Abrau-Durso, a town near Novorossiysk in Russia’s Krasnodar region, hosted the First Wine Tourism Forum under the patronage of the Global Wine Tourism Organization (GWTO) on May 12, according to a report by state-owned news agency TASS. At the event, GWTO President Jose Antonio Vidal presented membership certificates to three Russian wineries: Yalta WinePark by Mriya, Château de Talu, and Abrau-Durso. The owners of all three wineries are under international sanctions.
The GWTO is an organization founded in 2020 that promotes wine tourism. The organization is headquartered in Madrid, while its head Jose Vidal is also president of the Spanish Wine Tourism Association. Although the GWTO has the word “Global” in its name, the organization is made up of members from only nine countries: Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, China, France, Greece, Spain, South Africa and Uruguay. After the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, the GWTO notably changed its strategy. The organization did not stop its active work in Russia, and opted to separate its media agenda for Russia from the one intended for the rest of the world. The last mention of the GWTO’s activity in Russia dates back to 2021, when it partnered with the Russian National Culinary Association. The GWTO also has a representative office in Russia at the International Academy of Wine Tourism, headed by Elena Didenko, Vice-Rector of the Financial University under the Government of Russia. In September 2022, the president of the GWTO spoke at the second All-Russian Culinary Congress in Suzdal, and the Abrau-Durso resort became a member of the GWTO the following month.
The Abrau-Durso winery – the venue that hosted the forum – belongs to Boris Titov, Russia's former Presidential Commissioner for Entrepreneurs' Rights. Titov began his business career in the 1990s at the Russian-Dutch oil trader Urals, where he partnered with Gennady Timchenko, a close friend of Vladimir Putin. The business ties between Titov and Timchenko have not weakened over the years: in 2018, Timchenko's firms acquired Azurnaya Yagoda, which owns vineyards at Putin's palace in Gelendzhik, from the Abrau Group. The “court winemaker” was put on the UK’s sanctions list for his proximity to Timchenko and Vladimir Putin personally.
Château de Talu, with its luxurious château in the Provencal style, belongs to Olga Tkachyova, the wife of Alexander Tkachov, the former governor of Russia’s Krasnodar region and former Minister of Agriculture. Tkachov is one of the largest landowners in Europe – before Russia invaded Ukraine, the area of his agricultural land amounted to 1.1 million hectares. According to an investigation by The Wall Street Journal, after the start of the full-scale war, Tkachov's agricultural complex, with help from the so-called “LPR,” seized over 160,000 hectares of agricultural land in Ukraine’s occupied territories, which had previously belonged to Ukrainian farmers. As can be seen from the published vacancies, the Tkachov’s companies are recruiting personnel to work in occupied Skadovsk, Henichesk and Melitopol. Alexander Tkachov has been sanctioned by Australia, the UK, the EU and Canada.
The Crimean winery WinePark is located in the Sberbank-owned Mriya Resort & Spa, which was sanctioned by the United States in November 2018. In addition to the fact that the winery itself is the property of a sanctioned bank, the GWTO actually legitimized the annexation of the peninsula by granting the Yalta winery a diploma as a Russian enterprise.
The Wine Tourism Forum itself can be seen as a small but successful application of the Kremlin's “soft power”: the sessions were attended by Eduardo Villegas Mejias, Mexico’s Ambassador to Russia, and Uruguayan Ambassador Daniel Rubén Castillos Gómez. The “global” status of the forum, which is supported by an international organization, helped organize a platform bringing together both diplomats and sanctioned officials like Titov and Alexei Kondratenko from the Federation Council Committee on Agriculture and Food Policy and Environmental Management.
Cover photo by Mikhail Metzel / TASS.