food / travel

Why The Vodka Nation Is Ripe For Wine

Move the shot glasses aside and make way for some stemware. One expert characterizes the Russian wine market as one of the "most promising in the modern world."

Middle-class Russians are discovering the pleasure of wine.
Middle-class Russians are discovering the pleasure of wine.
Aleksander Zotin

MOSCOW — Around the world, people are drinking less wine, which comes as a surprise to middle-class Russians, who have only just begun to discover its pleasures. But that fact could represent a silver lining for global winemakers, who are looking to Russia as a market ripe for growth.

According to the International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV), both production and consumption of wine has been dropping around the world over the past decade. In the 1970s and 1980s, wine production was stable at around 33 billion liters per year, but that has dropped to 28 billion liters a year, with per capita consumption falling even more.

Why this is happening can be explained by changes in the way people in developed countries live. "Look at how the labor markets have changed over the past 60 years," explains Vadim Drobiz, head of a federal research center on the alcohol market.

"We sit in offices all day where it's not acceptable to drink wine," he continues. "Before World War II, in France it was totally normal to drink a liter of wine over the course of the workday, including lunch. At that time, people in France and Italy drank 120 to 130 liters of wine per year per capita. Now the per capita wine consumption is a third of that. In addition, there was automobile, which further restricted wine consumption. Plus, wine has lost the battle for youth, who have a culture based around cheap beer and cocktails."

Glass half full?

But there are distinctions within the Russian wine market in particular that offer hope for commercial vineyards. First of all, Russians are heavy drinkers. According to the World Health Organization, Russians drink 15.1 liters of pure alcohol per capita per year, or 32 liters for every male over the age of 15. That's about one shot of vodka every day. Russia is among the heaviest-drinking nations in the world.

In addition, most wine in Russia is of poor quality. "In Russia, a lot of wine is semi-sweet or fortified," explains Denis Rudenko, a wine critic and member of Russia's sommelier union. "In the West, only 3% to 4% of wine is semi-sweet or fortified."

Drobiz says that domestic wine in Russia has gone from representing about 30% of the market before 1998 to 60% now. And that's despite the fact that "only around 15% of Russian wine is good," he says. "There are some small Russian producers who have won prizes at international competitions," he says, but those individual successes have done little to transform the overall state of Russian wine production.

The ripple effect

So most Russian wine is still cheap — and bad. Drobiz says that 85% of Russian-produced wine costs less than $3.60. Only 5% of wine sold here costs more than $30 per bottle, and that is all imported.

Another way that Russia's wine market is unique is that consumers like to buy brands that were famous before the fall of the Soviet Union, which is to say wine made in former Soviet republics. At the beginning of the 2000s, wine imports were dominated by Moldovan wine, but a series of embargoes have reduced Moldovan market share down to zero.

On the other hand, Georgian wine has recently returned to the Russian market and has been growing, now controlling about 12% of the import market. Meanwhile, wine imports from the West have been growing, particularly in Moscow, which accounts for 40% of the sales of expensive wine in the country. (Planned retaliatory sanctions on agricultural products from the West are not expected to include wine.) The capital is where new tastes and a new wine culture are developing, and it is slowly spreading to the rest of the country.

All of these figures have led winemakers around the world to hope that a portion of Russian alcohol consumption could change from vodka to wine. "In the Soviet Union, per capita wine consumption wasn't high, but it was respectable, at 20-21 liters per capita per year until around 1980," says Drobiz. "Then there was the anti-alcohol campaign of the 1980s, the fall of the USSR, the crash in the economy and the standard of living, and by 1995 wine consumption had crashed. Now it is up to around 4.5 liters per capita per year."

Those numbers make the Russian wine market look like a fabulous opportunity. "Consumption could easily rise by a factor of 3.5 or 4, up to 15 liters per capita per year," Drobiz says. "That makes the Russian market one of the most promising in the modern world."

Hopes for selling wine in China and India have proven to be overly optimistic, because neither country has a wine-drinking culture, he notes. "As soon as China started cracking down on corruption last year, consumption dropped, because wine there is considered an expensive gift or a fashionable drink for a very small part of the population," Drobiz says.

It's possible that there's still hope for the Chinese wine market, but history has shown that wine culture doesn't stick even in rich Asian countries such as South Korea and Japan. Wine doesn't complement their cuisine very well. At the moment, statistics show that wine only make up 4% of alcoholic drinks consumed in Japan — a 30-year low — and in South Korea, wine makes up only 2% of alcoholic drinks.

Is it possible, then, that Russia is the best hope for global winemakers? Perhaps, but in order for that to happen, ordinary Russians will have to give up some of their vodka and beer.

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food / travel

The True Horrors Behind 7 Haunted Locations Around The World

With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.

Inside Poveglia Island's abandoned asylum

Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson

When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.

And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.

Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan

photo of  ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola,

The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan

Dai He/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire

According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.

In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.

The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.

Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.

photo of rocks and trees in Gettysburg

View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA


Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!

The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.

Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.

Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain

photo of sunset of old Belchite

Old Belchite, Spain

Belchite Town Council

Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…

That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.

Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.

If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.

Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan

photo of Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) i

Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Chris Bradley/Design Pics via ZUMA Wire

The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.

The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.

Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."

Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.

Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden

a photo of The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden


After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).

Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.

Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia

a photo of ort Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Flickr/Eli Duke

During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.

Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.

Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy

a photo of Poveglia Island, Italy

Poveglia Island, Italy

Mirco Toniolo/ROPI via ZUMA Press

Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).

During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.

In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.

Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.

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