Georgian Wine: A History and a Future
Despite the establishment of Western-style companies in the country, the arrival of large investors such as Pernod Ricard and the opening of new markets, it was not until the year 2000 that the Georgian wine industry regained a measure of strength. The export of wine increased by 2005. Whereas Georgia exported around 5,000,000 liters of wine during the 1990s, ten years later this amount had risen to 40,000,000 liters. In 2006, however, the Georgian wine industry was dealt another blow when Russia, Georgia's largest market for wine, imposed a trade embargo on Georgian produce for political reasons.
The past few years have been very important in the history of Georgian wine. The early 21st century will later no doubt be seen as a crucial stage in the development of Georgian wine, for this was when it rediscovered itself and gained self-confidence. New people, companies and names appeared, thanks to whom the Georgian wine industry has become very diverse. Over the past few years, internal and external factors have caused many problems; ways in which to solve them have, however, been found, and alongside the definition of new principles these will hopefully bring new life to Georgian viticulture and winemaking.
The Future of the Georgian Wine Industry
Looking to the future, the Georgian wine industry is mostly focused on export. Marketing itself as a niche provider of specialty wines, Georgia is finding its way in the international marketplace beyond Russia.
Despite the fact that the Georgian wine industry still does not export the quantities it did in 2005, Georgian wine has become more diverse and shows potential for being of interest to customers seeking new products and new flavors. An increasing number of foreign customers and wine merchants, bored with the same old wines, are now buying special, exclusive wines including Georgian qvevri wine. In today's unified wine market, this niche has become a shelter for many. In Georgia's case, the specialty mostly relates to qvevri wines made according to traditional methods. For example, the German demand for Georgian wine is relatively stable and increasing, and Georgian wine producers hope that sales on the American market and on the British and wider European markets will increase.
Georgian wines have certain characteristics which make then attractive for foreign buyers. First, unique local varieties of grape which promise new discoveries for modern customers bored with so-called "international" flavors and are searching for something new. Secondly, Georgia justly deserves its reputation as being "the homeland of wine". Many ancient traces of viticulture and winemaking have been found in Georgia, and the country's tradition of making wine is unbroken (as opposed to Asia Minor or the southern Caucasus region, where ancient evidence has also been found but where the tradition was discontinued). This brings us to the third and most important characteristic: methodology. Georgian wine is made using the oldest method involving the wine fermenting and ageing in qvevri.
Thanks to these three characteristics, Georgian wine will acquire a well-defined international image which will popularize the Georgian culture of winemaking and bring a new and interesting color to the modern wine market.
Sales of Georgian wine increased without interruption since the 1990s and reached their peak in early 2006 with approximately 100 companies selling their wine abroad. However, following the Russian trade embargo, between 2007 and 2010, the number of exporters dropped to 60-70. According to recent figures, barely seven different companies represent over half of total sales abroad: Tbilvino, Telavi Wine cellar, Tifliski Vini Pogreb, Teliani Valley, GWS, Wine man and Badagoni. A significant percentage of total sales of Georgian wines still represent export to countries of the former Soviet Union where these wines have name brand recognition.
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Georgian Wine Industry History
Archaeological remains indicate that as early as 4000BC wine was being produced in the region now known as Georgia, with grape juice being placed in underground clay jars (quevri or kvevri) to ferment. As the earliest producers, it is no wonder that our word for wine is derived from the Georgian word "gvino". And, with such a long heritage of wine production, it is also of no small surprise that the grape vine and wine production has become central to Georgian culture and traditions.
Unfortunately, modern times have seen Georgia's rich vine and wine production heritage tested many times. The total surface area of vineyards has seen a one-third reduction since the early 1980s. Thirty years ago, there were approximately 120,000ha planted vineyards; today, there are an estimated 40,000ha. The greatest reduction in wine production having taken place during the 1990s, the first decade of Georgia's independence from the former Soviet Union.
The first two years of Russia's trade embargo were quite difficult, and demand for grapes fell. The huge harvests of 2005 and 2007 revealed the problems the Georgian wine industry would face in the future. In 2007, the Georgian government tried to alleviate the situation with subsidies, which were ineffective on the wine industry as a whole.
Despite the fact that the Georgian wine industry began exploring new markets soon after Russia imposed its trade embargo and that the value of exports returned to its 2006 level, the problem of surplus grapes has not been addressed. The surplus of grapes was due to a number of factors, including insufficient numbers of large companies capable of producing wine in large enough quantities to utilize the volume of grapes being grown, smaller producers incapable of developing in the floundering market, the absence of co-operatives, and the unwillingness of many vineyard owners to bring their produce to market.
Nevertheless, important changes have been made over the past 10 years, and the demand for grapes – especially red grapes – has increased. New vineyards of Saperavi grapes have been planted, and the price of grapes has stabilized. According to available data, there is a tendency to plant relatively rare and special varieties of grape, which will further increase the diversity of Georgian vineyards.