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Q&A with Karyna Balabatko, Plant Representative at Odessa Classic Winery

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After graduating with a BSc (Econ) Economics & Geography from UCL, Karyna Balabatko made the decision to join her family’s estate, Odessa Classic Winery, the second largest wine producer in Ukraine.

As the first in her family to speak English fluently, and having studied in London, Karyna was interested in expanding the family business into the UK market. To gain additional industry insight Karyna attended WSET’s Business and Commercial Knowledge (BACK) course, so we caught up with her to find out her about her vision for her business and how she feels the course will help her to achieve her ambitions.


What are your plans for the family business?

My ambition is to work towards expansion into Western Europe. We are currently limited to the domestic market, Ukraine and some Russian speaking countries, I am the only one in my family to speak English. Yet ours is a big winery - we have around 1,000ha and we produce around 15 million litres per year, so there’s a lot of potential.

What do you think are the biggest challenges you face in achieving these plans?

The way business is done in Eastern Europe is very different to Western Europe, I guess maybe it’s the problem of the language barrier and a different mentality, we just don’t know anything about the wine industry in the west and we don’t really understand the consumers.

A friend of my father’s partner, Margarita Krasnopolskaya, had done her Level 4 Diploma with WSET and told me about the wines and spirits courses they run. She then sent me a link to read about their Business And Commercial Knowledge (BACK) course because she knew I was interested in entering the UK market. She thought it might match my interests, and it turned out to match my interests directly!

The BACK course includes group work where attendees are able to learn from their peers in other businesses.

You attended WSET’s BACK course in early 2016, did the course help you gain an understanding of the UK wine and spirits market in the way that you had hoped?

Absolutely, I have a much deeper understanding now of where we should target ourselves. The topic of our case study, in particular, was directly relevant to me.  It was about breaking into the UK market and I’m pretty much an export department that is trying to break into the UK, it was very helpful. It’s left me with a lot to digest, but I have lot of ideas, including how we can maybe re-brand.

I expected more wineries to be there to be honest and to come to a course full of my direct competitors, instead a lot of my fellow students were in sales, it was nice to meet them in person, and it is amazing how the wine industry is really closely linked in the UK, how everybody knows each other. 

If you had one word of advice for students thinking about coming on the BACK course next year, what would it be?

I think the reason the course was so useful to me was because I had already done some work researching the UK market and I knew where our weaknesses were. So my advice would be, prepare - and try to know what questions you need an answer to and what you need to take away from the course.

WSET’s acclaimed Business and Commercial Knowledge course is a three day residential course bringing together the industry’s leading minds to inspire and inform the leaders of tomorrow. Be armed with the skills and insights to drive your career to the next level, find out more and register for 2017 here.