The major figures and players of Russian wine market in 2015

Back in 2007 when Meininger’s did the report on Russia the word “best” was being used in almost each category, showing the result of 250 market players poll. Unlike 8 years ago, the leaders of today can be hardly described with the word: it all depends from which side to look at the company and its actions. Instead of statistical approach this review is based on several in-deep interviews conducted over the course of May 2015, revealing not only who the market leaders might be, but, most importantly, why.

The overall maturation of the wine market and wine consumer is noted by many market players, and yet, in 2015 wine is still on the sideways of the consumption mainstream, leaving a lot of space to spirits and beer — and a lot of space for wine market to develop. Many pointed out that serious fine wine business based on consumer maturity and knowledge may be conducted in only a few major Russian cities with 1m+ population — at best. Among them are St.Petersburg, Ekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, Kazan, Chelyabinsk, Rostov-on-Don. Moscow is largely dominating the wine sales for many fine wine distributors, being the financial and lifestyle capital of the country.

At a broader sight the market, like years ago, is continuing to be heavily regulated by the government, imposing numerous taxes and duties as well as demanding import and sales licences and duty excise stamps management to run the import / distribution business. Some said that the regulation helps defend the market against counterfeit produce, but the system is largely seen as a serious obstacle to market liberalisation.

Crimea annexation has also been a major factor in developing public debate and interest in the state of the local wine production. Russian media, especially online, has been generally talking more freely about wines inspiring people to get closer to the subject.

Notable distributors

Most wine importers in Russia started their businesses back in the 1990s with the opening of free trade after the Soviet Union collapse. While many exist, only a couple of dozens may be called “established” or “known to the consumer” players. They operate with price markups of 100-200%, those include numerous taxes and duties, logistics, listings and marketing.

Although the entrance barriers in the wine importing business are high, market insiders believe there’s a place for everyone — once you’re there.

While several major players retain the leadership with great multipurpose portfolios it’s the smaller-scale niche wine importer and distributor Vinoterra that seem to inspire many insiders and new wine companies with its business practices, management and wine selection. The company’s CEO Vladislav Volkov and his team have been instrumental in pushing the motto of terroir-driven wines from Germany, Austria, Italy, Portugal and Spain.
Notable CEOs of the major wine distributors are Maxim Kashirin of Simple. Dmitry Pinsky of Dp-Trade, Valery Filatov of United Distributors, Mikhail Bodukhin of Fort and Vadim Dobrynin of Eurowine — all with unique management skills and market approaches.

Some retail chains have also successfully developed their own imports with major example being Maxim Koscheyenko’s premium retail chain Azbuka Vkusa (“the ABC of taste” in Russian) which is developing its chain despite the weak economy.

New smaller specialist companies — Grape, Art Wine, Wine Discovery and Clasica — are yet to prove their ability to withstand the crisis pressure and push themselves into the market. These companies are created with limited portfolios which will hopefully be transformed into full ranges of wines.

Retailers

With the economical disturbance shaking position of Russian retailers, they have been moving in different directions managing their wine portfolio. International network Auchan has been noted for reducing its wine selection dramatically and moving into cheaper category, significantly downgrading the overall attractiveness for wine buying client ready to pay 800-2000 rubles (€18-50) a bottle. METRO Cash & Carry is believed to potentially be one of the major players in the retail market. Although its wine category manager Alexey Soloviev is pursuing the policy questionable to many leading wine importers, he also is looking to become a wine market leader, especially with the strategy of negotiating exclusive contracts for famous brands like Antinori.

Unlike Moscow players, many regional retailers has been reacting hard on the crisis, looking to replace established labels from prominent importers with cheaper stocks from sinking companies like Rusimport which declared bankruptcy in the beginning of 2015.

Specialised retail — Moscow

Despite the economical downturn, wine boutiques owners are saying the specialised retail sales are growing both in SKUs sold and in value. With the new economic reality of 2015, wine distributors are rethinking their attitude to business practices. It’s a general understanding go the market that it’s time when “anything goes” meaning more business experiments the aim of which is one: reaching consumers without intermediaries and on the more intimate level. Unlike the specialised single-importers outlets of 2000s (Grand Cru of Simple, DP-Trade wine boutiques), a new wave of wine venues has emerged blurring the boundaries between on-trade and specialised retail.

An example is Sergey Minaev’s Khleb y Vino (“Bread and Wine”) wine bars which use the power of the own wine company MBG/Millenium to support low prices. Minaev tends to put wine closer to consumers using his unique media power in Facebook and Twitter unparalleled to any other wine business owner in the country.

Other businesses are following the practice opening their wine and food bars, for example the new importer Grape has established a wine bar right in Moscow’s central location delivering food and simple but quality dining experience. Fort wine distributor is also opening a co-owned on-trade venue. No doubt this trend will continue through 2015 and further.

Specialised regional retail

Regional retailers are pushing boundaries with projects like Krasnoye y Beloe (“Red and White”) , that incorporate thousands of local wine shops delivering the cheapest wines at low margins and driving volumes instead of value. Chelyabinsk-based Sergey Studennikov the owner of the network, is seeking to change the population’s attitude towards wine as “alcohol” and is looking to expand dramatically with the next 5 years.

Another developing low-segment wine retail is Bristol chain specialised in cigarettes and alcohol sales that is now considered soon-to-be a part of DIXY supermarket group and currently belongs to Russian retail oligarchs coming from tobacco retail business Igor Kesaev and Sergey Katsiyev. The Otdokhni (“Relax!”) retail shops are more wine oriented regional real network of Vladlen Aktshuller from Nizhni Novgorod with 130 shops around Moscow, Moscow region and Nizhni Novgorod.

Smaller and higher-level specialised retail exists in virtually every bigger city, some owned by local wine distributors, others are independent.

Wine bars

While wine distributors are attacking the concept of investing into own on trade venues. independent wine bars owners are rethinking their attitude too. Vladimir Perelman, the owner of I Like Wine bar that proved extremely successful is not only looking to increase the number of Moscow wine bars dramatically, but also working on creating an independent wine portfolio for his network keeping to better control the margins and prices. Xenia Karpenko of another successful wine bar Wine Religion is also looking to open new venues to satisfy the needs of wealthy clients of Moscow extra-urban communities outside the central part of the city. In fact, Moscow and St.Petersburg have many interesting wine bars, mentioning them all is not possible here.

Media

Of major influencing publications Moscow’s Anna Maslovskaya’s creature The Village online magazine has been noted for promoting wine knowledge with Anton Obrezchikov as an author. Igor Serduyk, one of the Russian wine market long-liver, continues to write for such publications as Forbes Russia at the same time being involved in a new winemaking venture in Crimea.

Denis Roudenko remains a universal expert and journalist writing and talking on extremely broad topics of business, wines and spirits and running his own wine tasting club 750ml.

Of glossy magazines Vassily Shomov, the editor-in-chief at Aeroflot premium business class inflight magazine is particularly known for his passion to wine and never misses a chance to write about it despite the regulations.

Wine journalist Dmitry Kovalev, based in the town of Pyatigorsk, is doing a great job of putting tons of information and interviews on Russian wines on his web-site NasheVino.ru.

Major nationwide online and offline business newspaper RBC has been instrumental in delivering in-depth business interviews with the leaders of wine, spirits and beer segments of the market. Its editor Denis Puzyrev has been showcasing quality reporting for some years now with Oleg Trutnev managing the business section at another leading newspaper Kommersant.

Simple Wine News remains a quality wine publication printed by a single wine company (Simple) with its editor-in-chief Anastasia Prokhorova leading the team.

A notable media effort was done by Sergey Minaev from MBG to attract interest to his company and brands with the ItsMyWine web-site.

Local wine scene

Driven by a threat of imported wine embargo in the middle of 2014, Crimea annexation and the following ruble devaluation, Russian wine became an extremely hot subject both in media and in government discussions. Putting in place EU-like legislation that will let Russian wine made of Russian grapes flourish is something that many farmers, growers and winemakers await these days.

It’s important to note that one of the keys to the developments of wine legislation and attitude towards wine is strong ties between the “Russian wine” business and the government officials. For example, Boris Titov is an ombudsman for entrepreneurship and small business development under the president Putin and — at the same time — the owner of the major and most powerful Russian winery Abrau-Durso and a chairman of the Union of Russian Vinegrowers and Winemakers. The Union itself is headed and managed by Leonid Popovich, another prominent figure of Russian wine scene, whose work in putting together the pieces of an extremely intricate puzzle called “business-government relations”. Wineries like Lefkadia, Fanagoria, Kuban-Vino, Villa Victoria, Myskhako, Gai-Kodzor, Burnier, Karakezidi and many others lead the trail.

Many Russian wineries seek european consultancy or full-time employment of prominent winemakers such as Patrick Leon with Lefkadia, Hervé Justin with Abrau-Durso and Frank Duseigneur with Chateau Le Grand Vostock.

On the official side, the appointment of the southern Krasnodar region governor Alexander Tkachev as a new minister of agriculture is seen by many as a good sign of the future of Russian wine. Artur Sarkisyan is noted for promoting the culture of Russian wines and organising a yearly exhibition of Russian wines in Moscow.

In Crimea, Pavel Shvets is known for his passion for unconventional author approaches to winemaking and is putting a lot of effort to attract new owners to the vineyards in the area of Sebastopol city. Igor Samsonov , the owner of Satera winery, and the winemaker Oleg Repin are showing positive results with their brand Esse — drinkable, complex and affordable wines.

The version of this appeared in the 3rd issue of Meininger’s Wine Business International of 2015

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