Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Russians aren't coming for Georgian wine

09.08.2015. The outlook is cloudy for the Georgian wine industry. A Kremlin campaign could force Georgian winemakers to look at markets further afield. A Russian backlash against Georgian wines bodes ill for the small Eurasian nation, but it could have a silver lining for the cradle of viticulture.

With a winemaking history stretching back 6000 years, Georgia is used to the ebbs and flows of the wine trade, but it's geopolitics rather than grape quality that's causing the trouble this time.

Russia said it would retaliate against countries that support Western sanctions against Moscow over its support for Ukrainian separatists, and Georgia is feeling the bite as Russian authorities suddenly discover "faults" with imported wines.

Rospotrebnadzor, the Russian federal food safety agency, said this week that Georgian wines "consistently fail to assure the quality of alcoholic beverages exported to Russia". Almost 7 million liters of Georgian wine did not meet Russia's high standard for alcohol safety so far this year, according to Rospotrebnadzor.

The agency – long used as a foreign-policy tool against former Soviet countries with Western sympathies – took issue with Georgia's staple dry red Saperavi, produced by the company Agora, and two types of brandy, Old Kakheti and Kolkhida. A number of batches of these beverages lacked the required quality-assurance documentation, Rospotrebnadzor claimed.

Georgia's agriculture ministry responded that it carefully controls the quality of alcohol exported to Russia, but added that it will look into the allegations.

Russia only reopened its borders to Georgian wine in 2013, following a five-year ban that arose out of a brief territorial war in 2008, the climax of long-simmering tensions between the two nations.

Georgian wine exports in the first seven months of the year fell by 46 percent compared to last year, according to the National Wine Agency.

The agency attributed the drop to what it diplomatically called the "unstable political-economic situation" in its two major markets, Russia and Ukraine. Exports to Russia fell 59 percent, while Ukrainian sales were down 62 percent.

So far this year, Georgia has exported wine to 35 countries, shipping almost 17 million bottles worth $47.5m.

And while Russia and Ukraine were shrinking, some of the slack has been taken up by other, less-traditional markets looking to ride the wave of popularity that Georgian wines have been experiencing.

Sales to China rose by 35 percent, while the US saw an increase of 20 percent. More spectacularly, Canadian imports doubled, while Korea’s thirst for Georgian wines grew by 220 percent, albeit from a small base.

And some growers have suggested that a change from over-reliance on the Russian market could be just what the Georgian wine industry needs, offering new markets with affluent buyers who are not afraid to spend a little extra for quality.

    Georgian Wine Catalogue   
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