News / Europe

    Georgia Looks Toward End of Russia's Wine Embargo

    James Brooke
    Six years ago, Russia hit Georgia with a wine embargo. Suddenly, a market that had taken 80 percent of Georgia’s wine exports was closed.
     
    Now, in the days after Georgians elected a Moscow-trained prime minister, there is serious talk of lifting the embargo.

    In Sighnaghi, a 120-kilometer drive east of Tbilisi, some winemakers say they have adjusted to business without the massive Russian market.

    Here in the eastern hills of Georgia, archeologists say they have found the earliest evidence of grape cultivation and winemaking in the world. Eight-thousand years ago, wine was made in kvevri - massive clay jars lined with beeswax and buried in the ground.

    In hills and valleys like these, near Sighnaghi, archeologists have found evidence of grape cultivation and wine fermentation dating back to 7,000 BC, making eastern Georgia the site of the earliest known evidence of wine production, Georgia, October 2012In hills and valleys like these, near Sighnaghi, archeologists have found evidence of grape cultivation and wine fermentation dating back to 7,000 BC, making eastern Georgia the site of the earliest known evidence of wine production, Georgia, October 2012
    x
    In hills and valleys like these, near Sighnaghi, archeologists have found evidence of grape cultivation and wine fermentation dating back to 7,000 BC, making eastern Georgia the site of the earliest known evidence of wine production, Georgia, October 2012
    In hills and valleys like these, near Sighnaghi, archeologists have found evidence of grape cultivation and wine fermentation dating back to 7,000 BC, making eastern Georgia the site of the earliest known evidence of wine production, Georgia, October 2012
    A Renaissance is Born

    John Wurdeman, an American, is following the old ways making his Pheasant's Tears wines.

    “We are at the beginning of this renaissance,” Wurdeman said after showing visitors his vineyards and kvevri pots. “There’s a lot of work left to be done, and much of it’s education. It’s teaching people that you can work naturally and spend a little bit more time in the vines and a little bit less time fussing around in the cellar, that if you have really healthy grapes, the grapes don’t need much help.”

    He has test-planted 340 varietals in one vineyard. He promotes Pheasant’s Tears with tours, wine tastings and sales through his bilingual English-Georgian website.
    Georgia’s surge in quality is drawing European and American buyers, like Lisa Costa, owner of a wine bar and shop near San Francisco.

    “We find a lot of character, a lot of uniqueness,” she said after a wine-tasting. “People like John are trying to save the tradition, and these ancient varietals and ancient methods. The wine speaks for itself.”

    From this small Black Sea nation, Georgian wine is now sold to 50 countries around the world. That is because Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2006 abruptly banned all wine imports from pro-Western Georgia. Wurdeman recalled that Georgia had depended on Russia to buy 80 percent of its exports.

    Lisa Costa, owner of the The Punchdown wine bar and bottle shop in Oakland, California, traveled around the world to taste the amber wines of Pheasant's Tears, Sighnaghi, Georgia, October 2012. (VOA - J. Brooke)Lisa Costa, owner of the The Punchdown wine bar and bottle shop in Oakland, California, traveled around the world to taste the amber wines of Pheasant's Tears, Sighnaghi, Georgia, October 2012. (VOA - J. Brooke)
    x
    Lisa Costa, owner of the The Punchdown wine bar and bottle shop in Oakland, California, traveled around the world to taste the amber wines of Pheasant's Tears, Sighnaghi, Georgia, October 2012. (VOA - J. Brooke)
    Lisa Costa, owner of the The Punchdown wine bar and bottle shop in Oakland, California, traveled around the world to taste the amber wines of Pheasant's Tears, Sighnaghi, Georgia, October 2012. (VOA - J. Brooke)
    “Five years ago, it was almost impossible, or six years ago, to find a traditionally made Georgian wine outside of Georgia,” he said. Now, he added, “There’s wines showing up on the shelves in Paris, San Francisco, New York, Tokyo, and part of the exploration is this living, ancient method. Part of it is just the sheer flavor that they taste very different.”

    Ancient Tradition Thrives

    Quality has improved so sharply that Georgia now exports one-third of the volume of bottles as before the embargo -- but earns the same amount of money.

    Next week, in a political change, Georgia is to have a new prime minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili, a billionaire. He made his fortune in Russia, and Russian wine importers are betting the embargo will be dropped. They are calling Wurdeman to make deals.
    “The danger of the Russian market reopening is it will be an invitation to people to just want huge amounts of lesser quality wine,” Wurdeman warned. He said wine has been an integral part of Georgian culture for thousands of years. Russia is only starting to evolve from a hard-drinking vodka culture.

    “The whole wine culture needs some time in Russia to develop,” he continued. “If it was up to me, I would keep the boycott on, and in five to 10 years, there’s going to be so many good little producers in Georgia that have a really secure place in the real wine market. Then Georgia wouldn’t have to always be blackmailed.”

    Jacques Fleury is a French winemaker who directs Chateau Mukhrani, another Georgian boutique winery. Speaking in a Tbilisi wine shop, he said the Russian embargo “has brought back the Georgian industry to a high-level of quality, because we have to expand in the Western world, and there was more concern about the quality.”

    Officially, Russia bans Georgian wines for health reasons. But Fleury said that Russian wine-drinkers do not share that concern. “From what I see, people taking the ferry boat from St. Petersburg, going to Estonia buying our wines, or to Finland buying our wines, and bringing back boxes of Georgian wines into Russia, I would think that there is still a great interest,” said the winemaker.

    Now it is up to Russia’s Federal Consumer Protection Service to rediscover what Georgians have known for thousands of years - that a glass of wine from these ancient hills can be good for your health.

    You May Like

    Video Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Anonymous
    October 15, 2012 6:49 AM
    An article about Georgian wine producers which quotes two Americans and one Frenchman (and no Georgians)...?

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.