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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


California Dreamin’
Text Charles W. Borden

Passport again examined the wine lists of Russia’s top wine importers and the supermarket and boutique shelves, this time for California wines. About twenty California wineries were identified though only fifteen were found on the shelves. Almost all wines hailed from Napa and Sonoma Valleys north of San Francisco, California’s best known premium wine country but now certainly not the only.

There has never been much interest in Russia in California wines, not to mention other American wines. French wines have always occupied first place in the hearts of Russian oenophiles, dating back to the aristocratic fascination with France. During the 19th century, Russia was the largest export market for Champagne and the father of the Russian wine industry was French born Prince Golitsyn. Other Old World wines from Italy and Spain follow the French and in recent years the wines of New World countries have made a good showing led by Chile, followed by Australian and South African wines.

However, it might surprise many to know that virtually all of those Old and New World wines are founded on sturdy Midwestern American stock – that the delicate Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay grapevine is likely grafted on to a rootstock of native American grapes. In the 1860s the French wine industry was almost destroyed by phylloxera, a pest that attacks vine roots. The French grafted their vines on to American rootstock, much of it from Missouri, which at that time had the nation’s biggest wine industry. This root graft propagation continues to this day and protects European grapes (Vitus vinifera) from phylloxera worldwide.

Prohibition killed the wine industry in many states, and with its end, California emerged as the leading table and wine grape producer. In the 18th century Spanish missionaries produced the first California wines from imported European varietals. Later, new settlers of the Gold Rush brought wine to Napa and Sonoma counties north of San Francisco. It is interesting to note that André Tchelistcheff, who was born in Moscow in 1901 as the son of the Chief Justice of the Imperial Court and emigrated to California by way of Prague and Paris, was one of California’s first and greatest winemakers. Tchelistcheff took over Beaulieu Vineyards in Napa and built it to one of Napa’s top wineries. He is described by Wikipedia as “America’s most influential post-Prohibition winemaker” and “dean of American winemakers.”

Until the 1970s California did not have much of a premium wine industry – most wines were fortified or table wines from jug wineries like Gallo in Modesto or Italian Swiss Colony in Sonoma. In 1976, premium wine pioneers from Ridge, Stag’s Leap, Heitz, Clos du Val, Freemark Abbey, Chateau Montelena, Chalone, David Bruce brought Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay wines to Paris to go up against the best Bordeaux reds and Burgundy whites in what has become known as the Judgment of Paris. Even the organizer, British wine merchant Steven Spurrier, did not think the California wines could win, but they scored at the top of each category. This was the beginning of forty years of development of the California style of New World wines cultured in hundreds of premium and super-premium, cult and artisan wineries in California and other countries around the world.

Moscow Wine Shopping

List in hand, ratings of Parker, Tanzer and Wine Spectator were checked and other awards noted. The only veterans of Judgment of Paris with wines on Moscow shelves appear to be Stag’s Leap and Ridge. In addition to them almost all the other wineries are also from Napa and Sonoma Valleys, which is a pity since there are so many luscious wines from other areas of California, Oregon and Washington. We were also disappointed with the quality of many of the California wines represented and discouraged by the high relative retail prices, however there were a few standout wines.

Below are some notes about some of the wineries and the wines, followed by a shopping list that Passport readers can use at the supermarket or boutique.

Benziger Wines

There are just a few wines in Moscow from Sonoma’s Benziger Family Winery, founded in 1981, but the winery is a leader in organic and biodynamic wine production. Prices range from 730 rubles to 1600 rubles.

Beringer Vinya

After RMW, a shopper in Moscow is likely to find the wines of the historic Napa Valley Beringer Vineyards, founded in 1876 by German immigrant Jacob Beringer. Beringer makes reasonably well-rated wines priced 1,000 rubles and up.

Bonny Doon

Located in near the Pacific Coast south of San Francisco in Santa Cruz, Bonny Doon is one of few California wineries represented in Moscow outside of Sonoma and Napa. Founded by Randall Grahm in 1983, Bonny Doon adopted biodynamic vineyard practices in 2003.


This central valley winery was founded by Italian immigrant Gasparé Indelicato in 1924 and now owns vineyards in Monterey (Irony label) and Lodi (Clay Station label). The Delicato wines are widely available priced at 435 rubles and up.


Kistler Vineyards is a Russian River Valley family winery founded 1978 that focuses on single vineyard Chardonnay wines. Kistler Chardonnays are rich, aromatic and Burgundian but also expensive. Ratings are generally high but vary widely depending upon vineyard and vintage year.

Ridge Vineyards

Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon was one of the top wines in the Judgment in Paris in 1976. Recent incarnations of Monte Bello run more than 7,000 rubles in Moscow.

Robert Mondavi Winery

The wines of Robert Mondavi Winery are the most widely available in Moscow but a shopper must distinguish between RMW’s “iconic” wines and their mass market wines. Robert Mondavi, who passed away last year at 95, was a Napa Valley legend and one of the pioneers of the premium wine industry. Robert Mondavi Winery went public in the 1980s and his sons introduced highvolume, low priced wines like the ubiquitous Woodbridge line or Twin Oaks. Robert was not pleased with the pursuit of the “big money” and felt that “we have lost our image.” In 2004, drinks giant Constellation Brands acquired RMW and since has separated the icon RMW brands from the supermarket brands – Woodbridge and Twin Peaks are not even on the RMW website. Unfortunately almost all Robert Mondavi wines in Moscow are the Woodbridge and Twin Oaks, which even now, after the devaluation of the ruble, still retail at twice the US shelf price.

Seghesio Family Vineyards

The Seghesio label got its start when Piedmont native Edoardo Seghesio built his first winery in 1902 in Sonoma’s Alexander Valley. Seghisio later bought out Italian Swiss Colony wines to become a leading jug wine producer. Seghisio, now in the hands of cousins Ted and Peter Seghesio, the winery now specializes in estate wines, particularly California’s Zinfandel grapes. The Seghisio Zinfandel Sonoma County 2007 is number 10 on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of the World.

Sine Qua Non

This small winery, founded in 1994 by California restaurateurs Manfred and Elaine Krankl, operates from an industrial building in Ventura crushing grapes bought from selected California vineyards. But Sine Qua Non has a cult following with small case lots of very highly rated Syrah wines, difficult to find even in the US. In Moscow they retail at 25,000 rubles a bottle and up.

Triple Overtime

Igor Larionov, the Soviet hockey champion and later Detroit Red Wings star, introduced his own Triple Overtime wine brand that includes Australian wines and Napa wines made by Miner Family Vineyards. Hattrick is a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Cabernet Franc blend. Other Napa labels include a Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot.

Other Wines

In addition to the above noted, a Moscow shopper might find a few bottles from top Napa and Sonoma producers Bond Estate, Harlan Estate, Cakebread Cellars, Joseph Phelps, Patz & Hall, Wattle Creek Winery, Miner Family Vineyards, Diamond Creek and Dominus Estate. Expect prices above 2,500 rubles a bottle for most of these and some over 15,000.

For jug wines, Paul Masson, sold in its classic carafe, has been in Moscow for years. Franzia, the California bag-in-box innovator has recently arrived.

A Note about Exchange Rates

As the ruble has devalued from around 24 to the dollar to 36 at the time this article was written, and headed further up, there has been little change yet in ruble prices. However, as stock is cleared that was imported to Russia in previous months, a shopper might expect some re-pricing as new higher cost (in rubles) stock arrives.

California Wine Shopping List

Here is your Moscow California wine shopping list. We found about 40 white wines and 65 red wines that appear to be imported to Russia, but the following stand out. We included the California shelf price for comparison.

Wine Boutique Winery Wine Comments US Retail Price Moscow Retail (USD)* Moscow Retail (rubles)
White Wines
Magnum/Decanter Triple Overtime Sauvignon Blanc Lake County 2006 Sauvignon Blanc – Wine Spectator 89 $19 $33 1,140.
Magnum/Decanter Beringer Chardonnay Napa Valley 2005 Chardonnay - Wine Spectator 86/Robert Parker 86 $16 $46 1,610.
Intendant Joseph Phelps Sauvignon Blanc 2006 Sauvignon Blanc - Wine Spectator 89/Robert Parker 86 $32 $71 2,480.
Grand Cru Ridge Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountain Estate 2005 Chardonnay - #2 on the 2007 Wine Spectator Top 100. Wine Spectator 95 $35 $75 2,610.
Simple Kistler Chardonnay Les Noisetiers Sonoma Coast 2006 Chardonnay – a quintessential California Chardonnay – oak and butter $0 $109 3,810.
Red Wines
Intendant Joseph Phelps Pastiche Red Wine 2001 Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah $0 $17 599.
Kauffman Seghesio Seghesio Zinfandel Sonoma County 2006 Zinfandel – the 2007 is #10 on the 2008 Wine Spectator Top 100. Wine Spectator 91 $20 $32 1,114.
Intendant Joseph Phelps Mistral 05 Syrah, Grenache, Petite Sirah, Carignane. Robert Parker 90 $34-45 $48  1,688.
Kauffman Seghesio Seghesio Old Vine Zinfandel Sonoma County 2004 Robert Parker 90 $32- $35  $51 1,791.
Grand Cru Ridge Vineyard Monte Bello 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon – the sole descendent in Moscow of the original Judgment of Paris. Still way too young to drink. Wine Spectator 88 $145 $208 7,280.


DP Trade Shops
Decanter, Bol. Polyanka 30, Tel: 238-3808
Magnum, Kutuzovsky Prospekt 24,
Tel: 937-6515
Magnum, Ul. Plyuschkina 20, Tel: 775 0674
Vinum, Prechistenka 40/2, Tel: 775-2305

Kauffman Shops
Kutuzovsky Prospekt 22, Tel: 243-2238
Ul. Kuznetsky Most 3, Tel: 624-0464
Ul. Ostojhenka 27, Tel: 291-3671

Kutuzovsky Prospekt 22
+7 (499) 249-61-14

Grand Cru Shops – several in Moscow including:
Novinsky Passage, Novinsky Bulvar 31.
Tel: 775-5553

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