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Friday, February 1, 2013

Georgian and Russian sommeliers agreed on information exchange

01.02.2013. Georgian and Russian sommeliers agreed to exchange information on Georgian wine to avoid any possible misinformation and misunderstanding like recently spread information on alleged change of Georgian wine sorts and technologies, as the Head of the Guild of Russian Sommeliers said on the eve of a breakthrough visit of Georgian delegation to Moscow.

Georgian wine looks forward to reappearing on Russian market. To this end, Georgian official delegation will visit Moscow on February 4, 2013 to meet Genadi Onishchenko, the Head of Rospotrebnadzor [sanitary body of Russian Federation], who banned Georgian agriculture product including wine and mineral water in 2006 under alleged quality security reasons.

The meeting is expected to have a breakthrough effect on Georgian-Russian trade relations, stagnated for 6 years due to the political tension with Russia.

After Russia’s enrollment in the global trade club of World Trade Organization by the end of 2011, the embargo against Georgia, already a WTO member, was expected to be removed in line with the WTO regulation, prohibiting all kinds of trade barriers between WTO members. However, the issue lingered unsettled up to this day as political relations between Tbilisi and Moscow stopped after Russia routed Georgia in August of 2008 in a short-term war. To secure Georgia’s consent for its WTO membership, Russia issued some signals that Georgia might get back to Russian market and in summer of 2011 Onishchenko even appealed to Georgian business to submit applications at Rospotrebnadzor for solving quality issues. Russian experts were supposed to arrive in Georgia to check technological procedures of Georgian companies at spot.

Actually, some companies exporting to European market and holding international quality certificates really pursued the appeal. Russian experts arrived at some enterprises but none of the application has been approved up to date even after Russia stepped in WTO that meant trade barriers were automatically removed. Both Tbilisi and Moscow have been accusing each other of the lack of political will. Only after power shift in Georgia, when Georgian Dream political coalition took the office after parliamentary election of October 1, 2012, Moscow invited first Georgian official delegation in the last six years.

Early this January Onishchenko announced of his readiness to meet Georgian delegation of businessmen and even representatives of Georgian government those who are responsible for product quality and sanitary issues in the country. Levan Davitashvili, Chairperson of Georgian National Wine Agency [part of Georgian agriculture ministry] was assigned to lead the delegation. However, the visa issue was already solved by January 28, 2013 when an interview of Tatiana Sharapova, Chairperson of the Guild of Russian Sommeliers, given to Vechernaya Moskva [Evening Moscow], astounded the Georgian side.

According to the interview, Sharapova presumes that Georgian wine will not be as popular in Russia as they were before embargo, for Georgian wine-producing technologies became more western-style as a result of Georgian-American partnership. Within the framework of this partnership, California wine industry has been assisting Georgian wine industry and consequently, Georgia adopted European sorts of grapes adapted with Californian ones. Therefore, Georgia no longer offers pure local sorts of Georgian wines based on Georgian traditional technology.

“Georgia produces more Californian “Chardonnay” and “Cabernet” that are successfully sold in Europe and the US. What Georgian wine producers offer today is not traditional Georgian wine to our mind,” Sharapova is reported saying in the interview. “These wine resemble wines of Chile and Argentine but are more expensive. There is a small quantity of wine that looks like the wines we remember; however, it is not cheap and mass production of this wine cannot find its consumer [in Russia].”

To back her argumentation Sharapova cited that sales of Georgian wine in Ukraine shrink from year to year.
Georgian wine producers and sommeliers assure the information provided by Sharapova is misleading. They strongly deny that Georgia abandoned its traditional wines and wine-producing technologies and appeal to Russian sommeliers to come to Georgia and get the firsthand information.

According to Davitashvili, there are no American investments and interests in Georgian wine; however, more western investments would be better to Georgian wine industry.

“I am surprised by the information that we took up different technology [of wine producing],” Davitashvili told Georgian media at a special briefing on January 28. “One of the biggest blunders [in Sharapova’s interview] is that we, Georgians allegedly said no to our traditional grape sorts and went to Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, etc. The statistics of Georgian vineyards prove that nothing of that kind has taken place in recent years. There are some small experiments but the strategic line of Georgian wine development remains unchanged.”

As to Georgian wine export, it increases from year to year and the biggest growth accounting to 22% per year comes on Ukraine, Davitashvili said and accentuated that traditional Georgian wine making technology based on qvevri, a wine fermentation in clay jars embedded in earth, becomes more and more popular both in Georgia and abroad; and quality of Georgian wines has also improved. To disperse false information, he invited Russian sommeliers to visit Georgia.

To Shalva Khetsuriani, President of the Association of Georgian Sommeliers, Sharapova has already acknowledged that she lacked the information. “I talked to Sharapova and she acknowledges that she lacked information specifically on account of diminishing export of Georgian wine in Ukraine and replacing traditional Georgian grape sorts by European sorts adapted with Californian ones,” Khetsuriani said in the interview to Georgian Journal.

Georgian and Russian colleagues agreed that henceforth the Association of Georgian Sommeliers (AGS) will provide the Guild of Russian Sommeliers with the information on Georgia. Khetsuriani informs that besides the Guild, there are two key influential associations of sommeliers in Russia with whom AGS has friendly relationships. Khetsuriani himself is a member of the Association of Russian Sommeliers (ARS) as well as a lecturer at the school of sommeliers operating within ARS. Khetsuriani leads a course of Georgian wine-gastronomy there.

“There are ongoing talks with both associations of Russian sommeliers at the moment regarding their visit in Georgia. The visit dates and members of delegations are specified and we would be glad if Georgian National Wine Agency will also take an interest in this visit,” Khetsuriani said.

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