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Champagne in New World


There is a place in the Crimea which is called Novy Svit, which in translation means New World. Evhen Rafalovsky, an enthusiast of Crimean antiquities, tells his story of New World in Ukraine.

The New World used to be a reference to the Americas but these days if you refer to North, Central or South America as New World you may get raised brows. Not so in the Crimea whenever tourists ask me about Novy Svit I know that they have in mind a little town on south-eastern coast of the Crimean Peninsula rather than America. Those who have been to Novy Svit are wont to exclaim, Oh, weve not seen a place like this anywhere else! They mean such a nice place, of course, and I fully share their enthusiasm. If anything, I find Novy Svit to be an absolutely unique place, the like of which is not to be seen anywhere else on earth.

Bits of history

Novy Svit is believed to have been founded by the enterprising Genoese. Little is known of Genoese history until the 11th century, by which time the city had become a maritime republic governed by consuls. Genoa contributed ships to the campaign against Saracen corsairs in Italian waters. In the 12th century the Genoese laid the foundations of future naval greatness and prosperity. Genoese ships transported Crusaders to the Middle East and returned laden with booty. Genoese merchants, profiting from the newly awakened European demand for goods from the Middle East, were to be found in all the principal centers of trade. Genoese forts and trading posts spread through the eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean seas and eventually into the Black Sea. Genoese expansion, in fact, had been largely the work of citizens whose primary concern was the advancement of their private interests. They established forts and trade centers on the Crimean coast. One of such fortified places was Sudak (see WU #2 2009 for more details about Sudak), and not far from Sudak there arose a small town which the Genoese called Paradise. It was also a good port (it is this Paradise that will be later called Novy Svit New World; incidentally, it was a Genoese, Christopher Columbus, who discovered a new world to be later called America). Several eleventh- to thirteenth-century ships, which had been wrecked and sunk near the Crimean coast, have been discovered. Their cargoes were ceramics and amphorae with oil, incense and other goods. The bitter rivalry with Venice sapped Genoese strength and Genoese overseas possessions were lost one by one.

The Crimea was overrun by the Tartars and Mongols in the thirteenth century and at the end of the fifteenth it came under the Turkish domination. The quickly expanding Russian Empire made several attempts to take over the peninsula but it was only in 1783 that the Russian Empress Catherine II annexed it. Lands and towns were given as “gifts” or at a low price to “those who mattered” and to those who had money or were ready with promises of development. The Genoese Bartelemi Gallera promised the empress to “turn the Crimea into a rose garden.” He also contributed to the development of trade between Russia and Europe by providing two merchant ships. In fact, he was more interested in trade than in gardening. His Paradise did not look like a promised garden at all. Access to it was difficult — to get there, one would have either to cross the mountains on foot or sail into the port by ship.

In the 1820s, Gallera sold Paradise. Five years later it was resold to someone called Zakhariy Kherkhulidzev. The new owner was the first to really appreciate the beauty of the place, and he did lay out a garden. Kherkhulidzev renamed the place calling it Novy Svit, and in 1829, Novy Svit got to be mentioned in an atlas published in Russia.

In 1878, Prince Lev Golitsyn bought from Kherkhulidzev’s descendants a stretch of the coast with Novy Svit in it. He kept buying the land around it and by 1912 he owned over three hundred hectares.

Golitsyn and winemaking

Lev Golitsyn planted over 600 varieties of grapes on his lands and soon he began producing excellent wine. It is Golitsyn who is considered to be the founder of champagne making in the Russian Empire (in fact, champagne in the Chimera began to be made in the 1840s by Count Vorontsov but it was not of a good quality and the production was stopped). Golitsyn had the best varieties of grapes brought from various wine producing regions of Europe and planted them at his estate. He was careful to choose those varieties which suited the local conditions best. Golitsyn established a grape nursery in which he developed new varieties of grapes that gave him the best quality of wine.

Golitsyn had a road built that connected Sudak with Novy Svit. It proved to be one of the most picturesque roads in the Crimea. When I visited South Africa, the road that led to Cape of Good Hope reminded me the road that had been built by Golitsyn.

Golitsyn had cellars built too in which wine barrels were kept under the most appropriate conditions. The champagne that Golitsyn marketed was called “Paradise” but later Golitsyn stuck to the name Novy Svit. The vintage of 1899 proved to be particularly good — he sold 60,000 bottles. At an international wine-tasting contest in France this champagne was awarded Grand Prix.

A. Ivanov, one of Golitsyn’s assistants in wine making, wrote in his memoirs that in 1900, at the International Exhibition in Paris, a dinner was given in honor of Count Chadon, a well known producer of champagne. Tasting the wine served, the count praised the wine saying that his champagne was as usual the best. To his great embarrassment he was told that the wine that he had just tasted was Golitsyn’s wine, not his. The mistake was the best proof of Golitsyn’s champagne winning international recognition.

In 1913, the Russian tsar Nicholas I visited Golitsyn’s estate of Novy Svit and tasted Golitsyn’s wine and praised its excellence. It is wrongly assumed that it was one of the remarks of the tsar that led to the champagne being given the name of Novy Svit. The name, as I’ve said, had been inherited from Kherkhulidzev. Golitsyn “explained to His Imperial Majesty that it takes three years of fermentation and other processes to produce champagne.” Incidentally, the technology since the days of Golitsyn has changed but little.

Golitsyn kept expanding his wine cellars. The underground tunnels, corridors and caves were dug at the foot of the mountains Koba-Kay and Karaul-Oba. By 1903, their entire underground length exceeded three miles. The deepest descended below the sea level. There was an underground wine-tasting hall with niches filled with bottles of wine; there were tables and wine glasses and ancient goblets always ready to be used; an ancient statue of Bacchus which had been bought in Paris for an enormous sum of 40,000 francs graced the wine-tasting hall.

Golitsyn Trail

If you happen to visit Novy Svit, a walk along the trail that Golitsyn caused to be blazed and a walkable path built is a tourist must. The Golitsyn Path is provided with observation points and stone steps at steeper stretches. From these observation points wonderful views open up. The path takes you to the summit of Mount Karaul-Oba to give you a breathtaking panorama of a three-mile stretch of the Crimean coast from Cape Meganom to Mount Ayu-Dag. The three bays that lie within this stretch — Green Bay, Dark-Blue Bay and Blue Bay, boast the cleanest water at the Crimean coasts. The names of the bays suggest the color of water in them.

For over a mile the Golitsyn Path runs close to the shore. The construction of the path involved daring engineering decisions and had to overcome a lot of difficulties posed by the mountainous terrain. Some sections of the path run across almost vertical cliffs and it took a lot of ingenuity and a lot of toil to get them built.

Walking along the trail you can hardly miss what is called Golitsyn’s Grotto. It is sometimes referred to as Shalyapin’s Grotto too. One of the local legends has it that the famous Russian basso Fedor Shalyapin, when on a visit to Golitsyn’s estate, sang in that grotto and his powerful voice acquired such force in the confined space of the grotto that it caused a champagne glass to break. It is not known whether there is any truth to this story. The cave is a witness to Golitsyn’s failed attempt to cut a tunnel through the mountains to connect the grotto to his wine cellars. There is evidence that suggests that the cave that is 17 meters (almost 60 feet) in length and up to 8 meters (over 25 feet) in height, was used in ancient times as a shrine or a church. The cave still has a well from which you can drink crystal-clear water of superb taste.

A number of niches can be seen in the walls of the cave. There are five rows with nine niches in each row. It is estimated that about 14,000 bottles of wine could be placed in these niches made of white stone. In the depth of the cave one can see an arch made of the white stone too — the arc was to indicate the entrance to the tunnel that had to link the cave with the wine cellars.

The cave, rechristened “grotto,” was transformed into a reception hall, complete with a chandelier for candles — it was hung at a height of fifteen feet above the floor of the grotto. The candles were lit by means of lighting very thin which served as fuses. A terrace was built in front of the cave so that the guests could come out and enjoy the view. It is believed that it was on the terrace that the guests were entertained by chamber orchestras and singers.

Unfaithful wives of pirates

One of the stretches of the Golitsyn Path is rather steep. Blue Bay is located at the foot of the cliff. It used to be referred to as Pirates’ Bay. A local legend says that in the times of old pirates used the bay as their hiding place. They were absent from their home base for rather long periods of time and when they returned from their raids they wanted to check whether their wives and concubines had been faithful to them. So they put the women to a test — the women had to carry water in jugs, filled to overflowing, down this steep trail without spilling a drop. Those who spilled water or even worse — dropped the jug, were accused of cheating on their husbands and were sentenced to die — they were thrown into the water from the highest point of the cliff. However, no skeletons have ever been reported found in the bay. These days, women who saunter along the path are not put to such tests. Besides, there are railings and steps to make the ascent or descent not too arduous a climb.

The next cave to be encountered on the path is situated near Cape Kapchik. The cave is also claimed to have been a hiding place of pirates. It is probably because of such reputation that action films used to be shot in that vicinity.

The cave was discovered by Golitsyn in 1905. He enlarged it and provided an access to what was called “The Tsar’s Beach” (in 1927, the earthquake shook the Crimean peninsula causing a lot of damage; the path that Golitsyn had built collapsed). The beach was called “Tsar’s” after Nicholas II’s visit to Golitsyn’s estate.

Incidentally, Golitsyn traveled along his path only on horseback — or rather on “donkeyback.” He did not ride horses as a matter of principle. He wanted his donkeys to be white and he rode them all the way to Feodosiya, which is quite a distance from Novy Svit.

During the Emperor Nicholas’ visit to Novy Svit, Golitsyn claimed that he on his donkey would beat Nicholas riding a horse to the beach. They had a bet — and the emperor lost! But the donkey Golitsyn was to ride had a tender spot under its tail smeared with crushed hot red pepper by Golitsyn’s servant, Makar Frolov, who looked after Golitsyn’s animals.  The poor donkey ran almost with a speed of sound — it did not stop at the water edge and plunged into the water seeking a relief from terrible burning sensation in its posterior. The inventive servant was said to have been lavishly rewarded by Golitsyn.

Incidentally, some of the descendants of Makar Frolov still live in Novy Svit and in Sudak.

The Golitsyn Path takes us to Mount Karaul-Oba (in Tartar it means “Watchtower”). On this mountain there used to be an ancient shrine which is believed to have been used by the Taurians, the autochthons of the Crimea. The path passes through rock outcroppings and woods, descends into a valley and then climbs up again. Part of the way looks like a winding staircase. The steps are believed to have been cut in rock over two thousand years ago, and Golitsyn had them reinforced.

Once you get to the top you may be in for a disappointment — there is nothing much to see except for a large bush that has been growing there for ages — it has been successfully resisting strong winds for many seasons. But the archeologists have found signs of the place having been used as a shrine. The view that opens from the top of Mount Karaul-Oba (a little hill rather, compared, say, to Everest) is absolutely gorgeous and will surely compensate you for the exertions of the ascent.

On the way down, you may be more apt to enjoy the natural beauty of the place with its ivy on the cliff and forbidding looking rocks.

The death of Prince Golitsyn, revolution and civil wars put an end to the production of champagne in Novy Svit. It was only in the nineteen-seventies that the production of sparkling wine in Novy Svit was resumed in earnest. The wine-making in the Crimea was dealt another severe blow in the mid-1980s when the soviet communist leadership decided to curb alcohol consumption by uprooting vineyards. After Ukraine’s independence, Novy Svit has been doing its best to reestablish the fame of Golitsyn’s sparkling wines, but it has not yet reached international recognition that Golitsyn once enjoyed.

Novy Svit is also a major tourist center.


The Golitsyn Path, created over a century ago, attracts a lot of tourists.


Cape Kapchik seems to be crawling into the sea as an enormous pre-historic reptile.


One of the caves which local legends say once was a hiding place of pirates.

Niches in Golitsyn’s Grotto were once used for storing bottles of wine.


Photos by the author

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