A small Ukrainian winemaker whose vineyards sit on the edge of territory newly occupied by Russia has won gold in the prestigious Decanter World Wines awards.
“I can’t say we were surprised that we won because our wine is really, really good,” said Svitlana Tsybak, the chief executive of Beykush winery and president of the Ukrainian association of craft winemakers.
It is the first year a Ukrainian wine has won gold, bringing joy to at least one small business in a country under bombardment.
The number of small wine producers in Ukraine started to grow after Russia’s first intervention in 2014. In early 2015, Ukraine’s currency devalued by two-thirds, making imported goods expensive and prompting a burst of Ukraine-made consumer goods such as clothes, food and furniture.
Beykush winery is near the town of Ochakiv, in Ukraine’s southern Mykolaiv region. It is still under Ukrainian control but Russian forces have set their eyes on the area, which is home to a strategic naval base.
This is the third year Beykush has submitted its wine. As exporting alcohol from Ukraine is expensive and difficult and visas for Ukrainians into the UK until recently near impossible, Tsybak and her team went to great lengths to get bottles to Decanter judges.
Two years ago they sent some bottles with a Ukrainian diplomat flying to London. Last year, they drove their wine case by case to Spain and then shipped it to the UK. This year they sent it to Hungary. They moved six cases over the border, one at a time. But their friend in Hungary was then unable to take it to the UK.
By that time, the war had started in Ukraine and so a friend stepped in to help. “A Ukrainian who lives in London offered to fly to Hungary with two suitcases. He filled them up with 30 bottles and took them to the UK,” said Tsybak.
Tsybak has recently secured an importer in the UK. The wines the winery sent to western Ukraine are now in a van making its way across Europe.
“Our region is shelled regularly so we just work when we can,” said Tsybak. “There was a while when we didn’t have access to our warehouse because of the fighting. As soon as we got access, we put as much as we could in a lorry and shipped into western Ukraine.”
Beykush employs at most 17 people at a time during harvest season. The owner, businessman Eugene Shneyderis, originally from the Mykolaiv region, developed a taste for wine on holiday with his family. In 2013 he decided to see what grapes would grow in Mykolaiv. The family bought seeds from across Europe and inside Ukraine and eventually developed their own grape.
Fifty wines were awarded gold by expert judges flown into London. A total of 18,244 producers worldwide submitted their wines. The tasting at the Decanter awards is blind, so the judges had no idea they would be the bearers of rare good news for a war-struck producer.
On 4 March the organisation issued a statement condemning Russia’s invasion, cancelling the entries of Russian producers and waiving the fees for Ukrainian entrants.
“We realise that the world’s winemakers have more that unites than divides them, but we feel we have to make a stand,” Decanter said.
“All of us at Decanter and the DWWA are hoping and praying for a peaceful resolution to this situation, and we send our very best wishes to all those affected.”