Audacious enterprises often begin with two individuals meeting and crafting a common dream. I think that's it's the case for the Gaï Kodzor winery in southern Russia.
Alain Dugas' connection with the vineyards of Russia has a lot to do with his friendship with Eduard Alexandrov : These dry slopes in the Russian western Caucasus are indeed far from his Chateauneuf du Pape estate of La Nerthe (even though he says that the two regions have a lot in common). Alain Dugas, who comes regularly to Moscow for the promotion of the Chateau La Nerthe wines, became friend with Eduard Alexandrov a few years ago. They toured the Kuban region some time later, it was particularly interesting for a vigneron from Chateauneuf du Pape to see how could the Russian wine region look like. It was a real discovery for Alain Dugas, who learned how ancient the wine civilization was over here, possibly pre-dating the Greek one. Another thing that he became aware of, is that there seemed to be real terroirs with potential here, which yielded reasonable hopes for the development of quality wine here. That's where the spark of the adventure burst off...
We met Alain Dugas as he was visiting the estate with Eduard Alexandrov, the main initiator of Gaï Kodzor. Learning about their visit, we drove back to this new winery based in the same-name village near Anapa in the Kuban region, Russia, to meet them.
On the way to the Triangle vineyard which is close to the Gaï-Kodzor facility, Eduard underlines the fact that he doesn’t work with Alain Dugas on the same relation basis than some estates around here in the Kuban, who pay high sums for the services of foreign specialists, like they also buy the most expensive equipment, and this, without usually taking a close look at the quality of their raw material, the grapes and the vines, which are actually the most important thing for the final wine. His story with Alain Dugas is friendship first, so when he comes here, he spends time with Eduard's family all the while looking at the advancment of the winery. he says again that when he set up this winery with his partners/investors, he concentrated his efforts (including the financial ones) into the securing of the best possible vineyard.
So, as Alain Dugas came for a visit in southern Russia with his cousin, and he discovered this ancient wine country where everything had to be restarted properly. He visited the region of Guelendjik first, south of Novorossiysk, then other regions further north. The whole area may have made wine before the greeks themseves according to some sources, and except for the muslim occupation which lasted a couple of centuries, it virtually always produced wine.The soviet regime destroyed the winemaking roots of the region with its preference for kombinat style wineries (a trend that has not disappeared after the fall of communism), and at the top of that, the ill-thought Gorbatchev anti-alcohol initiative of the mid-1980s’ put a dramatic setback in the wine industry with the uprooting of thousands of hectares of vineyards.
In short, Alain Dugas’ comments and appreciations on the potential of unexploited terroirs here helped Eduard Alexandrov build a dream of a winery producing Russian wines that would reach the standards of demanding amateurs. That's how the Gaï Kodzor winery was born.
As already reported in the Gaï Kodzor story, there was everything to do from scratch here : this hilly area, if sporting the best terroirs and exposition, was not planted and the selected blocks were covered with woods. Everything had to be removed, cleared and prepared before the planting could take place. In the existing kolkhoz from which they started, there weren't interesting varieties and the new plantings represented a comple turnaround.
Then, after they had selected all of the best soils on the property, someone had to decide which variety to plant. There was not much valuable help around : in Russia, there are few «allowed» foreign varieties, only Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, the rest being regional varieties like Saperavi, or hybrids favored during the high-yield soviet times and which the Russian agricultural administration still favors. But Alain and Edouard, in a daring move intended to make the best of the good terroir conditions, selected 14 varieties of which only 3 are «local» ones : __Whites : Viognier, Roussane, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Muscat, Semillon.__Reds : Merlot, Malbec, Caladoc, Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Pinot Noir. Each variety was planted in the best possible exposition and soil, according to the soil analysis and Alain Dugas' own experience. Before the choice of the varieties was done and the effective plantings, the winery had to go through lots of administrative hurdles and quite a number of paper forms.
Eduard knows that selling Viognier, Roussane or Cinsault to the Russian consumer is an uphill battle, but he tells me that one day or another, as the wine public here is evolving like anywhere else, there will be recognition that there is life beyond Saperavi, Krasnostop, Merlot, Cabernet and the other varieties they're used to drink. When that day will come (and among the higher tier of knowledgeable consumers, it will be very soon), Gaï Kodzor will be ready with a fully mature vineyard planted in the best conditions possible for each of those varieties, while the other wineries who may be tempted to change their viticultural practices and join the bandwagon will have to plant new vineyards and wait.
One of the things Alain Dugas noticed around here was the steady wind that benefits the vineyard, he says that it’s a north-east wind like the Mistral in Provence, something which is priceless to keep the grapes healthy and concentrate the grapes. The closeness of the sea adds also a Bandol touch in this otherwise hot area, and it may explain why they selected Mourvèdre among the 14 varieties.
Eduard Alexandrov says that he doesn't bash what the Soviets did in their times, some of the things they did was good. Like, for example, the Krasnodar Institute made thorough scientifical researches on Mourvèdre even though there was no Mourvèdre planted in the vineyard farms then. Their study stated that this variety was very qualitative, but on the yields side it was very low compared with many other variety, which is why the administration executives then favored Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon for the new plantings. The objective of the agricultural ministries who decided everything was to make lots of wine for the masses and the quality was secondary, but there were scientists who did a good job at the same time.
As we were tasting the Syrah in the woods bordering the vineyard, the driver of the UAZ wandered in the area and brought us back a hat full of berries picked on a tree. They're called Kizil (Кизил or dogwood berries) here. This is Russia : everywhere you go, be it in the cold central Russia or on the mediterranean-like south, people find all sort of edible treasures in the nature.... The guy gave it to us and this very evening in our wild campsite under the trees near the sea shore, we prepared a "compot", as Russians call it, a delicious juice with lots of freshness, taste and vitamins.