WINE - Bringing the Baltics closer to Europe

  • 2008-01-16
  • By Talis Saule Archdeacon

WELL STOCKED: The extensive wine cellars of Vynoklubas show the wide diversity of wines available to Balts today. This wine club and shop focuses mainly on European vintages.

RIGA - The Baltic states are rapidly moving toward a more Western European-oriented culture. In the wine industry, perhaps more than anyplace else, this trend is abundantly clear.

Wine consumption is on the rise in the Baltics. People are starting to buy, invest in and consume more wine every year. A quick glance around any major Baltic city shows that businesses are ready to cash in on this growing trend as shops specializing in wine pop up on every corner.

"I would say that we are moving more and more towards the so-called 'European' lifestyle, which happens to include great wine drinking culture," said Helena Zakmane, marketing manager at Pernod Ricard Latvia, a branch of the second largest wine and spirits company in the world.
This trend isn't just confined to Latvia 's the other Baltic states are also experiencing an explosion of wine culture.

"Every year it is becoming more popular… People love them [wines] more and more. We can see how many new shops are opening and that means more people want to buy," Arminas Darasevicius, business manager of the Vilnius-based Vynoklubas wine club and retailer told The Baltic Times.
Itself a sign of the growing popularity of wines, Vynoklubas has grown quite a strong business 's successfully operating out of two different locations in the city 's not only specializing in wines but more specifically in French and other European vintages.

Darasevicius said that along with an increase in the actual amount of wine Lithuanians are consuming, locals are starting to take the time to immerse themselves in the culture of wine by learning about the different varieties.
"People know more about wine and want to learn more. People already know the kind of wine they like, and that is very important I think. They are becoming more clever about wines, they know which wines they like, and also why," he said.
As people become more interested in learning about wine, a greater interest in the more high-end wines is starting to emerge.

"The wine business in Latvia is constantly growing, showing positive change towards the more expensive wine segment," Zakmane told The Baltic Times. She said that on top of this, many people are starting to latch onto the great mid-priced wines available.
This includes wines which are only slightly lower quality than the really expensive ones 's a difference which can be hard to see for non-connoisseurs 's for significantly less money.
There are other more practical reasons, however, that solid, mid-priced wines have a secure future in the Baltics. "For sure [higher quality wines] will be more popular in the future. But I think it is impossible to reach the French level because we are a small country without so many rich people who can afford to buy a really nice wine," Darasevicius said.

Other subtle signs that the Western European wine culture is working its way to the Baltics are cropping up throughout the three countries.
Vinoteca Serena, a chain of wine stores in Latvia, is introducing a Mediterranean approach to enjoying wine. As the Balts take to bottled wine in ever growing numbers, the company hopes that it can raise the profile of another common Italian tradition 's draught wine, where wine is served directly from the cask rather than out of a bottle.
"We import wine only from Italy, and we were the first company in the Latvian market to prepare a new opportunity for people 's to buy wine from the draught. It is not so popular as it is in Italy, but we are working very hard to develop this idea," a representative of Vinoteca Serena said.

The tradition of draught wine may be slowly catching on, but when it comes to regional vintage traditions, the Baltic states are more obviously following a worldwide trend in turning increasingly toward wines from North and South America, or the "New World" as the two continents are known in the trade. 
"As many are saying right now, the popularity of New World wines is constantly growing," Zakmane said.
Now is truly the time for Baltic wine lovers to shine. As more people catch on to the joys of wine, entrepreneurs are given more business opportunities and connoisseurs are given more variety.

"The impression I've got is that the New World has become very popular 's and European wines of course 's France and Spain. Australia and New Zealand are very visible here, you can really find wines from all over the world," said Anti Orav, an Estonian wine lover and producer of berry wines.
"The choices have really become wider," he said.

"Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing."
- Ernest Hemingway, "Death in the Afternoon."

"If God forbade drinking, would He have made wine so good?"
- Cardinal Richelieu

"Let us have wine and women, mirth and laughter,
Sermons and soda-water the day after."
- Lord Byron, "Don Juan"

"Wine ... cheereth God and man."
- Judges, 9:13

"Wino Forever"
- Johnny Depp (The tattoo once read 'Winona Forever')

"Good wine is a good familiar creature if it be well used." 
- William Shakespeare, Othello, II. iii. (315)