Legendary Crimean winemaker auctions vintages up to 80 years old, riling Kiev

Winery that once supplied Russian tsar is in territory which was Ukrainian until Russia annexed it in 2014, and Kiev threatens sanctions for collectors who buy any of the 13,000 bottles for sale

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 December, 2015, 10:53am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 December, 2015, 11:12am

Legendary Crimean winemaker Massandra, once a supplier to Russia’s Tsar Nicolas II, has provoked the ire of Kiev by putting 13,000 vintage bottles up for auction.

Massandra described the wines, some dating back to 1935, as “pearls that have endured heavy ordeals including during the [second world] war”.

One 1944 muscat “was produced in Yalta just after its liberation from German troops”, it noted in a statement launching the sale, which is being held at the winery and online.

The Massandra region, which belonged to the Ukrainian state until the 2014 annexation of Crimea by Russia, is now under Moscow’s control with the rest of the peninsula.

Kiev immediately reacted to the sale, threatening a criminal probe over “squandering Ukrainian heritage”, said Olexandre Liev, a Ukrainian agriculture ministry official.

Liev warned, “We want Russian and foreign collectors to realise that they could face international sanctions for illegal economic actions in annexed Crimea” if they buy the prized wines.

Massandra was already at the centre of a scandal in September when Russian President Vladimir Putin and ex-Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi reportedly enjoyed a US$100,000 bottle of 240-year-old sherry.

Russian media said Massandra director Yanina Pavlenko, appointed by Moscow, uncorked the bottle herself.

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It was one of only five extant bottles of Jerez de la Frontera of the 1775 vintage, part of a legendary collection established by Prince Mikhail Vorontsov, who ran Crimea as governor general in the first half of the 19th century.

A sixth bottle of the same Massandra wine sold for £31,900 at Sotheby’s in 2001. At the time, Ukraine’s president authorised its sale, media reports said.

Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev handed the strategically important Crimean peninsula to Ukraine in 1954 in what was then a largely symbolic move since Ukraine and Russia were both part of the USSR.

Russia formally annexed Crimea in March 2014 by a controversial referendum after sending special forces troops there to take over key institutions and military bases.

The events unfolded against political chaos in Kiev, where former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych was ousted by pro-Western protest leaders and fled.

Moscow later made Crimea and Sevastopol into two Russian regions, with the United States and the European Union unleashing sanctions over violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity.