Visiting in the Massandra winery in the Crimea region of Ukraine in May 2012 was one of the most markedly different visits I’ve ever experienced.
Not for any outstanding viticultural reason, because, as is fairly standard for the region it seems, the grapes are bought in from the surrounding vineyards in the rugged mountains just outside Yalta, on the Black Sea coast. Don’t forget that in Russian, a winery is called a vinzavod, a “wine-factory.”
The wines made here are predominantly fortified : “portwine”, “madeira”, muscat, but there is also some dry Cabernet Sauvignon and Saperavi. There’s a significant distinction between the every-day drinking wines and the Collection, which have been known to go for thousands at auction.
I was being shown round by Valentin Mityaev, the Deputy Director of Massandra Winery.
As you can see from the photo above (click to zoom in), the vast “wine factory” is made up of two buildings, mirror-images of each other. This is just the tip of the iceberg. The real treasures are actually underground. The cellars constitute 7 tunnels bored into the mountain, each 100m long. There are also several bottle-aging galleries as well as an “Exhibition Gallery” boasting bottles of Chateau d’Yquem 1865 and Chateau Margaux 1919, as well as old expressions from Massandra itself. The collection is really quite staggering.
The history museum element of my visit doesn’t stop there. I was regaled with stories of Russian Tsars, Prince Golitzyn, White Russians and Stalin. There were also barrels bearing the emblem of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, meaning that they date pre-1918. I was impressed!
Adding to the experience was the moment I met Valentin’s formidable mother, Galina Mityaeva, Chief-Winemaker and Director at Massandra. I don’t think I will ever forget the moment that I was left in front of her, trying to explain in Russian how to make a straw wine! Fortunately, for the rest of the visit, Valentin was on hand for translation emergencies.
It’s also the first time I’ve ever visited a winery and been forced to wear a lab coat. (I should also mention that Valentin’s mother also suggested that I borrow some socks, because she thought I was under-dressed. I politely declined the offer.)
After the visit underground, the tasting and lunch in the staff canteen, I spent the rest of the afternoon in the Galina’s office drinking tea, coffee, gossiping with a gaggle of young girls from admin, drinking portwine and eating chocolate cake. In true Russian-style, we were doing toasts. The third happened to be for my future marriage. Err what?! 🙂