By John Helmer, Moscow
Russian champagne is like fake news in the Washington Post; and Gresham’s Law on counterfeit money. The supply of fake champagne, including fake bubbles, is now driving the genuine stuff out of the market. A study, released in Moscow last week by the new state agency, Russian Quality System (Roskachestvo), reveals that 30% of a sampling of the sparkling wines currently being sold on the Russian market fail both Russian and international standards. That’s because they contain artificially enhanced carbon dioxide; sugar additives such as ethanol; abnormally large volumes of preservatives such as sulphur dioxide; and false labelling and packaging to cover up.
This is wine soda pop — a new beverage category created in the Russian alcohol regulations in 2012. Adding carbon dioxide artificially is not prohibited by the Russian legislation, but “it’s legalized counterfeit,” says Vadim Drobiz, head of Centre for Federal and Regional Alcohol Markets (TsIFRRA) in Moscow. And the volume is rising, as champagne imports and domestic sparkling wine consumption drop.
Roskachestvo  was set up by government decree in April of 2015 as an agency for the study of “the quality of the products presented on the shelves of Russian stores and [for] issuing the best domestic goods with the Russian Mark of Quality (below, left).” Maxim Protazov heads the organization (right).
The establishment decree  reveals the organization is a cooperative venture between producers, sellers, consumers, and the Russian Institute for Consumer Testing. Retailers, fisherman, shoemakers, textile producers, and dairies also belong. The decree proposed the new agency will “stimulate domestic manufacturers to production corresponding to the level of the best world analogues, enhance competitiveness for promotion on the internal and external markets, and also create a system of voluntary confirmation of [quality standard] conformity for such products.”
The quality certification is voluntary, and there is no penalty for not having it. The federal Trade Ministry provided Rb180 million ($2.8 million) in state budget money to start the agency off.
Roskachestvo’s champagne and sparkling wine report  appeared last week. Here is the preliminary release from the agency on November 21. The full report , including the names of all the wines tested, followed on December 7.
Of the 56 branded wines sampled, 29 were reported to be of “superior quality”. One French import in this group is called Duc de Paris.
Another 15 were judged to be of acceptable quality. The imports in this category include the Italian Lambrusco Rosso dell’Emilia, and the French Moet & Chandon Ice Imperial. There were 12 sub-standard wines, including the old standby, Sovietskoye Shampanskoye; and an Italian import called Sandiliano.
For the last report on Russian consumption of champagne, at the start of June 2014, when the war and sanctions had started, but devaluation and economic recession were still to come, read this . In March 2015, the Crimea production plan from Abrau-Durso, one of the leading domestic winemakers, was analysed here .
IWSR , the London-based market research specialist for alcoholic beverages, follows the Russian market closely. Its latest research on the consumption of sparkling wines shows that a consumption peak for all types was reached in 2011. Since then the year-by-year decline was modest to start with. War, sanctions, devaluation, and the contraction of consumer income have combined to speed up the decline between 2014 and now.
Champagne consumption in Russia, according to IWSR, peaked in 2013 at 118,000 nine-litre cases; so far this year it is down by 19%. Imports of other sparkling wines have dropped even more sharply over the same period – down by 53% since 2013.
The only category to show an increase has been locally produced sparkling wine. This dropped between 2013 and 2014, but has been gaining since then.
The IWSR analyst for Russia comments that price is king. “The consumption occasions are still there, but consumers are moving from imported to local variants which are a lot cheaper. Down-market trading has been massive last year because of the economic circumstances. Local sparklers have therefore seen some volume increases. There are also a lot of investments from the government in local wine production.”
Based on studies by TsIFFRA, Drobiz (right) reports that the impact of  economic crisis on Russian alcohol consumption patterns is typically a shift toward drinks that pack a higher punch at a lower price. “Sales are reduced for low- alcohol drinks while sales of the stronger ones increase. But as the country’s population declined in the 1990s, so aggregate volumes consumed have fallen. The peak for sparkling wines was 2008. But at that time it was 40% fake. In 2012 a special term – винный газированный напиток [literally, carbonated wine drink] — has officially appeared. In fact, this was the legalisation of fake sparkling wines. These drinks are usually sold in bottles looking similar to those of champagne or sparkling wines, with the soda pop label in very small print. Now the amount of these drinks is rising on the market because they are cheap.”
“If we speak about the market segment of cheap sparkling wines, it’s almost fully Russian. Before 2013 the cheap imports of sparkling wines were mostly from Moldova, and comprised less than 20% of the whole market. Now it is less than 14%. Still, the raw material for domestically produced cheap Russian sparkling wines is fully imported. From Spain, about 35%; from Ukraine and Moldova, about 35%; and 30% from other countries. Wine material of Russian origin is usually used only in expensive, elite brands.”
Drobiz is critical of the Roskachestvo sampling for unprofessional methods. “For example, Roskachestvo took about 50 brands of sparkling wine, but there are many more. They also tested wine that is soda pop and equated that to genuine sparkling wines. They took the wines for testing from the shops. Usually, in an average shop there are no proper wine storage conditions. The fermentation process in the bottle doesn’t stop during transportation or storage on the shop shelf. So the testing of these wines couldn’t be objective.”
“The Crimean wines were always of high and medium quality, but during the time when Crimea was a part of Ukraine the equipment at the wine factories became worn out; the area of the vineyards declined from around 100,000 hectares in the Soviet period to about 10,000 hectares now. The quality of the vines also became worse. Now the government is investing money into Crimean wine making, and we can say it has developed a good deal since 2014. Now 8% of Russian sparkling wines are Crimean. Crimea is the future for Russian wine.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][/vc_column][/vc_row]