Stavropol is one of Russia’s greatest agricultural regions, and the birthplace of the last Soviet President, Mikhail Gorbachev, who carries his southern Russia accent even today. Stavropol region is also home to two of Russia’s favorite mountain resorts: Pyatigorsk (five mountains) and neighboring Kislovodsk, with their legendary mineral waters. Each has dozens of sanatoria and numerous tourist attractions.
In contrast with the greener lands of Krasnodar to the west, Stavropol is a vast open land, and dryer and colder than its neighbor. The capital, Stavropol, is about the same latitude as Bismarck, North Dakota, with little more rainfall. The farming season opens as early as March. For winemakers, spring means uncovering the vineyard roots that were buried over to protect them from the bitter cold.
In 1990, the first sister-state relationship between a US state and a Russian region was established between Iowa and Stavropol, prompted by Iowa banker John Chrystal and his friend Mikhail Gorbachev. Chrystal traveled often to the USSR and arranged many professional exchange programs after his uncle, Roswell Garst of the Garst Seed company, hosted Nikita Khruschev’s famous visit to Iowa in 1956. Garst weathered a storm of protests over his sale of high-yield corn seed to the Soviet Union, but Russian farmers today still complain about Khrushchev’s fascination with corn: “for years afterward corn was planted everywhere in the Soviet Union, even in Siberia where it could never germinate.”It was this sister-state relationship that brought me to Praskoveya Winery, near the city of Budyonnovsk in early 1995, and then back in late May that year. There were about twenty wineries in Stavropol region at the end of the Soviet era, mostly producing dry white and sweet wines, but Praskoveya Winery near Budyonnovsk, about 200 kilometers east of the capital is by far the largest and oldest. Compared to what I had seen at other Russian wineries, I was impressed with Praskoveya’s management, orderliness, and operation despite harsh rural conditions far from the region’s capital. During that visit we made final plans to set up a packaging line at Praskoveya for bag-in-box wines—a dry white wine, and red sweet wine. I was back in Iowa barely a week when the news came of Russia’s first major terrorist incident—in Budyonnovsk, killing 166 and taking more than 1,500 residents hostage in the local hospital. I returned to Praskoveya often until 2000, notably for its 100-year jubilee in 1998 and still follow the winery and its products. Read more in Passport magazine – March 2011