Swiss winemaker toasts Russian crisis with glass half full

Thu Apr 16, 2015 8:46am EDT
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By Maria Kiselyova and Olga Sichkar

MOSCOW (Reuters) - For Swiss winemakers Renaud and Marina Burnier a drop in the rouble has opened up new possibilities for a Russian venture they once doubted would get off the ground.

The currency's 30 percent fall since mid-2014 has spurred demand for the premium wines they produce from around 70 hectares of land on the Black Sea coast.

While hurting importers, the ruble's decline against the dollar and euro - mainly a result of a weak oil price and Western sanctions imposed over Ukraine - has benefited local businesses.

"On the one hand - it's a crisis so it's difficult to repay loans. But on the other, it creates conditions for the development of Russian wine," said Renaud Burnier, whose family has been making wine near Berne for more than 400 years and one of whose ancestors was a governess to Russian royalty.

"We now have many orders in Russia because foreign wines have suddenly become very expensive," Marina Burnier, his Russian-born wife, added in an interview.

The Burniers' vineyard enjoys a sub-tropical climate and lies at roughly the same latitude as Bordeaux and Piedmont, and they are carving a niche that sits several grades above the mass market that most of Russia's historically troubled wine industry caters for.

They sell their Merlot to local restaurants for 750 rubles ($15) a bottle. Their Krasnostop - a native red grape - goes for 1,350 rubles, and they also produce a Cabernet Sauvignon and a white made from a blend of different grapes.

Although they import bottles, corks and paper labels, for which there are no suitable Russian-made alternatives, they have not raised their prices.   Continued...

Renaud (L) and Marina Burnier attend an interview in Moscow, March 27, 2015.   REUTERS/Maria Kiselyova