Yuzhnaya Ozereevka & Anapa (Novorossiisk region, southern Russia)
Ivan Karakezidi is probably the most emblematic artisan winemaker of Russia, a country which has almost no family winery as we understand the notion in the other wine-producing countries. What Ivan has been through (and still is today to some extent) to get allowed to make wine is quite heroic. He has been the first rebel to pretend make wine independently, and this, without thev usual additives or industrial processes, except some SO2, making thus another rebellion against the culture of highly-corrected wines widespead among the industrial wineries here.
The Russian administration never really understood why an individual without heavy industrial backing could pretend to start a winery in the first place. In the mindset of the people in charge of delivering the authorizations, wine production is a big-industry thing and in spite of his 5 generations of ancestry in family winemaking, they didn’t take him seriously and thought he would give up in front of their avalanche of requirements. He didn't. And actually, Ivan Karakezidi and his likes represent the best hopes for Russia wines to attract the attention of demanding wine amateurs not only in Russia but abroad.
I shot this picture on his family house, where he set up his initial small winery. His son Konstantin (who by the way is speaking French fluently) helps him when he is not working and learning in wineries abroad (in France, particularly).
The home/winery in the background is where it started. Ivan Karakezidi emphasizes the importance of working with healthy grapes with controlled yields, and the vineyard part is for him central to make a good wine. On the vinification side, he makes carbonic macerations (карбоническая мацерация or carbonitcheskaya matseratsiya) in open-top wooden vats during some 20 days for his reds, with a careful surveillance of the temperature round the clock. The long élevage which follows gives his wines the capacity to live and breath by themtselves. He bottles his wines manually under cold temperature, and can't understand the use of pasteurization which is common in the industrial wineries : it kills everything in the wine, he says, including the life of the wine and its subtle aromas, that's why he also prefers not to filter his wines.
I had read a few articles on the Russian Internet about Ivan Karakezidi, and his fight against the administration to keep making wine, so I utterly wanted to visit him near Novorossiysk. Eduard Dolgin of Kubanskie Vina in Krasnodar helped me and my friends to realize that wish. We visited his estate and the whole thing was quite a treat. A visit at Ivan Karakezidi's Stretto family winery is nothing ordinary, it's both fastuous and fun, part show, complete with music and jokes, it's a great vinous experience with the nice wines that our host pours us along with fresh and refined food, and you get a unique glimpse on the first natural-wine maker of Russia.
Today, ironicly, the hidden survival of traditional winemaking through the grey years of the Soviet Union may be the way to salvation & rebirth for Russian wines. Ivan embodies perfectly this survival, but like Ivan said in an interview, the apparent goal of the administration bodies is to do everything they can to prevent entrepreneurs to go ahead (reminds me something). In the case of artisan winemaking, that’s shooting-in-the-foot for Russia, as it is harming Russia’s prospects in the quality-wine sector.
The picture above was shot at the family property, where it all began. These open-top fermenters are Russian made, with Caucasian oak. These type of traditional fermenters which are so widespread in artisan wineries in France, are very rare in Russia.
The vineyard, which is plowed with a tractor, is planted with 2 meeters between rows and 80 cm between vines, making 5000 vines/hectare. It's Cabernet Sauvignon here on the pictures. They have also Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot in here. Grafts were imported from France (Guillaume, in the Franche Comté region). They tends to harvest later than other people.
Against all odds, Ivan Karakezidi persisted and he got his license around 2001, and could sell his wines. Today, it’s not clear if he still can sell his wine, as I heard that after 5 or 6 years the administration head changed and he was left in the dark again, without valid license.
This winery went through its first vinification last year (in 2009), with a very small volume of wine though. I asked which cooperage made the wooden containers, Konstantin told me it was Meladini in the village of Sauk Dere.
__ Stretto Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon 2003. Reduction on the first nose. Unfiltered wine, he says. After some time, aromas of very riê fruits come to you, also garrigue or scrubland, and laurel. Extraction, velvety feel in the mouth. Really nice wine. Before, he says, he kept the stems but now it's case by case; in general, he makes 30 % of whole clusters. Silky, great with the food, and the reduction is gone. The average price of his wines (if he could sell them of course) is 1700 Roubles or 35 to 40 €. Ivan says about the SO2 level that he has a maximum of 4,8 gr total. In free SO2, it makes 40 or less. He puts some when the harvest comes in, and only if there is some rot among the grapes. Otherwise, he uses a sulphur wick to clean the casks.
This musical interlude where Konstantin also held a good place took place in a reception room for his guests, in the new facility near Anapa, as were were sipping his delicious estate-made brandy (very good stuff indeed, I had three pours of it and wouldn't have balked at a fourth...).