Cradle of wine-making, Georgia looks to foreign markets

Sipping ruby-red Saperavi wine at his factory in eastern Georgia, Donato Lanati launched into a fervent ode to the ex-Soviet republic's ancient wine-making traditions.

"Georgia is the birthplace of wine. It has millennia-long tradition of wine-making, but its excellent wines are an absolutely new discovery," outside the former Soviet Union, Lanati, an Italian who is chief wine-maker at the Badagoni Wine Company, told wine experts gathered from around the world.

A mountainous republic on the Black Sea, Georgia is considered by many experts as the cradle of wine-making. Archaeological finds suggest viniculture may have begun here as early as 8,000 years ago, long before it reached western Europe.

Though its wine is largely unknown in the West, Georgia is keen to conquer world markets and last month played host to experts from 44 countries at the prestigious annual World Vine and Wine Congress.

It is also anxious to make up for the loss of its once-dominant market, Russia, which imposed a ban on Georgian wine imports in 2006 amid spiralling tensions that eventually erupted into the 2008 Georgia-Russia war.

Wine production dropped 80 percent immediately after the loss of the Russian market, which was soaking up 87 percent of Georgian exports, according to the agriculture ministry.

In Georgia for the wine congress, the president of the International Vine and Wine Organisation (OIV), Yves Benard, said that, ironically, the embargo had a positive impact on the quality of Georgian wine and may have boosted its chances on international markets.

When Russia was its dominant market, Georgia focused on sweet wines preferred there instead of the dry wines more to the liking of Western palates.

While the embargo was a "huge problem in the short-term, in the long-term it enabled strategic thinking that the future of Georgian wines is not in volume, but in quality," Benard said.

"Ultimately, Georgia got very good results, both in white and red wines."

The Georgian government has sought to help exporters by registering 18 appellations of origin with the World Intellectual Property Organisation and is introducing a marketing strategy allowing Georgian producers to export wines under a common, unified label.

The efforts appear to be having some effect and in 2009 Georgia exported wine to 45 countries, up from only 22 the year before, according to government figures.

But with fierce competition on the international market, experts said little-known Georgia is facing an uphill battle.

"The major problem is that Georgian wines lack awareness abroad," Benard said, though he added that it would be a "strategic miscalculation" if Georgia moved away from its own grape varieties towards planting well-known varieties like Chardonnay, Merlot, or Cabernet Sauvignon.

"It is essential that Georgia keeps its native varieties," he said.

Badagoni's general director Giorgi Salakaia said Badagoni has already scored some success abroad with wines from two local varieties, amber-coloured Rkatsiteli wine with a hint of citrus flavour and robust red Saperavi, rich with tannin.

Salakaia said that after "encouraging success" in eastern markets like the Baltics, Kazakhstan, Poland and Ukraine, the company is looking to expand into Italy, Britain and Germany.

"Our qvevri wines created a furore in Italy, especially in restaurant chains," he said, referring to Georgia's tradition of making wine in cone-shaped ceramic vases called qvevri.

Salakaia said Georgia's ancient wine-making traditions - and its continuing use of millennia-old techniques - could give the country an edge on international markets by appealing to consumers looking for a unique experience.

Georgia's practice of fermenting wine in qvevri, with seeds and skins left in juice after pressing, has no analogue in the world and produces wines with unique tastes.

Lanati, a passionate advocate of Georgian wine, said the country's long wine-making heritage has shaped its grapes, creating unique flavours that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

"A single grape berry contains information about soil, climate, history, traditions, human knowledge, intelligence, and even intuition," he said. "To me, the whole universe is in one single Georgian grape."

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: Chief Executive Officer

    Salary 42,000: Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: The CEO is responsible ...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Day In a Page

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?