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Monday, December 3, 2012

"Chateau Mukhrani" to invest 8 million EUR in tourism

03.12.2012.  Prince Ivane Mukhranbatoni-Bagrationi’s castle, with its gardens, stable, antique cellars, Georgian and European restaurants, exhibition halls, wedding house, luxe suites, amphitheater  and much more will open to tourists by August 2013.

Today the Bagrationi Estate in Mukhrani, located 35 km from Tbilisi, is already hosting visitors with its offers of exclusive wine tasting, lunch or dinner with a range of tasty Georgian dishes, horse riding, churchkhela-making, traditional Georgian bread-baking and chacha distillation.

Bagrationi estate in Mukhrani was a  center for the Georgian cultural elite in the 19th century. Ivane Mukhranbatoni, a well educated and talented landlord was famed for his winemaking. Even in the 19th century Mukhrani wines were very popular in Georgia as well as abroad.

“We are rehabilitating the entire estate. The project comprises three stages, two of them have already been completed and the final presentation of the castle is planned for August 2013,” Petter Svaetichin, Director and CEO of Chateau Mukhrani, told The Financial. “The final amount of investment in the project depends on what kind of interior we choose for the castle. But it will come to approximately EUR 8 million in total. At the moment our main business is the manufacturing of premium quality wine, but I am expecting our chateau and wine tourism to become as important as wine production in two years’ time.”

The company Chateau Mukhrani has a great history as it was founded in the 19th century by Ivane Mukhranbatoni, but its re-establishment occurred in 2002 with the help of Georgian businessmen. Swedish  investor Frederik Paulsen  acquired a share of the company in 2004.  At the initial stage he owned just five percent but later became more interested in this business. Today he holds the majority share. The company also has two Georgian shareholders  - Badri Japaridze and Mamuka Khazaradze.

“This is the first Georgian chateau to have the three obligatory components including vineyard, manufacturing and history,” said Svaetichin. “We are trying to re-establish something which every Georgian can be proud of. There is a great sense of Georgian culture and history here. The Chateau used to host the country’s historical elite in the 19th century. We are now trying to attract the modern elite of today as well. But this is a place for any kind of person. The prices are quite affordable, and as a result we also get quite a lot of spontaneous visits from tourists. Foreigners visit our place regularly.”

The Chateau hosts several groups every day. Summer and autumn was incredibly busy for the company. The majority of foreign visitors are from Baltic countries and Ukraine . The tourism department of the company is cooperating with the leading tourist agencies to attract more foreign visitors. They are also working with hotels to bring visitors for outside conferences. The Chateau is now waiting for Christmas to host more corporate events.

“We worked for a long time on setting adequate pricing. The price list should be accessible for most people, so groups on any budget can afford to visit. We did a lot of comparative price checks with other places and we think that Chateau Mukhrani is comparably more affordable for people. The main factor that makes it  accessible is its proximity to Tbilisi; it is a 25 minute drive from the capital.

“We support the development process a lot as well. Our contribution is having renovated the castle of Bagrationi, which plays a huge role in the history of the area.

In general Svaetichin considers that there are not many problems for businesses and start-ups in Georgia. The company started its wine business in 2003 and brought in the first harvest in 2007. They are intensively cooperating with the Wine Association and supporting the Association in its attempts to become strong. Mukhrani used to have 70 percent Georgian grapes and 30 percent foreign ones. But they are now changing some of them and will be trying to have more Georgian grapes in the next two years.

“Georgian grapes have nothing to apologize for when it comes to western species. There are more types of grape in Georgia than in France. The quality of Georgian wine is high as well. So we are able to compete in a healthy way. Our chief wine-maker, Lado Uzunashvili, has got 110 international medals,” he added.

The winery has the potential to produce a million bottles of wine annually, though the company produces 700,000 bottles per year. Mukhrani doesn’t plan to further expand production in the up-coming years as it is more concentrated on quality than quantity. The company produces 16 types of wines at present, including both Georgian and European ones, and 1 chacha.

“We focused on the local market more at the beginning. We believed that we could not export the product successfully without being well-known and gaining popularity on the local market first. Last year we worked very hard on our export markets.”

Currently Chateau Mukhrani exports 50 percent of production. The main export countries are England, France, Holland, Ukraine, China, Japan, the USA, Baltic States, Poland and Belarus. Export to Israel was started, but was then temporarily put on hold.

“These are slightly easier markets, as they are familiar with Georgian wine. Entering markets like the USA and China is trickier. We started shipments to China a couple of weeks ago. China is especially interesting for two reasons. The Chinese market is very big. On the other hand, it is not yet a developed market. The country is still very open to new production and impressions. The UK and some other western countries already know the taste of good quality wine and therefore have their own standards. In contrast, China is still developing. 60 percent of wine traded in China is sold in gift markets. We have good packaging and therefore our products are suitable for this.”

Chateau Mukhrani is planning further expansion of its export. The company plans to expand export trading up to 80 percent. Only 20 percent will be local sales in two years.

“We all hope that the Russian market will be opened soon. But I plan to sell only 15 percent of our wine in Russia. Other companies probably won’t become as dependent on the Russian market as they used to be before the embargo in 2006 either. It is not healthy when a company is totally dependent on any market,” he explained.

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