When Russia annexed Crimea, Ukraine lost its wine-making region. Now its vintners are clinking glasses with the west.
Bisso Atanassov raises a glass and studies the shade of the liquid within. “This looks like a red but it’s actually a rosé,” he says, swirling it. He inhales deeply and takes a sip. “It has a very fruity nose. In the mouth you feel some spiciness too.” The grapes that went into this rosé were grown in conditions similar to those in western Europe. But we aren’t in Tuscany or the Loire Valley; we’re at Kyiv Wine, Ukraine’s biggest wine fair, and the beverage being quaffed is as Ukrainian as beetroot soup.
Kyiv Wine features the same conventions as western oenophilic gatherings: think tastings and a lot of chat about terroir. What’s different is the atmosphere: this place feels more like a festival than a trade fair. A liberal pouring policy results in a high proportion of sozzled attendees by lunchtime; they would do well to stay out of the sun. It’s not just a surfeit of sauce which has everyone in a jolly mood. The Ukrainian wine industry is on the rise: producers are making better bottles and the market is maturing. Judging from the number of Rolls Royces and Porches in the carpark, it’s a business that has already minted a few fortunes.
This extra verve is owing in part to Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. At first things looked bad – the coastal region here accounted for about 40 per cent of wine produced in the country. But when Ukrainian wine from the peninsula suddenly became Russian wine, a €3.5bn gap in the wine and spirits market opened up in the north.
Atanassov is one producer keen to take advantage. In 2012 he started making it in the south of the country. He tracked the area’s temperature, wind and rainfall, and analysed the soil before planting imported vine cuttings from Italy, France, South Africa and Georgia. His Beykush Winery is now one of the country’s most beloved. He appears to have found some fans at the fair too: of all the stands Atanassov’s is among the busiest. Audaciously dressed groups knock back glasses of his Beykush Chardonnay there; crowds of young men erupt into uncontrollable, riotous laughter while Atanassov and his staff rush around explaining the finer points of each vintage to those who are curious (and still able to concentrate).
Outside the fair, attendees are reclining on loungers under fairy lights. One or two are starting to look tired; wine tasting is an exacting pastime if enjoyed for hours at a time. As dusk falls, the stomping techno music that has filled the air all day – you only notice it when it’s gone – has been substituted for contemporary jazz. Most of the producers are packing away for the day but a small group of stragglers are keen or the party to continue. To their delight a chivalrous wine-maker emerges with one last bottle. There are shouts of “Bud’mo!” and the clinking of glasses.
In 1952 the owners of Airfix, a toy company, found that they could save on manufacturing costs by selling the components of model tractors; customers could do the work of assembling them. The snare was set and so generations were absorbed in this fastidious craft, navigating the danger of razors, superglue and lead-based paint in pursuit of a pleasing replica of a ship, train or aeroplane – the latter at its best when hung from the ceiling with string.
Others found pleasure in the garden, where roses were husbanded; stamps were collected and carefully mounted in books that grew to the thickness of a Bible; miniature trains chugged therapeutically through tiny landscapes; and leisure time was filled with another kind of work. Away from the pressures of the office, people found a renewed appetite for labour on their own terms. Millions of productive hours were rewarded by nothing more – or less – than satisfaction.
This might sound like nostalgia and that’s because it is. But today the idea of having a hobby is in danger: dwindling leisure time is colliding with an enthusiasm for turning a profit at every opportunity. A task conducted purely for its own ends seems worthless next to the pursuit of self-actualisation and – better yet – self-employment. And so the innocence of the hobby has been corrupted to become the “side hustle”. According to studies, more than a third of 25 to 34-year-olds have one. This is the same cohort that, according to a study by the UK government, enjoys the least amount of downtime of any pre-retirement age group.
Having a side hustle might seem like an attractive prospect but the risks of conflating a hobby and a revenue stream are well documented. Just ask an enthusiastic amateur cook whose dreams of launching a bustling, trendy restaurant curdle faster than hollandaise. Mental-health problems are on the rise across the developed world – and hobbies could help. Perhaps it’s time to let work end with the workday and look to the past for lessons in relaxation. Now pass the glue gun.