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LWF exclusive: Ukrainian producers to set up import and distribution operation in UK

Published:  18 May, 2023

Wines of Ukraine is planning to launch its own import and distribution company in the UK, to help facilitate and grow exports to what its members see as a crucial market for boosting the profile of the country internationally.

Speaking to Harpers at London Wine Fair (LWF), Svitlana Tsybak (pictured) of Beykush Wines and president of the Ukrainian Association of Craft Winemakers, said that having visited the UK several times recently she had realised that “a different way” was now needed.

“For the UK market we have a different way now, we started about a year ago with a new, quite young importer, and now my conclusion is that we need to do our own distribution here, through our own import company, to import wines directly from Ukraine to the UK,” she said.

“The idea has been formulating since last year, but I am now certain that Ukraine needs to do this.”

Besieged by brutal Russian aggression and with a growing inventory of wine to sell, Ukrainian producers have certainly been proactive in taking their collective offer to overseas markets, with Ukraine’s strong presence at London Wine Fair the latest prominent outing on the world stage, following on from other international trade shows such as Prowein.

However, the umbrella organisation Wines of Ukraine was only created as recently as 2021 and with an overwhelming majority of pre-war sales rooted in the domestic market, there is much work to be done.

“It’s quite a young organisation…. for us, the most important thing is to promote Ukrainian wines worldwide, to present them and educate [in] many countries, not just the UK,” said Tsybak.

“Historically, Ukraine is a winemaking country, but not one that people know about, we have been selling almost all of our wines within the country and now we have seen that we can go outside, and especially in this tense time for Ukraine, because the domestic market has been frozen so we need to find ways to sell our wines and present our wines.”

The association has around 85 members, but not all of those members are ready or even currently able export their wines, leaving about “20-25 wineries that are ready to export”.

“Since 2022 I’ve come here often and been exploring the market, and realised it’s a huge and interesting market and we can sell our wines here, so we need to try this,” added Tsybak.

With the proposed UK import operation now to begin to take shape, it will feature its own sales and promotion team, looking to build upon both the goodwill towards Ukraine, but also the breadth and quality of its remarkably diverse offer.

Some in the UK trade have already taken the plunge, not least via the wines that have been brought in by Propeller, which was quick off the mark to help facilitate shipments of Ukrainian wines to the UK, aimed at indie merchants, early on in the conflict.

For those that missed Ukraine at LWF, there is to be a ‘showcase’ tasting event at the Hedonism wine store in London’s Mayfair on 24 June, where that diversity and some of the innovation that has been taking place in this traditional industry will be on show.

As Harpers has reported, the Russian owner of Hedonism has been generous in his support of Ukraine’s population during Putin’s illegal invasion, with London-based entrepreneur Evgeny Chichvarkin financing more than £4.5 million worth of medical purchases for the Ukrainian people.

The collaboration between Russian-owned Hedonism and Wines of Ukraine is a poignant reminder of the plight of both the Ukrainian people and its winemakers. But Tsybak is clear that the wines will need to sell on merit rather than sympathy. And, judging by many samples tasted at LWF, there is certainly much good and of interest in the collective offer for buyers seeking to add genuine points of difference to their lists.