Friday, June 1, 2012

Wine journalism in Georgia – who cares?

by Robert Linkous

1.06.2012. If you are a wine journalist, Angeles Tegtmeyer, Managing Director of Schuchmann Wines, may reply to your email with such alacrity that you will suspect she has you under surveillance. In Germany she learned the value of working the media before joining Schuchmann, not founded until 2008. Her company has never had the luxury of doing one-stop sales calling to the Russian Bear, which Putin sent drinking elsewhere than Georgia in 2006. She knows she must promote her wines any way she can, even if many older Georgian wine companies “do not accept this way of marketing.”

As Gvantsa Meladze, Head of Export Support Service for the Georgian National Investment Agency, observed, “Wine journalism in Georgia is yet to be developed. Wine is more of a culture to Georgians rather than a product you write about.” But this began to change after 2006, she added, and wine journalism, especially as it relates to wine tourism, is “the best marketing tool for attracting wine lovers to Georgia.”

Certainly one Georgian wine company, Badagoni, has learned the value of good press. Their 2007 Alaverdi Traditional Red, grown in Kakheti, caught the attention of the eminent British wine magazine Decanter in a big way. Decanter raved that the 2007 Alaverdi Red, a Saperavi, “simply had more depth, more flesh, more length and more spice than its competition.” The winemaker was able “to capture all the fresh black plum fruit and sustained flavor that the grape has to offer.” Now a bottle of this elixir proudly flaunts a neck label trumpeting, “2010 Decanter World Wine Awards Regional Trophy,” and can be had for something like 85 Lari, if you know where to find it.

In Tbilisi English language press has reported that wine journalists and experts from Latvia and India have been entertained here, and that the Ministry of Agriculture will continue to roll out the red carpet for aficionados from abroad, who presumably – indubitably! – will race home and spread the good word. “International wine writers have been absolutely instrumental in getting Georgia on the wine map,” granted Pheasant’s Tears’ co-founder John Wurdeman, “but in an ideal world Georgians should be able to write about their own wines … we will be quite left behind if a culture on wine writers and bloggers isn’t established soon!”

However, there is a weekly wine supplement to the Georgian newspaper 24 saati, called Marani, behind which Malkhaz Kharbedia, President of the Wine Club, is the moving force. Marani is eclectic, devoting in past issues articles to British beer, Ethiopian coffee, and a scandal involving a French winemaker, but mostly its gaze is fixed upon Georgian wine culture: traditions, current trends, breaking news in the industry. As Kharbedia told Georgia Today, “I think wine writers can play a major role in the development of contemporary winemaking tendencies, styles, to revive Georgian winemaking and viticulture traditions, and to encourage and support innovations.”

Similarly motivated, Alexander Kaffka has recently started up a web site called “Hvino News,” and he envisions a print magazine in the bright and foreseeable future. “I simply want to contribute to Georgia’s development (it’s my birthplace),” he stated. “Awareness about Georgia is still very low, to say nothing about Georgian products,” and the magazine will “position Georgian wine as the country’s signature product, a piece of culture which Georgia contributes to the world.”

Furthermore, the mission of Kaffka’s on-line “news service is to create a single, convenient source of information on the Georgian wine industry in English (and, thanks to our built-in site translator – in 54 other languages!)” Kaffka’s inspiration came from a chance inflight conversation with a seatmate. When talk turned to Georgian wine, they soon found themselves on-line in search of information. “There must be a national wine association,” Kaffka thought. “Alas, the Georgian Wine Association seems to exist, but has no web site* at all,” he discovered, and subsequently Elena Maslova, the attentive and highly capable Senior Associate at Hvino News, has not “found much interest from them. Though we are actually helping GWA by making Hvino News.”

According to Kharbedia’s 2012 Georgian Wine Guide, GWA “is the voice of the Georgian wine sector on national and international markets, working to increase public awareness of Georgian wine and to promote and market Georgian wine internationally.” On that note we must conclude our two-part discussion of wine journalism in Georgia and around the world, since the Executive Director of GWA acknowledged but failed to respond to two invitations to participate.

*  Hvino News editor's note: GWA's website opened on May 4th.

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