When Zeinulla Kakimzhanov took over a dilapidated vineyard in the foothills of the Tian Shan Mountains in south-eastern Kazakhstan in 2006, he had ample reason to wonder whether the property would ever be productive again.
Abandoned vines lay forlornly on the soil, the victims of neglect and wanton destruction. The vineyard had been a casualty of a Communist Party-conceived, anti-alcohol crusade in the mid-1980s; in an effort to curb consumption, state planners ordered the destruction of wineries across the Soviet Union. Kazakhstan lost about 70 percent of its vineyards.
Eight years after Kakimzhanov’s arrival, however, the vineyard is thriving, as emerald vines seem to disappear into the purple haze of the mountains. It’s a scene straight out of Tuscany – apart from the snow crowning the peaks in the shimmering heat of a Central Asian summer.
The idea of brash, petrodollar-fuelled Kazakhstan bottling vintages to tickle the connoisseur’s palate may raise eyebrows among Western wine aficionados – but Kakimzhanov, a former government minister turned viniculturalist, is confident he can help put his country on a wine lover’s map.
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Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia.