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

    In Britain, The Sun Still Doesn’t Shine

    Invoking Spitfires and Merlin, Leave voters insist country can be great again, following surprising 'Brexit' vote last week

    Double Wave of Suicide Bombings Puts Lebanon, Refugees on Edge

    Following suicide bombings in Christian town of Al-Qaa, on Lebanon's northeast border with Syria, fears of further bombings have risen

    US Senators Warned on Zika After Failing to Pass Funding

    Zika threats and challenges, as well as issues of contraception and vaccines, spelled out as lawmakers point fingers

    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.
    Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeasti
    X
    June 29, 2016 6:15 PM
    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora