Twenty years ago, a winemaker from Vully and his Russian wife created a vineyard in southern Russia in the footsteps of Swiss pioneers. Navigating now between unfriendly countries, Renaud and Marina Burnier could not help but continue their work.
Following the events in Ukraine, “since February 24, many foreigners have left Russia,” says Renaud Burnier at Keystone-ATS. But “a vineyard is not a watch stall or a chocolate store that can be closed for six months. It’s like a child: we don’t abandon it”.
Like the Vaud winegrowers of Chabag 200 years ago, the Vulliérain from Nant (FR) brought all his know-how to Natouhaevskaia, where the wine-growing tradition was lost during the Soviet era. In 2001, after traveling through southern Russia with his wife, he discovered the land of his dreams 20 km from the Black Sea near Novorossijsk. A plot of land halfway between the domain of the Vaud winegrower settlers of Chabag and that of their Ticino colleagues of Piatigorsk.
Quarantine of employees
At the time, in the land of vodka, no one was interested in viticulture. The two spouses then work hard to create a wine estate, overcoming countless obstacles. They do everything themselves, “from A to Z”, Renaud in the vineyard and Marina in administration, marketing and promotion.
Twenty years later, their estate is well known in the huge country. Their production amounts to 200,000 bottles a year, sold to restaurants, shops and private individuals. Their 50-hectare estate employs around forty people. Today, he is a pioneer in the production of organic quality wines.
On the spot the silence
On the spot, “we are surprised that nobody speaks about the situation compared to Ukraine. Nothing has changed, no one has been mobilized,” notes Renaud Burnier.
For the SME, the consequences of the events translate essentially into logistical difficulties. “Because of the sanctions, it is impossible for us to bring in equipment from Europe and to make payments between Russia and Switzerland,” he explains.
Burnier Russia buys the equipment from the Swiss company. “We are stuck on certain products, such as barrels,” says the Fribourgeois. “We used the leftover stock for the harvest. For the future, it is a big question mark.
Not to mention that travel has become more complex since February 24 to reach Novorossisk or Anapa. You have to go through Istanbul or Belgrade. “Before it was possible to make the trip in twelve hours. Recently, it took us 52 hours to arrive”.
Not always a distinction
The couple thus navigates between two nations in the cold. In Russia, this has resulted in particular in the abandonment of a congress project to mark the 200th anniversary of the arrival of Swiss winegrowers in Russia. “Today, Switzerland is officially a hostile country for the Russians,” notes Marina Burnier.
On Swiss territory, where the Burniers produce 30,000 bottles a year, “people often make the distinction between power and the Russian people. But some are generally against everything Russian.”
drink of peace
“Wine is a drink of dialogue, a drink of peace,” says Renaud Burnier. It has no political color. Our duty is to continue to make good wine while preserving nature”. And to note that “as much as the geopolitical situation deteriorates, with conflicts all over the world, so much nature has exploded this year: the yield and quality of the harvest were exceptional”.