Sunday, April 6, 2008

Massandra Winery

Another attraction in the tourist town of Yalta, the Massandra Winery has a fascinating history. The unique collection which includes bottles which are more than 150-200 years of age is hidden in the tunnels within Crimean mountains. I chose to research it because it demonstrates how history has perpetrated Ukrainian culture and is still extremely relevant.

The Massandra winery was built in the 19th century to supply the needs of the Tsars' court. Every year during the Russian winter, the Tsars took the imperial family to their summer palace in Yalta where they relaxed away from the pressures of power and entertained guests on the shores of the Black Sea. (Much like people do today!) Wine was an integral part of their daily lives, as they held extravagant parties, celebrated communion in the imperial chapel and sometimes dined as a family.

In 1894, Tsar Nicholas II decided to build his own winery there. It was an enormous undertaking. Work on the cellars took three years as miners dug deep into the mountainside to create a labyrinth of 21 tunnels that to this day rank among the finest cellars in the world. The cellars are also exceptionally solid and strong - when violent earthquakes caused widespread damage in the region in 1920, the cellars of Massandra were completely unscathed.

While I was researching the winery, I found an article about a 2004 event by Sotheby’s of London in which the bottles of wine from the Massandra Winery were being auctioned. The bottles, bearing the imperial seal, had survived both the Communist revolution and Nazi invasion! Money from the sales invested by into the preservation of the winery.

When the area was engaged in civil war after the 1917 the wine collection was placed under special defense. To protect the Tsar's wine from looters it was bricked up in tunnels built in the 1890s by an army of laborers who burrowed deep into a hillside to create some of the world's finest and coolest wine cellars. More than twenty years later, when the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, the entire collection was packed up and taken to three secret locations. Only that year's vintage, which was still in vats, could not be saved and Massandra's director ordered that it be poured into the Black Sea.

Today, the Massandra Winery claims to hold the biggest wine collection in the world. Besides history and process of wine making, tourists have an opportunity to join wine tasting in the halls of Massandra Winery.

The Massandra Winery was fascinating to me because it represents a cultural connection between historical figures and today’s generation of Yalta tourists. Also, I was interested to learn about a different facat of Ukrainian culture. Normally, I wouldn't associate Ukrainians with having exceptional taste in wine, yet the experts' interest in the wine auctions has certainly changed my perception.


Emma Goss said...

I was surfing around on the web looking for some more information on the Massandra Winery and I came across a review of the tasting in San Francisco on November 30, 2007. The Massandra collection was described as both "stunning" and "complex." The tasting was said to be a sit-down affair. Apparently, the only way to buy wine from the Massandra winery is via auction or visiting the winery.
A typical bottle of wine sold between $100 and $300, but one bottle from 1886 sold for $3,510. I thought those were a few fun facts to add to Laura's blog! I'd be interested to see what other people find on the topic.

deborah said...

Oh my, I know what I'll be doing when I (hopefully) make it to Crimea this summer!

I wonder whether the wines tend toward the Georgian varietals, the sweet Central European sorts, French, Italian, etc. I frequently think that an apt name for Ukraine would not be 'borderland,' but 'crossroads.'