Wine tourism and its industry are booming in Georgia, supported by the Saakashvili government, who considers wine production as “a passport to civilized world”.
By Nana Tabatadze & Armine Narinyan
“Gaumarjos!” (-Cheers-) Gia Aliashvili is a wine producer from Kakheti, eastern region of Georgia. His vineyard and his cellar are becoming a must-destination for tourists interested in harvesting and wine production process. During autumn, Aliashvili is always happy to welcome foreigners in his “marani” -cave-.
As Maya Sidamonidze, the Head of National Tourism Department of Georgia, says, wine tourism is not an innovation for Georgia. “Lots of people used to come to Georgia for wine tours, to taste national wines and get more information about Georgian wine culture. Who knows Georgia, knows Georgian wine, too”.
A Wine Country
In Georgia -an Eastern European country with history of wine making dating back to approximately 6-5 millennium BC-, there are more than 400 varieties of grapes out of which only 38 are used for wine production. One of the outstanding and unique features of Georgian wine is the special clay vessel (“kvevri”) buried in ground which is used for its production and storage. It gives the liquid a very special taste.
“Georgia is a small country in a challenging neighborhood but there are some things about it that make it very unique place and one of them is ancient tradition of wine making that has survived” – said John Bass, Ambassador of the United States to Georgia.
These and other historical facts stimulated both Georgian government and private sector to use wine for development of tourism, as well as to try to identify Georgia as winemaker country on global market.
Russian embargo and private business
According to Teimutaz Glonti, an enologist consultant, “Russian embargo hampered development of Georgian wine culture for a certain period but now Europeans and Americans are interested.”
Georgian wine is exported to various countries including Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Latvia, Azerbaijan, the USA, Germany and Armenia. According to official statistics, 25% of Georgian grapes converted into wine were exported last year, a juicy business representing 39.2 million dollars.
“We have private enterprenuers who produce wine but they still need assistance in finding proper place on world market,” adds Glonti.
Training For Farmers
State authorities are taking seriously the development of wine industry. Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili, even declared officially that “wine is our passport to the civilized world.” The 2011 state budget allocates about USD 300,000 -500 000 Georgian laris for “measures aimed at promotion of the Georgian wine.”
One of those projects consists of “educating” local farmers. Georgian Tourism Agency arranges “special trainings for the families [who want to host foreigners] in order to teach them how to present their wine more effectively.”
International organizations and local wine making companies are also active in what is called a “wine popularization process”. The most recent activity was an international wine fair held in Tbilisi. U.S. Government’s Economic Prosperity Initiative (EPI) and USAID funded the trip of 55 historians, archeologists, journalists and writers from abroad.
As John H. Wurdeman V, owner of wine making company Pheasant’s Tears recalls: “We hope that these guests will share their experiences with their colleagues in their home countries”.