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Peter the Great

The age-long relationship between the Russian Imperial Court and the Tokaji wine started in 1707 in Warsaw, when Peter the Great was introduced to it by Rákoczi II, Prince of Transylvania, while they were negociating a treaty. Rákoczi continued to send gifts of Tokaji. Later, in 1711, Peter the Great stated after a meeting with Rákoczi: „Until now I haven´t been defeated by anyone or anything, but Tokaji wine defeated me last evening.“

tokaji peter the great

In 1714 he sent Captain Paraskevic, descending from a Greek merchant family, and Sergeant Korsakov to Hungary, to trade furs amounting to 10,000 Rubles in 300 barrels of Tokaji wine. On their way back indeed, half of it has been confiscated by Polish authorities, due to customs regulations. Peter the Great failed to buy own vineyards in Tokaj, which made him having thoughts of making a similar wine to the Tokaji somewhere in his own empire. That´s probably why grape varieties like Gohér had been taken from the Tokaj region to be grown in Ashtrakhan on the shores of the Caspian Sea, by the mid-18th century.

Tsar Peter I the Great (1672-1725).
He tried several times
to buy vineyards in Tokaj

In 1716, it was Grigoriev Savva, who was sent to buy Tokaji. The successors of Peter the Great, Catherine the Great and Peter II, obtained customs benefits from the Austrian Court for Tokaji wine deliveries to Russia.

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Anna Ivanovna

In 1729, Habsburg Emperor Joseph I granted a significant tariff reduction to Russia. This resulted in an increasing interest in the Tokaji wines also within Vienna´s noble society. In this time, Tokaji became an ultimate status symbol in Russia.

Tsarina Anna Ivanovna

But Tokaji wine deliveries to Russia still stalled, because Polish authorities had been interfering with the shipments and confiscating substantial amounts as a tariff. That´s why, in 1733, Tsarina Anna Ivanovna, who ruled from 1730 to 1740, started to run a small colony in Tokaj. They called it the Hungarian Wine Purveyors’ Commission, and its only task was to ensure a steady supply of the excellent wine, while continuing to take advantage of the Austrian tariff reductions. Lieutenant-Colonel Fjodor Vishnyevskij has been assigned to administrate the commission. Until 1798, the Commission, locally known as "Russian colony", had a staff of 35 up to 40 persons.

Tsarina Anna Ivanovna (1693-1740), Founder of the Imperial Wine Purveyors' Commission

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Elizaveta Petrovna

Anna Leopoldovna (1718-1746), who took the regency for her minor son Ivan VI, stopped all the activities of the Commission in 1740 because of its high expenses. From now on, the Greek merchants Atanas Paraskevic and Diamond Altenzsi supplied the Tokaji wines to the Imperial Court, until the Commission continued to operate in 1744 under Tsarina Elisabeth. In 1745, Elisabeth instructed Vishnyevskij to buy only the best wines, and to buy only directly from the producers, since she knew about wine manipulations by some merchants. In this time, the Imperial Court ordered up to 750 Antal-barrels (each containing 75 liters) per year, spending impressive 10% (!) of the Court´s budget for Tokaji. The Commission bought wines, but also aszú grapes for vinification. Indeed, it was forbidden to foreigners to buy aszú grapes (to prevent manipulations).

With this and other failures to observe regulations regarding foreign nationals, Vishnyevskij found himself frequently in disputes with the Hungarian Chamber and the Zemplén County. To save expenses, Vishnyevskij was ordered to rent vineyards and cellars, and to employ workers and winemakers, in order to produce own Tokaji wines.
Tsarina Elisabeth once ordered 375 barrels of Tokaji wine, and adds as a postscript to the order form (dated 8 November 1745):
„And if there is any opportunity at all of doing this, please send me at least three Antals, as I cannot obtain these here anywhere, and you know how impossible it is for me to do without this wine.“

Tsarina Elisabeth (1709-1762)

Although the Commission started renting vineyards on longterm from 1746 on, they never succeeded buying some, due to restrictions by the Hungarian law. Between the vineyards, which have been rented by the Imperial Russian Court, were Zsoltáros (today there is the Donáth vineyard in this tract), Szappanos, Melegmáj and Veres, all of them near Tokaj. Vishnyevskij died in Tokaj in 1749. After him, Major Zsolobow, Major Rarog and finally Captain Sawa Gorew directed the Commission with seat in Bodrogkeresztúr.

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