A Brief History of Winemaking in Crimea
It is believed by many that Greek vintners first brought winemaking to the Crimean peninsula in the middle of the first millennium B.C. The ruins of the Greek colony at Chersonez which was settled around this time are still clearly visible today. Further evidence of early winemaking has been found throughout southern Crimea including wine presses and amphoras dating back to this era.
By the time of its arrival to Crimea, Greek winemaking was thought to be relatively sophisticated. The Greek vintners would likely have introduced both technique and grape varieties to Crimea. Many varieties of ancient Greek grapes are thought to be still surviving, including Limnio, Athiri, Aïdani, and Muscat to name a few. Some of which are still present in Crimea today.
Although there is conceptual elegance to the theory that Greek vintners introduced winemaking to Crimea, the possibility that Crimean winemaking pre-dated Greek introduction is entirely possible. Winemaking itself was believed to have developed in and around ancient Mesopotamia including the Black Sea region thousands of years earlier. What is clear is that early Greek vintners surely had a profound influence on Crimean winemaking tradition.
Further archeological evidence demonstrates that from the Greek era onward an unbroken chain of Crimean winemaking tradition existed including through the Roman and Byzantine eras. The discovery of a sunken Byzantine merchant ship dating to the 9th century was found to be carrying over a thousand wine amphoraes of the variety produced in Crimea, suggesting wide-scale wine export from Crimea by this time.
Crimea’s annexation by Catherine the Great opened the door for Crimea’s winemaking to surge. Under the direction of the imperial Russian aristocracy, Crimea became a major supplier of fine wines to Eastern and Western Europe.
In the early eighteen hundreds Count Mikhail Vorontsov (1782—1856) established vineyards at Ai-Danil, Gurzuf and Massandra near the original Greek colony of Chersonez. In doing so he imported the highest quality vines available from France, Spain and throughout Europe including several varieties from the Burgundy region.
Building on the introduction and availability of choice grapes, a master vintner named Prince Lev Golitsyn further increased the quality of Crimean wines. His now famed career started on the Noviy Svet estates in 1878 when he started producing Bordeaux and sparkling wines.
At the decree of the Tsar, Golitsyn oversaw the construction of the Massandra cellars where Vorontsov had begun planting imported grapes of his choice years earlier. The viticulturist prince mixed native and imported grape varieties to produce some of the finest wines the world has ever known.
Although suffering political disruption throughout the 20th century its winemaking traditions and viticultural knowledge have endured, Crimea now enjoys a flourishing wine industry built on thousands of years of tradition, knowledge, and viticulturist preeminence.