks of Russia's invasion, Georgiy Molchanov is now harvesting his grapes and wondering what to name this year's unforgettable wartime vintage.

"We need to show ... there is a wine for victory," said Molchanov who, like other craft winemakers as well as larger enterprises across Ukraine, is determined to keep producing wine despite extraordinary adversity.

At one point a huge fire broke out when a wild pig stumbled into unexploded ordnance and tore through four hectares of land near his six-hectare property near the city of Mykolaiv.

"You have to work, continue living and making plans for the future - and to hope that rockets don't come to your house," says Molchanov, who runs the SliVino Village winery.

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An hour's drive to the southwest, in a largely abandoned Black Sea resort, the much larger Koblevo winery had Russian paratroopers landing in its fields. One of its staff at a sister plant nearer Mykolaiv was killed.

Many of the winery's workers quit to join the army; others made Molotov cocktails out of empty bottles or crafted the fabric netting used to camouflage the ubiquitous checkpoints that are now all over the country.

The company began labelling some bottles of wine "We are from Ukraine" and sent a portion of sales to the army, says director Vitalii Ryboshapko, who joined staff at the vast production facility working the fields when the war began.

"For every Ukrainian ... the first challenge is surviving in the current climate," he said. "We do what we can today and try to support our country, so it can live on in these hard conditions."

ALCOHOL BAN, CLOSED PORTS

Koblevo sits in the heart of one of Ukraine's key winemaking regions, where it processes 10,000 tons of grapes per season, accounting for about 15% of the wine produced in the country.

The war has hit winemakers on several fronts.

Ukraine banned the sale of alcohol during the first two months of the war. Exports - a key source of revenue for Koblevo and other big wineries - have shrivelled due to the blockade of Ukraine's Black Sea ports.

Consumption of wine has fallen 20% since before the war, the company says, while sparkling wines are down by half because of the lack of parties and reasons to celebrate.

Evgeniy Safonov, who served only Ukrainian wines at his bar in the eastern city of Kharkiv before it was damaged by shelling, doubts Ukrainian wines will benefit from wartime solidarity.

Ukrainian wines, he says, are largely unknown abroad, and even at home most people still prefer beer or vodka.

"Give us 10 years after the war and we can show the wine market we exist," he said.

At Koblevo, which exported to 14 countries before the war, winemaker Tatyna Matveyeva says she pours her love for her country into the wine she makes.

"I think you have to keep on living in any situation and value every day and every second," she says, wearing a jacket adorned with the traditional vyshyvanka embroidery. "This is why we make our wine, so its taste and feel can help people live on, reminding them that life is not over."

A few kilometres down the road from Koblevo, Liubov Pleshka toils mostly alone to run Lautari, a small organic winery she launched with her son in 2017. He is now serving at the front.

The vineyard with its beautiful view and free-ranging chickens reminds her of her childhood in Moldova, where her father also made wine. For now, she is grateful that no rocket has struck her home and she prays for peace.

"This is what happens in life," she said. "Hard work, hard work, but if you put your soul into it, the work flows, and there is hope for tomorrow."

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