Russian Wine in the 1860s

This is a story about the Russian wine industry in the 1860’s told by Saltykov-Schedrin:

Apparently, no grapes grow in Kashino and wine is produced in wine-makers’ basements. The technology is amazingly simple. For every type of wine, the makers pick up genuine barrels from genuine wines. They fill a genuine barrel with Astrakhan Chikhir (a cheap red wine from the Astrakhan region) and mix it with water in a certain ratio. The Kashino river provides good water; recently they also found out that river Kotorosl in Yaroslavl region also possessed numerous Jerez and Lafite properties.  

When the diluted Chikhir absorbs enough stink from the barrels, the wine-makers start beefing it up. Firstly, they add a bucket of alcohol per barrel.  Then, based on the type of produced wine, they add some flavors. For Madeira, they add molasses; for Malaga, they add tar; for Rheinwein they add lead sugar (lead acetate). They mix the mixture till it gets uniform and reseal the barrel. After the wine sediments, the owner or his chief manager comes in and sorts the wine. If he spits once, the wine becomes a simple Madeira – 40 kopecks; if he spits twice, the wine becomes zwei-Madeira – 40 kopecks or 1 ruble; if he spits three times, the wine becomes drei-Madeira – 1.50 ruble or more (it could be a 100-years-aged Madeira). The makers bottle, cork and label the wine when it is ready.

Following the rules of hierarchy, the wine-makers bring the wine first to health department officials, then to the governor. Once everybody confirms that they’ve never drunk anything better, the wine goes to district judges and municipal officials. Then, the whole wine harvest takes the river and travels to Nizhnii Novgorod Fair from where it spreads instantly all over Russia. Cops drink it, local judges drink it, land owners drink it, merchants drink it and nobody knows what they’re drinking.

“Of course,” the writer adds in his notes, “I only describe how Kashino wine was made based on the stories and I can’t vouch for them. There is one thing I can vouch for though. No grapes grow in either Kashino or Yaroslavl. At the same time, many types of many wines are produced.”