Georgian wine exports on the rebound

There is no definitive proof of where wine originated on this planet, but many places claim to be its home.

One of those is in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, which cites archaeological finds suggesting viniculture began there as much as 8,000 years ago, well before it reached western Europe. Most authorities on wine history concede it probably was No. 1.

That aside, it is the more modern status of the country's wine industry that concerns it, in the wake of a 2006 ban on imports of Georgian wine by Russia, which had been its primary customer. The move was made during mounting political tensions between the two countries that eventually erupted into a brief war.

Now, according to just-released statistics from the Georgian agriculture ministry, sales numbers for 2010 showed a definite upturn although the exports are nowhere near the pre-ban level.

Ministry spokesman Giorgi Chaduneli today said 15 million bottles of wine were exported over the past year, a 34% increase over 2009. Production had dropped by about 80%, severely damaging the industry. At one time, Georgia exported as much as 59 million bottles, mostly to Russia. Its main customers now are fellow ex-Soviet countries Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

Although there are 500 or so of grapes, only 38 are officially grown for commercial viticulture in Georgia. Most wine grapes are grown by small farmers and sold to wineries. Few of the grape varieties are known in the U.S., although one, Rkatsiteli, is coming into vogue more and more in New York State. It is the top white wine grape grown in Georgia.

Georgian wines are readily available in the U.S. Here is a link to one importer.

A Georgia farmer as shown on the Georgian Wine Society home page.

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