On May 12, Abrau-Durso hosted the “First Wine Tourism Forum” under the auspices of the Global Wine Tourism Organization. GWTO President Jose Antonio Vidal presented diplomas to three Russian wineries: Yalta WinePark by Mrya, Chateau de Talu and Abrau-Durso. The owners of these wineries are under international sanctions.
GWTO is an organization founded in 2020 that promotes winery tourism. The GWTO is headquartered in Madrid and Vidal is alsoPresident of the Spanish Wine Tourism Association. Although the GWTO has the word Global in its name, it only includes nine countries: Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Greece, China, Spain, France, Uruguay, and South Africa. After the start of a full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, the GWTO changed its strategy. The organization has not stopped active work in Russia, but has divided the media agenda for Russians and for the rest of the world. The last mention of GWTO activity in Russia dates back to 2021 , when the Russian National Culinary Association became its partner. At the same time, in Russia, GWTO has a representative office of the International Academy of Wine Tourism, which is headed by Vice-Rector of the Financial University under the Government of Russia Elena Didenko. In September 2022, the President of the GWTO spoke at the second All-Russian Culinary Congress in Suzdal, and in October of the same year he accepted the resort center Abrau-Dyurso as a member of the GWTO.
The winery Abrau-Dyurso, which became the venue for the forum, belongs to Boris Titov. Titov began his business career in the 1990s at the Russian-Dutch oil trader JV Urals, where Gennady Timchenko became his partner. Business ties between Titov and Timchenko have not weakened over the years: in 2018, Timchenko’s structures acquired the Azure Yagoda company, which owns vineyards at Putin’s palace in Gelendzhik, from Abrau Group of Companies. For being close to Timchenko and Vladimir Putin personally, the “court winemaker” was put on the UK sanctions list.
Chateau de Talue with a luxurious Provencal-style castle belongs to Olga Tkacheva, the wife of the former Minister of the Governor of the Krasnodar Territory and Minister of Agriculture Alexander Tkachev. He is one of the largest landowners in Europe. Even before the start of the war, the area of its agricultural land was 1.1 million hectares. As an investigation by The Wall Street Journal showed, after the outbreak of a full-scale war, the Tkachev agro-complex, with the participation of the authorities of the "LPR", seized more than 160,000 hectares of agricultural land in the occupied territories, which previously belonged to Ukrainian farmers. As can be seen from the published vacancies, the holding is recruiting personnel to work in the occupied Skadovsk, Genichesk and Melitopol. Alexander Tkachev himself is on the sanctions lists of Australia, the UK, the EU and Canada.
The Crimean WinePark winery is located in the Mriya Resort & Spa sanatorium complex owned by Sberbank, which was included in the US sanctions list in November 2018. In addition to the fact that the winery itself is the property of the sanctions bank, the GWTO actually legitimized the annexation of the peninsula by issuing a diploma to the Yalta winery as a Russian enterprise.
The wine tourism forum itself can be seen as a small but successful application of the Kremlin's "soft power": the sessions were attended by Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United Mexican States to the Russian Federation Eduardo Villegas Mejias and Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Eastern Republic of Uruguay to the Russian Federation Daniel Ruben Castillos Gomez. The status of a “global” forum, which is supported by an international organization, helped organize a platform where both diplomats and sanctioned functionaries like Titov and Alexei Kondratenko from the Committee on Agrarian Food Policy and Environmental Management of the Federation Council found themselves together.