The Expat: Katerina Medvedeva

Katerina Medvedeva Somelier Rusa 26-06-2013 Foto Mario MoscaCV
Name: Katerina Medvedeva
From: Moscow, Russia
Age: 32
Profession: Founder of Ways of Wine
Education: Degree in journalism and public relations at Moscow State University
Last book: ‘Grounded Up’ by Michael Idov
Last film: ‘World War Z’
Gadget: iPhone

Initially in BA for two months to improve her tango footwork, Russian journalist Katerina Medvedeva met her husband when she switched the melancholic genre for more upbeat salsa classes. Three years on, her passion for the sacred grape has developed by leaps and bounds: she has set up a tourism and Argentine wine resource company, and is studying to be a sommelier.

Although she came to Buenos Aires in late 2009 on a tango hiatus while taking a break from her media career in Moscow, Katerina Medvedeva in fact tired of that scene quite quickly, and cashed it in for salsa. Destiny hot-stepped in immediately, for it was at that first class that she met her now husband, Matías.

“Back then, it was a complicated time as I was done with working for a big corporation (MTS telecommunications firm) and done with my private life as it was in a weird place, and I decided to come here for two months to improve my tango skills. I thought Buenos Aires was by the sea; when I rented a flat in Las Cañitas, I saw some coastline on Google Maps. I knew nothing — I came here for an adventure.”

Reflecting on that time, she says: “I’d quit my job, although I came here with my boyfriend. He stayed with me for 10 days, then he left and we never saw each other again. We split up via email! The new, fresh air of Buenos Aires led me to understand that it was time to make changes.”

Those first two months saw a friend’s visit over the New Year period and the pair travelled to Chile and Mendoza, among other places. Time was becoming increasingly shorter to get really involved with the tango scene so Katerina changed her flight. “And then I met my future husband,” she adds.

“I was quite tired of tango so my friend and I decided to go to a salsa class, and even though I was in Las Cañitas we went to a place in San Telmo, a long way from my flat. By chance, Matías was there, even though he’s not a dancer — he was trying to unwind after some exams and work.

“I wasn’t looking for a new relationship at all but we started to date the following day and I really believe that destiny played a part in this. And now I’m married to a porteño!”

Despite not speaking a word of Spanish then, the pair hit it off regardless, using English as the common denominator. Katerina adds: “I only knew the words from tango classes such as giro, gancho, ocho and gracias! It’s a big barrier for me as I think I’d speak better Spanish but we can’t switch. At home, it’s a total mix of Spanglish and Russlish, although he does speak Russian now.”

There were cultural differences, naturally, as Katerina had never dated a man who wasn’t Russian.

“We’ve been together for three years and we manage fine now. But at first, the language aspect was tiring. However, it can help to avoid certain situations as you don’t want to talk, don’t want to explain, so that helps to avoid using some words that aren’t necessary. It can be a challenge to live with a foreign man.”

Matías’ family have also been instrumental in helping Katerina stay in Argentina. She says: “I met them after a month and they received me with open arms. It’s been easy to socialize here. And when we go to Russia, everyone wants to see Matías and spend time with him. Now he wants to move there!”

It might come as a surprise to know that there is quite a large Russian community in Buenos Aires, and Katerina has tapped into it.

“I thought I’d make a lot of friends who are foreign, but most of them are Russian. Mostly girls. I have one friend who spends the Russian winter here, then goes back home. He’s my only male Russian friend. But all the girls are in my circle; there’s a copywriter, a journalist. We are all about the same age and it’s a really nice group. However, I wanted to have some Russian musicians play on my wedding day but I couldn’t get hold of any!”

Besides her friends and family in Moscow, Katerina also misses Russian food but it’s the stuff we breathe whose absence is notable in her Buenos Aires life.
“It sounds funny but I miss the air, the scent of Russia. It’s different every season, but when you get off the plane, you can smell leaves, trees, grass and herbs . And fresh snow in wintertime. But I also miss the opportunity to travel as Europe, Asia and the Middle East are so close. And I also miss my hairdresser!”

Although she is studying and runs her own business, Katerina still finds time to work in PR.
“Moving to another country has helped me to understand a lot of things about myself. I think a lot of people come here from the east or the north, thinking ‘I’m so cool, I’ve got such great experience and I’ll be really successful.’ My main problem then was that I didn’t speak any Spanish. I sent my CV everywhere but I never received any positive answers. Then a friend from university contacted me to ask if I wanted to be involved with a project called “Russia beyond the headlines” — here, it’s called Rusia hoy. I’m really lucky as it helps me to maintain contact with Russia while I’ve made a lot of contacts in the local community.”

However, it is an increased involvement of the sacred grape at all levels that led Katerina to set up her own business. She says: “Wine always existed in my life but not in such a colourful way. Vodka isn’t my drink so I did drink wine in Russia but on the basis that I liked it or I didn’t like it — without any real understanding. I always wanted to learn more but never had time, and I think destiny was also involved with this. From the beginning, I started to meet people connected to the wine world and by chance I was invited to take part in the movie El camino del vino about (Uruguayan wine educator) Charlie Arturaola. It was filmed in Tempus Alba bodega in Mendoza, which belongs to a friend of mine, and at the shoot I met a fantastic group of people. Afterwards, Charlie invited me to have dinner and try some wine, and it was such a privilege to dine with someone who is so knowledgeable.

“I started to meet more people in the industry and receive consultations from Russia, so I realized I needed to do something with it. I came up with the idea of setting up a website about Argentine wine, then I met someone who works in wine travel so another part of the business — tours to wineries — was formed — and my company is called Ways of Wine, in honour of Charlie’s movie. As far as I understand, it is the only resource in Russian about Argentine wines.”

In order to up her game professionally and branch out into tastings, she is now studying to be a sommelier at CAVE centre of wine and spirits.

“I decided I can’t move this business up a gear without education, which is why I’m now studying at CAVE thanks to a recommendation from (sommelier) Aldo Graziani. And I’m in love, even though my last exam was in 2003!”

Thanks to her work, travel within Argentina is often on the agenda. Katerina adds: “I love Mendoza, its people, and I’d love to work in a winery there. Winemakers are very natural and pure, and so interested in what they are doing and I’m quite envious as they truly produce something. And I now understand how much work, time and knowledge you need to produce that bottle. We receive winemakers at CAVE, and they are stars but they remain open and friendly and ready to share their information with you. It’s a fantastic atmosphere that comes out of work, the result of your work and nature.”

The current import barriers mean it can be difficult to try any cépages other than Argentine ones, something that Katerina realizes could be detrimental to her future.

“It’s a very big minus in my career and I understand that if I want to continue in this profession that I’d have to study again, either in Europe or Russia. I will be an expert in Argentine wine in two years’ time, but not of all wines. When I travel, I try as much as I can. The last time I went to Moscow, I had a five-hour stopover in Amsterdam and went to a sushi bar. But the only white wine they had was La Linda (from Bodega Luigi Bosca). So even if you want to try something different, Argentine wine is everywhere!”

Buenos Aires Herald, June 29, 2013
Photo: Mario Mosca

Last week’s expat was Johnny Robson from graffitimundo

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