[su_dropcap style=”flat” size=”5″]O[/su_dropcap]n a hot summer day in 2000, Odessa businessman Robert Guliev was having dinner with a friend in Vienna “Grand Hotel”. They were drinking the famous Burgundy wine. Someone suggested them to try aged Austrian Chardonnay. “I refused, I didn’t believe that there could be something better than French wine, – says Guliev. – I tasted the wine only out of deference to my friend. It gave me the creeps because I realized that good wines were made not only in France”. After that Guliev decided to make authorial wine in Ukraine.
The tradition of giving your own name to wine has existed in France and Italy for several centuries. But in our country none of the winemakers dared to indicate their name on wine bottles before Guliev. “Around the world, wine without the author’s name on the bottle is not trusted very much. It is usually a table wine”, – explains Robert.
This idea turned out to be successful as customers noticed and singled out his wine. In 2014, Guliev’s company “OdessaVinProm” produced about 4 million bottles of champagne “Frantsuzkiy Bulvar” and 2 million bottles of “Vina Gulievyh”. Of course, the authorial wine production volume is much lower than the mass-market production of the industry giants. For instance, Valeriy Shamotiy’s company “Inkerman” produces more than 40 million bottles of wine per year. The main difference is that Guliev uses only his own wine-materials for the authorial wine production. For these purposes, the company planted 2500 hectares of vineyards in Odessa region. This year, “OdessaVinProm” increased the production by 2.5 times. Several companies, including “Bayadera”, “Olimp”, and «Inkerman” started to bottle their products at Guliev’s factories. Now “OdessaVinProm” produces about 50 kinds of sparkling and still wines and also brandy. The company “OdessaVinProm” with a turnover of UAH 173 million ranks No. 21 in Landlord’s rating. After having a conversation with Guliev, Landlord has found out five peculiarities of the authorial winemaking in Ukraine.
№1. Family business
Robert’s ancestors come from Georgia where wine has always been a part of culture. Guliev’s great-grandfather worked as an accountant at one of the farms growing grapes. His son decided to engage in the wine production and lay out a vineyard near town Telavi. “Was it possible for my father Ruben Guliev to choose another path than winemaking?” – Says Robert.
Kutaisi Institute of Southern Cultures alumnus Ruben Guliev came to Ukraine in the early 1950s. Within only a few years, the agronomist of a state wine farm in Odessa region became the head of Odessa wine-making trust. By the way, Odessa region owes to Ruben Guliev its current powerful wine-making potential. During the struggle with alcoholism actively conducted by the Soviet government in the mid-1980s, the head of wine-making trust did not allow to cut down the vineyards in Odessa region. Unfortunately, a lot of vineyards were destroyed in Crimea and Moldova. “He was cheating and tricking, he got severe reprimand from the Communist party authorities, and they wanted to expel him from the party. Even a satirical article about him was published in “Pravda” newspaper, – tells Robert. Now, 70% of Ukrainian vineyards are located in Odessa region.
However, Ruben Guliev wanted his sons, Shota and Robert to become military officers. After finishing school, Robert became a cadet of Odessa Artillery School. “At that time wine-making was considered to be quite difficult profession, – explains Robert. – And my father did not want me to go through all that”. However, the genes soon played their role. In three years, Guliev became a student of Odessa Institute of Technology. “I have grown up at the vineyards,”– explains Guliev.
The first workplace of the young winemaker was Odessa Cognac Factory (OCF). After the collapse of the Soviet Union, OCF became a private enterprise. Guliev was appointed the Chairman of the Board. In 1997, the company launched cognac production under the trademark “Shustov”. Guliev brought production technology, equipment and grapes from France.
“I got acquainted with Robert in Paris in1998, when he was looking for equipment for his company, – says the owner of a distillation technologies production company Richard Pryulo. – Guliev was interested in almost everything from growing grapes to the process of aging cognacs. “In 2000, Odessa factory was the largest cognac producer in Ukraine (900 000 dal per year) with a market share of 57%. It was time to conquer a new height, to start producing the own wine.
№2. Authorial wine
Guliev started with bringing grape-vine seedlings from France. He chose only those varieties, to which Odessa region climate conditions were suitable, such sorts as “Chardonnay”, “Cabernet”, “Merlot”, “Sauvignon”. “I traveled a lot, watched how French and South African winemakers worked”, – tells Guliev. Once in Hungary his friend introduced Guliev to the local winemaker Tibor Gal. He had studied in Italy, and on his small factory he was producing dry wines in “Antinori” style. “Gal greatly advanced me in modern winemaking technology matters, – says Guliev. – He revealed all the secrets to me”. Guliev’s Chief Technologist Yury Tkachenko lived at the Gall’s for several months. He picked up from Gal all new methods of making wine. Among other important things, he learned the peculiarities of aging wine in oak barrels.
In 2006, when the vineyards began to yield enough grapes, Guliev built a new winery in Sarata district. “Including 1500 hectares of vineyards, the new production cost us about $ 10 million”, – notes the businessman. The enterprise immediately reached the designed capacity of more than a million dekaliters of wine-materials per year. The winemaker still personally tastes all winemaking materials for “Guliev Wines” as he does not trust anyone in this matter. He claims that the secret of good wine is to do what you like yourself. “I like wine, – he says. – Every day at lunch I drink two glasses of my wine. The others just taste to be aware of professional and consumer trends”. “Robert always tries to extend his life philosophy to his business, – tells Odessa restaurateur, the owner of “Resta” company Saveliy Libkin. – I participated in a blind tasting. His wine is not inferior to Italian and French wines”.
No. 3. Ukrainian business approach
Guliev was looking for the wine and brandy equipment in France. To impress the partners, he took them to the best restaurants. “Robert is a gourmet, he appreciates good food”, – says Libkin. The winemaker’s plan was successful: the French appreciated the gourmet dinner. “As a result, I bought the necessary equipment three times cheaper than I had paid for dinners”, – smiles Guliev. In his native Odessa, the businessman found another way to captivate the partners. He bought an English motor yacht and began to hold all the meetings on it. Guliev even got a small-vessel captain license to pilot the yacht himself. “It made a strong impression on the guests,” – laughs Guliev. The winemaking business was developing. In 2007, Guliev’s authorial wine accounted for about 5% of the total company production. The main revenue was still generated by the cognac sales. With production volume of about 700 000 dal per year, OCF remained the market leader. One of the brand “Shustov’s” distributors was the trade house “Megapolis” owned by the founder of Global Spirits Company Evgeniy Chernyak. He had been interested in the cognac factory for a long time, and finally, in 2008, he became its owner. “When we were making the $ 96 million deal, everything was reposed on Robert’s and my words of honor. We have been friends since that time”, – says Chernyak.
Why did Guliev sell the successful business? “I felt that the crisis is coming”, – he explains. The competition in the cognac production segment was increasing. In addition, bottlers began to step on the producers’ toes. These companies brought cheap spirits from Georgia and Azerbaijan. It was getting more and more difficult to compete with them.
№4. Get to the point
Chernyak became the owner of Odessa Cognac Factory, and Guliev became a free man, who decided to leave for a termless vocation. He didn’t need to worry because he left the rest of the business in the capable hands of his father and brother Shota. Robert traveled a lot in France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Greece. He visited a number of wine and brandy factories. “During these two years I felt what idleness meant, – says Guliev. – Those were the most difficult years of my life”.
But one day someone rang at Guliev’s door. It was his father. “Don’t you know that your brother has problems? Don’t you read newspapers? “- he said indignantly. So in 2010 Robert got back to the business. Having got bored doing nothing, he plunged into work. He invested €4 million in the construction of a new plant for grapes processing and bought a modern sparkling wine bottling line.
Being an intelligent and waggish person, in a fact Guliev is a tough manager who prefers to control everything. “We have democracy at the discussion level, and a very strict approach to implementation, – says “OdessaVinProm” Development Director Yulia Komarova. – But when the decision is made, we move from point A to point B very fast”. “Robert may seem democratic, but he runs the business quite tough, – emphasizes Libkin. – He’s a leader”. The final word in the family business belongs to Robert. “I have paid for it more than anyone else, – says Guliev. – So now all the responsibility is on my shoulders”. He is responsible for the strategy, finances and technology solutions. Shota is more concerned with administrative work. The father is the Chairman of the Supervisory Board. “He understands that the new conditions are very different from the previous ones”, – says Guliev. “It is impossible to impose an opinion on Robert, he cannot be influenced, he is always tough-minded and thorough in his work”, – tells the owner of the company “Tavria B” Boris Muzalev. Guliev gets involved into all company work details. He still tastes wine-making materials that are brought to the factories and checks the finances every day. Every cent is considered in “OdessaVinProm” budget. It can be changed only by the board of directors. “It is not the time to be wasteful now, – says Guliev. – Therefore, it is impossible to survive without costs optimization”.
№5. A reasonable balance
2014 turned out to be difficult for winemakers. According to the State Statistics Service, the production of still wines has decreased by 38%, sparkling wines – by 25%. Loss of Crimea one of the major wine-growing regions of the country, and national currency devaluation have become a powerful shock for Ukrainian winemakers. For instance, just because of the currency rate changes,”OdessaVinProm” lost about UAH4.5 million. Guliev is not going to increase the authorial wine production. “We make as much wine as we can, using our own winemaking materials”, – he says. However, winemaking is still a business. Guliev has realized how to make more money without the principles vacillation. In 2014, he started to produce still and sparkling wine for the other companies. “After the annexation of Crimea, I called Crimean winemakers and proposed my facilities for champagne production”, – says Guliev. Now he is producing the products for such industry giants as “Inkerman,” “Bayadera”, “Olimp”. “We have broken bad and work in two shifts,” – says Guliev.
In 2016 the winemaker plans to produce 15 million bottles of champagne and 6 million bottles of wine, whereas previously the company used to produce maximum 5 million bottles. Why did the major players choose Guliev? The partners assure that it is easy to work with him as he listens to the partner. If the business idea is clear it is possible to reach an agreement quickly. “He makes wine “Frizantino” for us, – says Libkin. – On the phone, I explained Robert what I needed, and within a month I got an excellent drink.”
Guliev has a truly family business. Robert’s nephew already works in the company. However, the Gulievs do not want to push their heirs, leaving them free to choose. “Our children speak three or four languages, and can be successful in various spheres, – says Robert without doubts. – I hope that someone of them will want to continue the family business. Genes are effective educators”.