Vodka: nyet! Wine: da!

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev came out with a counterintuitive approach to fighting alcoholism in his country: drink wine. During a recent visit to Krasnodar, a leading wine region, he said: “Wine making is one of the sectors that should be developed to help contribute to the eradication of alcoholism.” As this informative post over on reminds us, it was only a generation ago that Gorbachev led an anti-alcoholism campaign that included symbolically plowing under some vineyards.

If Medvedev’s approach has a similar ring to it, that’s because Thomas Jefferson also advocated wine as a drink of moderation as opposed to the “ardent spirits” of his day (mostly whiskey). Although Jefferson’s appeal fell on deaf ears, Medvedev’s has slightly more hope: the FT post says that as Russians travel, they favor wine over vodka. Also, Russia today, unlike the USA of Jefferson’s time, actually makes a fair bit of wine: Statistics vary, but it is somewhere between the seventh and thirteenth largest producer in the world. In fact, Medvedev made the call in the region of Krasnodar, which is on the Black Sea and is the home of Sochi, host of Winter Olympics in 2014. So expect more coverage of Russian wine in the next couple of years as they try to shake off the image that their wine is only one step above paint remover. (One sign that they are succeeding may be that the largest sparkling wine producer is having an IPO.)

Surprisingly, the eight liters of wine per person that Russians already consume places them only slightly less than the US and much more than their fellow BRIC countries, which are all under two liters per person.

But if Medvedev really wants to take the Jeffersonian mantra to heart, he needs to purge the market of non-grape, ersatz wines that give real wine a reputation for cheap swill and cut taxes on wine instead of raising them. As Jefferson declared, “No nation is drunken where wine is cheap.”

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6 Responses to “Vodka: nyet! Wine: da!”

  1. You should not pay too much attention to Medvedev’s sentence: next year’s presidential election makes it only “blah-blah-blah”.

  2. People often drink excessively because they have problems and are unhappy. Perhaps this aspect of life should be addressed in Russia. Maybe there’s a genetic component too.

  3. From Anthony Bourdain’s “A Cook’s Tour”:

    “At the time of their deaths, three out of five Russian men, I’m told, are found to have a blood-alcohol level exceeding what one needs to qualify for a DWI. That doesn’t mean the booze killed them, just that the majority of Russian men happen to be drunk when they die.”

  4. I am happy to see that Russia is coming over to the wine side. I look forward to learning more about Russian wines…!

  5. Maybe it will be easier to ship to Russia than in the US.

  6. 2Jenny: No. Russian wine importing rules are very obfuscated and compicated. And customs duties on wine too high.


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