After graduation, I was invited to be Assistant Photo Editor at The Moscow Times. My specialty was journalism, but I also had photography experience, and I needed a job, which weren't easy to find. I was left enough freedom that I started working as acting Photo Editor and eventually became Deputy Photo Editor. The other photographers called me the Senior Port Editor, because we'd always drink port wine in the dark room at the The Moscow Times office. The dark room was also our tasting room.
And that's how I was actually introduced to wine, in The Moscow Times's dark room. Back then, there wasn't much dry wine, so port was almost synonymous with good wine. It marked the very beginning of the new wine market in Russia, the first imported wine, in 1993. In '94, I published an article for the first issue of Vitrina magazine, about La Galerie du Vin, the first wine company to present quality wine from France.
So, from that first little spoonful...
To the crazy university times, to the dark room/tasting room.
Was there a point when you felt qualified drinking wine?
Yes. Step by step, story by story, interview by interview. Talking to wine-makers, sommeliers, you get some experience. After 20 years of writing about wine, talking with wine people, you get a lot of it. So, 20 years in, I started receiving invitations to be on tasting panels for wine competitions and producers. They wanted my opinion, my advice. They wanted to know how foreign winemakers would do it, and, having traveled and talked to people about wine all over the world, I had unique experience with that. Then I was invited to join the Abrau Durso production team, tasting and blending wines. The wine blending process is really essential, and that gave me the unique opportunity to learn how blends are created. One of my most important teachers was Hervé Jestin. He's still in France, doing excellent work for producers of Champagne and other sparkling wines.
Of course, we have lots of different teachers and trajectories. One of my local teachers, Nikolay Mekhouzla, is a native Georgian who actually explained to us all the basics of winemaking, what winemaking is about. Every time we tasted together, it was a lesson.
So, I may not have a diploma in winemaking, but I have a great deal of experience.
How did you move into wine production?
After those years creating blends for Abrau Durso, I was already an experienced blender. I wasn't yet a part of Alma Valley when it first started in 2006. I was invited in 2014 when a new market for development appeared in Russia. An investor invited my friend and business partner Andrey Grigoryev to become General Director, and he invited me as his deputy.
So this all happened kind of naturally. You hadn't predicted you'd end up here.
Never. But maybe it's part of my personal heritage; my parents were agronomists. My father, being from the Kuban region, was a Kuban kozak, all of whom were winemakers by definition. We never talked to my father about it, but he was certainly close to wine.