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."

ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

    £32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

    Guru Careers: Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Chef

    £27K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Che...

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

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

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before