Like other Ukrainian restaurants,’s Vino Piano Wine Store & Bar has lost plenty of revenue since the Russian invasion. Yet owner Serhiy Denisov holds wine dinners to raise money for the army.
“Another explosion,” he writes in response to interview questions. “Even my cats didn’t react.”
Business reports indicate the loss of nearly half of the country's wine imports. The news reports that two Ukrainian winemakers and seven wine trade professionals have died in the fighting.
War has reached into every part of Ukraine’s wine network, from wineries to wine bars.
Ukrainian wine producers on the front line
Stakhovsky Wines recently celebrated its third anniversary.
Its founder, Serhiy Stakhovsky, is one of Ukraine’s top tennis players; in 2013 he defeated Roger Federer at Wimbledon. He developed his passion for wine during a long stint in France, and in 2015 he rented 20 ha in the Zakarpattia Oblast in western Ukraine, planting Merlot, Riesling, Saperavi and Traminer. Today he defends the fiercest section of the front near Bakhmut in the east.
Many of Ukraine's wineries are in the south, which in 2022 turned into a theatre of war. Some were occupied. Others were shelled.
All face challenges with equipment, logistics, and distribution. Gostomel Glassworks, Ukraine's largest bottle producer, was destroyed during the Russian attack on Kiev. And, due to rising electricity, gas and transportation, wine production costs have increased by 48%.
The owners of a winery near Mariupol lived for two weeks in a bomb shelter without light, heating, fresh food or water. The winery no longer exists. Le Pri-more winery in the Kherson region remains occupied.
The wineries on the right bank of the Dnipro were more fortunate, though the Chista Voda family winery was repeatedly hit, and vineyards have been left littered with missile remnants.
In the north, the Cassia family winery office was destroyed by artillery. Wineidea winery in Yasnogorodka was destroyed as well, and its workers survived by hiding in the wine cellar.
Maryan Shevchenko, a winemaker from Bilyaivka in the Odesa region, serves in the Ukrainian military. Before he left, he gave step-by-step winemaking instructions to his wife Natalia; while production has ceased, Natalia sells previous vintages to support the army.
Pavel Magalyas from Olvia Nuvo winery in Mykolaiv region is a former sapper. After a few months in territorial defense, Pavel joined the army. Now his son is in charge of winemaking, and Pavel tries to advise him from the front over the phone.
The Russians seize wine assets
While Ukrainians take up arms, Russians take property; political analyst Ekaterina Shulman considers the seizures to be part of the new social contract between Putin and the Russian elites, a reward for their loyalty. Ilya Shumanov, director of Transparency International Russia, found 730 companies in the Russian registry related to the partially annexed Zaporizhzhya region. About 25% of these companies are run by directors from Krasnodar Krai in southern Russia.
The most striking example of a war beneficiary is former Minister of Agriculture Alexander Tkachev. During his public service, Alexander became the largest owner of agricultural land in Russia, acquiring an incredible 660,000 ha. According to the Wall Street Journal, in 2022 his personal portfolio expanded to include 20,000 ha of Crimean land, along with 160,000 ha from annexed territory.
Tkachev is also passionate about wine. In Russia, he has a property called Château de Talu boasting a massive château, 105 ha of vineyards under the supervision of Frenchman Frank Dussener, and the most extensive Mouton Rothschild collection in Russia, with vintages from 1913 to the present.
While Russian soldiers engaged in direct looting, civilian leaders seized property. The Federal Service for Alcohol Regulation issued 35 million tax stamps in the annexed territories, excluding Crimea, for the first 10 months of 2022; the new Russian landlords produced 35m bottles of wine, brandy and vodka in the period from January to October alone.
Wine and spirits stolen...
Wagner mercenaries also captured ArtWinery this February. Before the war, ArtWinery produced millions of bottles by the classic method, and its team numbered 500 employees. During the attack on Bakhmut, the complex of winery buildings was literally wiped off the face of the earth. The enterprise owners managed to remove the equipment and some of the wines to the Odesa region, but it was impossible to evacuate the vineyards or the former gypsum mines in which their sparklings were aged. ArtWinery bottles are now being handed out on Russian propaganda TV channels.
Other wine businesses have suffered as well. Russian troops were stationed in the vineyards of Tavria Distillery on the left bank of Dnipro River. On 1 December, the main building was struck by missiles. In January, locals witnessed convoys of trucks that took out equipment and stocks of aged spirits.
Last May, a Russian cruise missile flattened the warehouse of Bureau Vin (GoodWine), one of Ukraine’s largest wine distributors. Within a few minutes, the company lost tens of thousands of bottles worth €15m. Marussia Beverages had 80,000 bottles of wine burned in their warehouses. And in October, a missile destroyed the new WineTime store in Zaporizhzhia.
Yet GoodWine still managed to gather humanitarian aid for people from the Kiev region; they donated €25,380, and raised another €6,800 for military uniforms.
Sometimes the destructions takes more refined forms. On 3 February, Simple, one of the largest Russian wine importers, held a large-scale tasting at the Magarach Institute in Crimea. The oldest oenological institution of the Russian Empire, it was taken over by Putin associate Mikhail Kovalchuk. Within a few years Kovalchuk’s younger brother Yuri owned a third of all Crimean vineyards—including the historic Massandra and Novy Svet wineries.
Ukrainians head to wine bars and cafés
As of 23 January 2023, there were 5.4m people displaced inside Ukraine, while 4.86m fled the country. And the currency fell, impacting the ability to import wine. There were also brief bans on selling alcohol.
Daily power outages forced Kyiv restaurateurs to transform their business. Gas stoves replaced electric ones, Skylink terminals supplemented fixed routers, and candles replaced electric light. Most of the restaurateurs lost about half of their revenues. Yet 150 new venues opened in Kiev last year.
According to Oleg Kravchenko, co-owner of Win wine bar and winner of the Best Sommelier of Ukraine 2011, restaurants and cafes in the capital have become indispensable. Cafes are places where people can go during a blackout, and find light, Wi-Fi and a working kitchen, as well as a place to talk and unload.
Restaurateurs in other cities are having a hard time. Odesa, located on the Black Sea coast, has lost its usual seasonal tourism. The city's infrastructure has been hit by missile attacks, and electricity is only available for a few hours a day. A walk down Ekaterininskaya Street, where many restaurants are located, is now accompanied by the loud rumbling of generators.
But sommeliers, winemakers and journalists are still holding events to raise money for thermals, flak jackets, drones and medicalequipment. They’re also joining the defence forces.
The losses have been enormous.
Winemaker Alexei Sukhorukov of Vin Prydniprovia first took up arms in 2014. In 2022 he returned to battle once more, but was killed. Sergiy Zolotar of Vinoman winery fell fighting in the ranks of territorial defense.
A drone hit the house where GoodWine sommelier Victoria Zamchenko lived. Pregnant, she died with her husband and cat.
Sommelier Serhiy Kushinsky died fighting. So did Grigory Moroz, a sommelier in Wine Time store in Ivano-Frankivsk. Pavlo Gumeniuk, a sommelier at OKWine retailer, was caught by mortar fire near Bakhmut. Igor Terekhin, the brand ambassador of the Odesa importer Vinfort, was blown up by a Russian mine.
Pavlo Savchuk, Kiyv branch sales director of the Arda wine trading company, died under mortar shelling in the vicinity of Bakhmut. Sommelier, Eduard Kostritsa, a former employee of the wine-trading company Vitis Group, was killed in late January. Former bartender Denis Galushko and manager of Bel Gusto restaurant died defending Bakhmut.
Sommeliers fighting in the war
Right now, at the hottest part of the front near Bakhmut, Ukraine's independence is defended by Ivan Percheklii, Vice President of the Sommelier Association of Ukraine and Best Ukrainian Sommelier of 2017. Another serving in the region is Anatoly Khodakovsky, formerly a sommelier at the luxurious Catch Seafood restaurant in Kyiv, and now a gunner. The sommelier of Kiev’s Buddha Bar, Grigory Tkachenko, serves in the Third Detached Assault Brigade of the Army.
Mikhail Val is a member of the old guard of Ukrainian sommeliers. The war caught him at Razzle Dazzle restaurant, from where he headed for the Territorial Defense and then the Army. Now Val serves as a machine gunner in the Donetsk direction.
Sommelier Eugene Ostapenko is in the artillery, while Bogdan Sachko from the wine importer TC+ is also serving at the front, so does GoodWine sommelier Anton Teliatnyk.
Ashot Galstyan used to be a bartender at Barmen Diktat in Kyiv. Today, he’s a paramedic. Another paramedic, Russian citizen Anastasia Leonova, came a long way from working in the trendy Moscow restaurant Fahrenheit to her job at the export department of Biologist company and rescuing soldiers on the front lines.
Wine remains critically important in Ukraine
The war has left its mark on everything, including wine labels. The tails of the Russian missiles that hit the Slivino vineyards found its place on the labels of “Grad Cru”, a cuvée produced by the Mykolaiv Oblast winery to support the military.
There have been triumphs, too. Svetlana Tsybak, director of the Beykush winery, managed the impossible: she got samples of her wines across a war-torn country and into Europe, ready for the Decanter World Wine Awards 2022. The Chardonnay Reserve Beikush won Gold, while two other wines won Silver.
And at the end of 2022, she opened the Artania Wine Bar in the center of Kyiv, where she offers wines from small artisanal Ukrainian winemakers.
The war may be grinding on, but people still need wine.
Do you have old winemaking equipment available that you could donate or sell at a discount? If so, contact us.