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This conversation between two winemakers, who are renowned in Ukraine and abroad, was contemplated a long time ago, when I watched, how passionate these people were when they told each other about their life’s business: winemaking. And the idea was implemented after Dr. Ricardo Nunez, Head of Vinos de La Luz, had visited the Odessa winery Kolonist.
We arrived to these lands on the unique ancient holiday: the Day of Trifon Zarezan – which is brightly celebrated on the fourteenth day of February in the Danube Bessarabia.
I was lucky to see with my own eyes, for the first time in my life, the preparations for this holiday, the sincere atmosphere and hospitality of the local residents, who eagerly shared their tradition with the guests.
The owners of Kolonist – Alla and Ivan Plachkov – not only organized a friendly reception of their guests but, a warm, family-like, and sincere meeting. Having learned numerous interesting historical facts that Ivan Vasilyevich generously shared, having heard interesting stories about this region from Alla, I firmly decided to continue our acquaintance and present a part of our conversations in the format of an interview, on the pages of our media partner, Drinks+ magazine.
Comments by Dr. Ricardo Nunez:
When Natalia Burlachenko had told me about the idea to record an interview with the owners of Kolonist for Drinks+, I recalled our first meeting with Ivan Vasilyevich Plachkov. I met him at the 2nd Wine & Spirits Ukraine exhibition in 2019, where Kolonist had its own stand, just like Vinos de La Luz. There, we met with Ivan for the first time.
We agreed to meet again in Izmail. During that visit, I was able to get to know Alla and Ivan better, could get understanding of their vineyards and the production of both wines and other products from grapes.
Due to this trip, the idea of an interview had been contemplated and thereupon, the interview was conducted by Natalia, a columnist for Drinks+ magazine and Brand Ambassador of Vinos de La Luz. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to see Alla and Ivan again, so I asked Natalia to allow me to accompany her on her journalistic mission.
Finally, I must admit that I had a “personal problem” with Ivan: our passion for what we are doing made us constantly talk about wine. And each of us wanted to tell more and faster than the other. And so, due to the interview, I solved this problem: I could finally silently and carefully listen to Ivan. Earlier, I began to respect him for his wine and passion. Now, I also respect him for his deep knowledge of history, politics, philosophy, religion and … even for the grape seed oil that the Plachkov produce.
I would like to extend my gratitude to Natalia Burlachenko for the opportunity to do this. I am going to read this material in Drinks+ magazine, sipping red wine from two glasses alternately: one will be filled with La Luz and another one with Kolonist. Triple pleasure!
Natalia Burlachenko: Let’s start with what is probably already known to many of our readers, but kindly remind me: what brought you into winemaking, when you decided to create your own wine?
Ivan Plachkov: In the late 90s – early 2000s, the Danube Bessarabia was one of the most depressed regions of Ukraine: the economy did not work, the social sphere was not funded, and the people living here did not see any prospects for their future. The idea of implementing the Kolonist project was, first of all, aimed at showing the potential of our region as a wine-producing region (wine was produced here yet at the times of the Ancient Greece), opening up the capabilities of people, the region and the country in general. Moreover, the Bulgarians (and I am an ethnic Bulgarian) have the love of the vine engraved in their genetic memory.
Natalia Burlachenko: Please define the stages of development of Kolonist in chronological order: from the beginning of operations after the enterprise’s foundation, to the present day.
Ivan Plachkov: In 2020, we were celebrating 15 years of Kolonist’s operations. If we conditionally divide the history of Kolonist into 5 stages, then the first one was comprehension of the idea, creation of the team, planting of the first three hectares of vineyards and production of the first 2500 bottles. The second stage: completion of the construction of a winery in compliance with the modern European technologies, planting another 10 hectares of vineyards and purchase of the up-to-date European equipment for production of the volume up to 100 thousand bottles. The third stage: beginning of collaboration with the renowned French oenologist and consultant Olivier Doga and his wife Kathy Sokazo, and entering the European market with wines of “High Gamma” category.
The fourth stage: beginning of the production of sparkling wines using the classic method of champagnization, as well as release of grape seed oil and balsamic vinegar. We have just begun to implement the fifth stage: it consists in planting another 50 hectares of vineyards to fully provide our production line with our own grapes. Today, we buy up to 30-40 per cent of the grapes from our partners: the adjacent wineries.
Natalia Burlachenko: Kolonist is a company that strives to gain from grapes everything that this amazing berry can give. Tell us about the principles of production, about working with grapes.
Ivan Plachkov: We are confident that a good wine begins yet in the vineyards. We plant only Ukrainian seedlings. The terroir and the location of our plots on the slopes of the largest freshwater lake in Ukraine Yalpug allow us to minimize the treatment of vines with reagents against diseases. The grapes are hand-harvested, and it takes no more than an hour from harvesting to entering the production facilities. Subsequent processing and fermentation of grapes are carried out, using the most up-to-date Italian, German, and French equipment. Wine bottling is done via sterile cold bottling line. Wines are aged in French barriques made of the 150-year-old French and American oak, using both traditional toasting method, and modern ceramic and hydroceramic toasting methods.
But the main component of our success is personnel possessing the highest level of organization, responsibility and professionalism.
Natalia Burlachenko: You say that now the time has come for the wines of the “New Old World”. What exactly do you mean by this concept?
Ivan Plachkov: Until recently, wine experts have divided the world’s wine regions into three main parts: the Old World (Europe), the New World (USA, Chile, Argentina, Australia, etc.) and the New “New World” (China and Vietnam). However, nowadays, the regions, where wines have been produced since the times of the Ancient Greece, Rome, and Byzantium, are attracting much attention. Unfortunately, during the period of Ottoman domination, the culture of winemaking was lost. And during the Soviet era, the wines, which were the products of the then industry, were produced. And it is only now, when the potential of the incredible terroirs of the countries of the Black Sea region is being discovered. This region is called the New “Old World”.
Natalia Burlachenko: For what reason, Ukraine, which had such deep traditions, virtually disappeared from the world’s wine-producing map at a certain point in time? What grape variety can bring Ukraine to the forefront of the world’s winemaking?
Ivan Plachkov: As I said, the continuous Ottoman domination, during which all local autochthonous varieties, except for one – Telti Kuruk – were lost, and the Soviet-era period, when a huge amount of “industrial” wines were produced, are the main reasons behind the loss of the culture of viticulture and winemaking.
As concerns the potential Ukrainian grape varieties, first of all, I would distinguish “Odessa Black” and “Sukholimansky White”, which were bred by the Ukrainian vine selection breeders in the 60s. On the basis of these varieties, Kolonist creates the brand of “Ukrainian wine”. Wines from these varieties have already been highly appreciated by the world’s leading wine experts. And we believe that these varieties will help Ukraine enter the family of the world’s wine-making countries.
Natalia Burlachenko: 2021 will be a historic year for the entire generation: Ukrainians will finally be able to own land and vineyards. How, do you think, will this fact affect the wine industry’s development?
Ivan Plachkov: This will certainly give a huge impetus to the development of viticulture and winemaking. First of all, due to the planting, on a long-term basis, of the vineyards with very high-quality planting material. [It will also imply] transition to the processing of vineyards, using the most up-to-date equipment and the most advanced technologies.
Natalia Burlachenko: Do you believe in the so-called Denominations of Origin? If so, do you think that Ukraine should have its own appellations? Which ones would you distinguish at the national level and how many appellations can Ukraine have? What, in your opinion, variety or varieties is, or are capable of becoming the base one(s) for appellations?
Ivan Plachkov: Yes, I do believe! As of today, seven main regions have already been identified in Ukraine for wine production. And the creation of controlled names of origin should be initiated by the producers themselves, as soon as they realize that it will bring them economic benefits. And in no case should this be done in the form of orders. However, there is no doubt that within a fairly short period of time, Ukraine will develop and implement a classification of wines following the example of the European PGIs (“Protected Geographical Indication”) and PDOs (“Protected Designation of Origin”). As for a number of levels in the classification, well, I presume that only three would be enough or a start – “Wine of Ukraine”/PGI/PDO). Nevertheless, the question regarding permitted varieties remains open: additional research needs to be conducted.
Natalia Burlachenko: The small French town of Beaujolais once invented the festival of young wine, which is now celebrated around the world every year on the third Wednesday of November under the slogan “Beaujolais Nouveau estarrive”. Argentina has declared April 27-th as Malbec Day and is hosting government-sponsored events through its distributors and embassies in various countries. Don’t you think that Ukraine deserves to have its own flagship grapes? Which day and variety would you choose to call it the “Day of …”?
Ivan Plachkov: We are confident that the flagship grape variety in the Ukrainian winemaking is Odessa Black, and it deserves celebrating the “Odessa Black Day” in our country. We are grateful to you, Ricardo, for sharing with us the idea of establishing a holiday dedicated to the Ukrainian variety. We decided to establish this holiday on May 5-th, which would be the “Odessa Black Variety Day”, and from May 1-st to May 10-th, we would organize celebrations in honor of that variety.
Ricardo Nunez: You asked me the question, which I would like to answer right now: “Why did Vinos de La Luz decide to conduct this interview with the head of Kolonist?” The answer is pretty simple: because we respect you personally and see in you and the team of Kolonist the avant-garde part of winemakers, we see the future of Ukrainian wine in you!
Text: Natalia Burlachenko, Brand Ambassador of Vinos de La Luz, sommelier.