CNN travel: how Vladimir Putin unintentionally rescued Georgia’s wine industry

CNN says that Russian sanctions helped revive traditional Georgian winemaking. Photo: Justyna Mielnikiewicz., Sep 26, 2019, Tbilisi, Georgia

CNN Travel has dedicated a story to Georgia’s 8,000 year-old tradition of making wine and wrote that 2006 was a “watershed moment” when Russia put an embargo on Georgian wine, unintentionally pushing a new, one of the best eras in Georgian winemaking. 

Six thousand years before Christ turned water into wine, the ancestors of modern-day Georgia were turning grapes into it. It's thanks to these imaginative Stone Age sapiens that today we enjoy Gamay from Beaujolais, Chianti from Tuscany, Rioja from Navarro and Cabernet Sauvignon everywhere from France to New Zealand,” CNN travel reads. 

CNN says that today Georgian wine is recovering from nearly 100 years of isolation and destruction by a system that industrialised viniculture and institutionalized the practice of making bad wine. 

The small country -- about the size of West Virginia -- was the chief provider of wine to the entire USSR.” 

CNN travel named 10 best Georgian wines in the story. Photo: Nino Alavidze/ 

The CNN article reads that as Soviets prized quantity over quality, they mostly cultivated the high-yielding red Saperavi and white Rkatsiteli grapes and put scores of remarkable but low-yielding indigenous vines under the plow.

Although 563 varietals had been recorded, Communists made just seven varieties of wine.” 

CNN cited Vakhtang Barnovi, a retired agriculture engineer from Akhalkalaki, as saying that “we lost a lot of our winemaking traditions” under the USSR.

When the USSR collapsed, Georgia continued to export plonk to Russia, its main market.

Everyone knows the Russians will drink anything," said Barnovi, citing a common refrain. If it was bottled in glass, it was bad. Good stuff came in used plastic bottles and jerry cans from friends and family in the villages while some wineries, like Sagarejo Georgia, were in the business of making good table wine for local restaurants.

The story reads that March 2006 was a watershed moment when Russian President Vladimir Putin put an embargo on Georgian wine, eliminating 90 per cent of the export market overnight.

It was a big poke for small and big wine companies," said Malkhaz Kharbedia, president of the Georgian Wine Club.

The wine growing estates of Chateau Mukhrani are about 25 minutes' drive from Tbilisi. Photo: Justyna Mielnikiewicz.

CNN says that while large wineries expanded their market to China, Central Asia and parts of Central Europe, small, family winemakers began bottling wine for sale. They exploited a niche that no one could compete with; an 8,000 year-old tradition of making natural wines in kvevri, large terracotta amphoras buried in the ground.

Before 2007 there was virtually no bottled kvevri wine in Georgia," Kharbedia says -- it had stopped in the industrialization of communism.

CNN says that there are over 500 indigenous grape varieties in Georgia, many of which are only now being rediscovered and nursed back to life.

Read the full story here.