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How the Fall of the Soviet Union Changed Wine Forever

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One of the 20th century’s most seminal moments occurred in 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed and communist rule ended across much of the Eastern Bloc. With the fall of communism, agricultural land seized and operated by the state was returned to its original owners. It was among the most significant seismic shifts in the history of wine.

In 1992, some of the world’s oldest wine regions were born. Again.

Nomenclature and Geography

The Soviet Union (1922–1991): Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan.

Eastern Bloc (1947–1991): Soviet satellite states in Europe (Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania), Asia (Cambodia, China, Korea, Laos, Mongolia, Vietnam), Cuba, plus Nicaragua and Grenada.

Wine Behind the Iron Curtain

Decades earlier, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin had sought global dominance for the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.) through accelerated industrialization. He seized private farms and consolidated them into large, state-run cooperatives, in part to feed industrial workers. Any resistance was stamped out through economic pressure, resettling and deportation.

State control of property, production and products meant that vines or other crops could be uprooted and replaced with anything, at any time. Any goods produced must be sold at low cost to the state. Distribution was limited to Soviet states and their allies. And perhaps most damaging to wine production, quantity was valued far more than quality.

Farmers were allowed to keep small lots for personal use. Unless you knew a home winemaker, though, your wine was generally made in large volumes from high-harvest vineyards and offered average quality at best. Cleanliness of cellars was questionable. Sometimes, water was added to dilute the wines.