Rare Tsar’s wine offered exclusively to travel retail market

CANADA. A rare discovery of top quality Russian wine is to be offered exclusively to the travel retail market.

Inniskillin Winery has announced a 49% joint venture with traditional Russian vineyard Novovino Siberioski.

Inniskillen is part of Canadian liquor group Vincor International. Vincor has bought into Novovino Siberioski – a specialty icewine vineyard dating back to the reign of Tsar Alexander the Third (ruled 1881-1894).

In a fascinating story of discovery doctoral student Ho Brion read texts describing the ‘Tsar’s new wine’. His research led to the discovery of vineyards at Novovino Siberioski. What he saw was an amazing sight: totally dilapidated but elegantly constructed buildings surrounded by still well tended vineyards. The cellars were full of unshipped ancient vintages. Given some to taste Brion was taken with the quality.

The entire annual output of the two hectare vineyard historically ended up on the tables of the Imperial Court and Romanov family. Typical yields were in the order of 300 to 800 bottles per hectare per annum.

Back in hometown Toronto Brion mentioned his discovery to a junior Vincor executive friend and news quickly reached the desk of Inniskillin master icewinemaker and co-founder, Karl Kaiser, who immediately set up a meeting with Brion. The outcome was a return trip to Novovino Siberioski for Brion, this time accompanied by Kaiser. Brion’s fluent Russian enabled Kaiser to contact the regional government officers. After a year of detailed negotiations Inniskillin finally signed a deal on 29 March 2004 with the regional authorities to invest an undisclosed sum and take the 49% equity in the winery.

The site of Novovino Siberioski takes full advantage of the water mass of (lake) Ozero Baykal , crucial to creating a microclimate for vine growing. Summers are warm to hot with only moderate rainfall but like Canada, cold winters are guaranteed.

Independent industry financial analysts estimate Inniskillin would have to invest somewhere in the region of US$6 – US$10 million. The company refused to confirm the exact figure citing the need to protect the interests of the regional Russian authorities.

Priority will be placed on replacing the ancient bottling facilities, establishing state of the art fermentation equipment and recruiting a local labour force that can now look forward to regular and long term employment. Inniskillin will also partially underwrite the installation of a 100km (62 miles) electricity power line to enable the existing water powered presses and other equipment to be upgraded.

Marketing the wines will be the in the hands of Vincor International executive vice-president Roger Provost, already responsible for the growth of the Inniskillin Icewine range in the global travel retail market.

Provost is ecstatic about the potential of the Novovino wines: “This is just mind blowing – it’s like finding a previously hidden Chateau Yquem vineyard – or possibly even better – with stock going back decades. Novovino is very serious stuff – here we have an outstanding product with unique historical provenance. The quality of the cellared vintages is just exceptional and Novovino Siberioski will be exciting connoisseurs around the world. Inevitably some of the older wines will end up in auction houses pretty quickly. This is a wine to die for.”

On the marketing and distribution of Novovino Siberioski Provost continues: “We hope that first shipments will be available in the late autumn this year or early 2005 and initially we will be offering it as a super-premium travel retail item, possibly as an exclusive to one particular retailer’s chain. We foresee that knowledgeable passengers may elect to travel specially through these hubs in order to have a purchase opportunity. A very few cases will go to the world’s top hotels and restaurants and in the domestic market to high-end specialist wine stores. Clearly Novovino Siberioski will be on quota from day one.”

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