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06.30.2006

At Least You Don't Live in Russia

Sometimes when American kids complain about the smallest things, parents say "at least you don't live in [insert downtrodden, usually African country here]." Because really, most of the time, none of us really bother to think about how well off we are, especially compared with the rest of the world.

Now, when wine lovers complain about the fact that they can't get their favorite bottles shipped from California to Illinois, we can say "At least you don't live in Russia."

Thanks to the bumbling bureaucracy of the Russian government and trade ministries, wine is nearly totally absent from shelves in stores across the country. The reason? A set of new regulations that sound like something out of a Thomas Heller's Catch-22:

All imported wines sold in the country must have an excise stamp, which gets changed every year.
All wines that have not been sold from the previous year must have their old stamps replaced by new stamps.
The deadline for excise stamp compliance is tomorrow, the first of July.
The stamps were not made available until a few weeks ago.
And, by the way, the only people who can put the stamps on are the importers. NOT the retailers.

"The entire wine trade in the country is paralyzed" says one insider, as retailers are being forced to yank their wines off the shelves and send them back to the importer for stamping leaving Russian wine lovers without their own cellars high and dry.

Apparently the stamps are normally supposed to come out 6 months in advance of the deadline, but you know how governments work....

Raise a glass this weekend (again) in solidarity with your Russian wine drinking friends. They need all the spiritual support they can get.

Comments (6)

Ole Blue wrote:
06.30.06 at 10:05 AM

A country with out wine is a place with out character.

GregP wrote:
06.30.06 at 11:48 AM

RE: "A country with out wine is a place with out character".

We're talking RUSSIA here, let's pay attention. Its like saying, "A country without VODKA is a place without character" about most other places. Wine sells in Moscow and a couple of large metro areas where people want to join the "Western sophistication", but once you get out to outlying areas vodka is the main drink of choice. People who can't afford vodka do buy cheap wine as substitute and trust me, its wine none of us here would enjoy. This has been a historical perspective, BTW, so nothing new.

To add to the above, LOCAL Russians (here in USA) also drink mostly vodka even with the abundance of great wine available, so pointing fingers at Russia for not having access to wine is like saying Mongolia is missing out on Big Macs.

Greg

Alder wrote:
06.30.06 at 11:59 AM

Greg,

As always you provide some excellent perspective. But I'm like Robin Hood (or maybe like Monty Pyhon's Dennis Moore ): as long as there's even one person in the world who is crying out for wine that they haven't got, I will champion the causes of oenological righteousness and freedom.

Let them drink wine! (with their cake).

GregP wrote:
06.30.06 at 2:24 PM

Alder,

No issues, you know me by now :-))

To add to the above:

The world of wine IS changing there, but similar to the elite during Tzarist Era (before the revolution), it is pretty much the very rich who are really embracing wine these days as well. Hell, Roderer Champagne would not be with us today had not Russian Tzar and the elite saved it from certain bunkrupcy and Crystal would not even exist.

There is an influx of French and Italian chefs in Moscow these days and they do what they do here: limit their wine lists to French and Italian wines, high end wines at that. French prices are going stupid these days not because US buys the wines, they always did, but there is a huge number of zillionaires in Russia and China now overbidding everyone for the goods just to show their friends and competitors that they can afford this stuff and others can't.

But even with the wines making in-roads into Russia these days, what these imported chefs find out is that they MUST alter their menus to fit VODKA, one way or another.

Also, don't forget that traditionally, Moldova and Georgia were selling their wines in Russia, their by far the biggest market since the wines, in general, SUCK. Russia also has a huge number of acres planted and given the demand for "freedom" coming out of Moldova and Georgia these days, why should Russia subsidize their new enemies, they have been subsidizing their economies for decades now. I would do the same if I were Russia and at the same time that would benefit my own wine industry, exactly what is taking place lately.

Greg

Melanie wrote:
07.01.06 at 5:29 AM

Maybe they have such weird laws because they don't want people drinking wine, they want them drinking good Russian vodka instead??
Bummer for wine lovers in Russia though.

GregP wrote:
07.01.06 at 11:53 AM

The only "weird" thing about this whole broo-ha-ha is that the government requires an installation of specific computerized counting system to ensure they collect taxes on each and every bottle of alcohol sold. Most distributors/wholesalers do not have the system installed nor don't want to comply since they can cheat on their taxes under the current system. This is the ONLY issue at hand whether it is vodka or wine or any other alcohol beverage.

On top of that, they now require that the in order to have the new computerized system provided and installed, distributors must be of a particular size expressed in financial valuation, wholesalers must comply with their new "ceiling" as well, think of it as a winery bond in USA terms. This should provide for better accountability and tracking of what is really sold and what a business owes to the government, taxation or rather collection of taxes in Russia these days is a losing proposition for the government and they are trying their best to have better compliance.

This is all very similar to our TTF and winery bonds, although on a much more controlled basis since Russian businesses are and will do anything to avoid paying taxes, most people here do so voluntarily, but I've seen winery lincenses pulled by the government here as well.

Its a painful transition for all involved and affects not only wine sales, but vodka, the key engine that drives the country for the last century (literally).

Main reason I found Alder's take on this a bit off. OK, well off.

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