/•/ Luiz Alberto, #winelover. Founder of the #winelover community, judge at International wine competitions, wine educator and communicator.
/•/ Philip S. Kampe, #winelover: Growing up in New Orleans has opened my eyes to the world of wine, food, and culture. My heritage is a combination of French, British, and Hungarian. Add eight years of European life coupled with a wife of Italian roots and you will understand my journey into this amazing world.
Saturday, May 12, 2012
Visit to the Republic of Georgia - My Final Report
Overall impression of the Georgian wine industry
·I didn’t know much of Georgia and its wine industry.
But I had heard/read that Georgia (and other parts of the Caucasus) is
considered to be the oldest wine-producing region of the world. I had also
heard that the country has more than 500 indigenous grape varieties.
Psychologically, this is already a great advantage for Georgian producers to
market their wines. Both reasons intrigued me to go on the trip in the first
place and it can certainly also seduce many other people to try Georgian wines
and visit the country. These facts can also be the base for any future efforts to
market Georgian wines in the United States.
·The 2006 boycott on Georgian wines declared by
Russia certainly had a huge impact on the entire industry. For the most part
(despite the financial hurdle the Georgian had to endure), the changes that the
entire industry had to go through were good. There are several wineries today
producing both conventional and qvevri wines of high quality and, as I heard
from people with far more Georgian wine knowledge than I do, this was not the
case during the years where Russia was the biggest importer of Georgian wines (and
quantity was a priority over quality).
·It was good (and certainly not a coincidence)
that we spent most of our week in the Kakheti region. It is the most important
region in Georgia for wine production with about 70% of the vineyard area and certainly
most of the wines that are going to be commercialized in the US will (most
likely) be produced in this region.
·Georgia is both “old world” and “new world”. It
was very interesting to see the dichotomy between these two realities happening
in the same country. Old world
wines, in general, would be the ones displaying earthiness, low(er) levels (and
a consequent lighter body), cooler climate flavor profiles, etc. Well, some
Georgian wines can have all these characteristics; while some others can show a
very “new world” style, with lots of fruitiness, high(er) levels of alcohol
(and a consequent heavier body), and warm climate flavor profiles. Not to
mention that some wines are labeled as an appellation (geographic location),
such as Mukuzani (as the wines are labeled in world old world, such as France
or Italy), while others are labeled after the grape variety from which the wine
is produced, such as Saperavi (as the wines are labeled in world new world,
such as the United States or Australia).
Opinion of opportunities for conventional wine
·The only Georgian grape variety I knew and had
tasted before going to Georgia was Saperavi. I still believe that this grape
variety can be a good postcard for Georgian wines. They can deliver a message
of an identity to the “Georgian terroir” (if not overoaked as we saw in a few
cases) with the advantage of being very use to pronounce (some other wines are
·I also see good opportunity for some white
wines. Kisi, Rkatsiteli, and
Mtsvane were the white wines that we mostly tasted and, in general, they have
what it takes for a white wine to be successful: They are fruity, fresh and
well balanced. Just like a good Grüner
Veltliner can be.
·The prices for these wines (both reds and
whites) need to be competitive. The American market is already crowed with
wines from many wine regions of the world and, if the wine doesn’t have the
“right” quality/price ratio, it becomes a hard to thing to sell. However, it’s
important to remember that being competitive is very different than being
cheap. Georgia cannot compete at the lower levels of the market, as the cost
structure in some New World countries (such as Chile, Argentina, and Australia)
is much lower than the one existent in Georgia. The time spent visiting
wineries and tasting wines came to prove that Georgia is able to produce
“European wines” (or conventional wines) of high quality. This constitutes the
stepping-stone for any future marketing and sales efforts. Entering the “price
war” is not an option for the country.
of opportunities for Qvevri wine
·A symposium on Qvevri wines was held in Georgia
in September with some famous participants on the fore, such as wine writer
Alice Feiring and Isabell Legeron MW. These people are very involved in what’s
called the “natural wine movement”, and one can certainly assume that this fact
alone will help bring attention to the Georgian wine industry. Moreover, some
of the Qvevri wines that were tasted during our trip were of very high quality
(of my 5 top wines for quality, 3 of them are Qvevri wines).
·Qvevri wines are the type of treasure that many
other wine regions of the world are trying to emulate. The difference here is
that, in Georgia, wines have been made in Qvevri for thousands of years. Our
job is simply to educate the “right consumer “and they will become instant
advocates of their new (and yet so old) discovery.
of opportunities for wine tourism
If one searches for “Republic of Georgia” on Google, the top
result comes from the BBC news: “Situated at the strategically important
crossroads where Europe meets Asia, Georgia has a unique and ancient cultural
heritage, and is famed for its traditions of hospitality and cuisine.”
With such good credentials, it’s easy to imagine that
Georgia would be a natural candidate for the top spots in the tourism industry,
as many other nice things can be said about the country. However, if you have
ever been there, you probably can relate to this description: Unfinished
beauty. Mountain ridges and hills occupy about eighty percent of the country,
so everywhere you look in rural Georgia, there’s some sort of a beautiful background
to the scene. The “unfinished” part comes from recent wars and struggles of the
country. It’s very hard to find buildings that have been painted entirely, as
the soviet “grayness” is still very much present in the way everything is
built. This fact alone may present a few challenges to any effort to promote
tourism in the country, but this becomes almost irrelevant if one listens to
the story that goes around when Georgians talk about how they came to possess
the land they deem the most beautiful in the world: When God was distributing
portions of the world to all the peoples of the Earth, the Georgians were
having a party and doing some serious drinking. As a result they arrived late
and were told by God that all the land had already been distributed. When they
replied that they were late only because they had been lifting their glasses in
praise of Him, God was pleased and gave the Georgians that part of Earth he had
been reserving for himself.
This is probably the best marketing campaign ever created
for a country! Who will not be interested in visiting the place on Earth that
God had reserved for himself? On top of that, Georgia claims to be the
birthplace of winemaking, where some 10,000 years ago wine production started.
This is arguable, but some archaeological evidence suggests that the earliest
known wine production occurred in what today is the country of Georgia.
Moreover, wine is still made today in Qvevris as it was made thousands of years
ago. This fact alone should help to attract tourists.
Speaking of Qvevris, one of the
highlights for any wine lover who has been to Georgia must be the Alaverdi
Monastery, located 25 km from Akhmeta, in the Kakheti region of Eastern
Georgia. Parts of the monastery date back to the 6th century. The beautiful
cathedral dates to the 11th century but, more importantly, amazingly good wines
are being made there in Qvevris by the monks. And if you love wine, this
is one of those unique experiences in life. This is not just another Georgian
attraction, but more likely a “must visit” to anyone who loves wine.
With all of that being sad, the Republic of Georgia is a
“great unknown” to most Americans. The easiness to pronounce its name is
counteracted by the confusion it brings with the state of Georgia in the United
States. Besides, Georgia was until recently, “just” one of the members of the
USSR, and not much of its history, geography, and culture were taught in
American schools. It’s easy to assume that Americans, in general, have very
little knowledge about the country of Georgia, and that definitely doesn’t help
to spur the interest of “mainstream tourists”. With that being said, however,
the more adventurous type of tourist will possibly be attracted to the
mysteries and the uniqueness of Georgian culture. Lack of knowledge in this
case is not a barrier to tourism, but rather an incentive.
Language can be another barrier: Georgian, a South Caucasian
(or "Kartvelian") language is one of the oldest living languages in
the world and has its own distinct alphabet. In practice, for a tourist what it
means is that if a sign is not in English (there are some), you won’t have a
clue of what it means. Unlike some other western languages where the meaning
can be deducted by logic or similarity, you won’t be able to tell (from a sign)
what a restaurant is. Therefore, touring the country without a guide or a
Georgian friend can be challenging. A company offering guided tours is possibly
the only recommended option for American tourists.
There’s one more important drawback to be considered:
building a considerable influx of American tourists to Georgia (and its remote
wine regions in the countryside) may not be feasible in the short term due to
the lack of infrastructure. There are some good efforts being made in the
country. Pheasant’s Tears, Schuchmann Wines, and Chateau Mukhrani are examples
that it’s possible to deliver a very nice experience to American wine lovers,
but this fact brings a question: Is that enough? Many may argue that it is not;
especially if we are referring to American tourists who have visited Napa
Valley or Champagne for example, where wineries are more like an attraction on
a theme park. Moreover, there’s not enough critical mass of attractions (in
this case, wineries) in Georgia that will justify the long haul that an
American has to endure to get there. But then again, this will not stop the
adventurous traveler from going there. In fact, not being “Disneyland” is what
attracts many of these more audacious tourists. And, we all know, lack of
structure never stopped tourists from going to Machu Pichu…
wines for quality
Rkatsiteli Alaverdi Monastery, 2010
Rkatsiteli Pheasant Tears, 2010
Mukuzani Marani, 2008
Takveri Mukhrani Rose, 2010
Top fIVE wines for marketability in the U.S.
My list with the “top 5 wines for quality” shows a strong
preference for white wines made in Qvevri.
It’s unclear at this point if this type of wine can generate a considerable
amount of sales, but certainly this style of wine should be used to promote the
brand “Georgia” in the United States. However, a grape variety such as Saperavi
should be used as the main pusher for volume. Something similar to what New
Zealand does with Sauvignon Blanc or Argentina does with Malbec.
My top 4 Saperavi wines:
·Grand Reserve Saperavi Chateau Mukhrani, 2007
Mukuzani Marani, 2008
Mukuzani Tbilvino, 2009
Wine Man Kakheti Saperavi
Georgia already has a presence in the US market, but the
volumes sold seem to be very limited and the areas where they can be found,
even more so. A viable strategy would be to sell the wines DTC (Direct to
Consumer), as it would drastically expand the markets where the wine can be
purchased (currently, 24 states allow direct shipment to their residents). The
almost direct relation “winery x consumer” avoids the mark ups that are
pertinent to the 3 tier system (winery > importer > distributor >
retailer > consumer), and makes the wine more attractive financially by
being able to provide a significant price reduction.
important question to be asked prior to any decisions on importing wines into
the US is which wine style the American is interested in buying. The very
traditional, flavorful (but sometimes unpalatable) Qvevri wines that have, as
mentioned above, a strong pull from the “natural wine movement” subscribers; or
what is called “European style”, a much more approachable type of wine to the
American palate? Regardless of personal tasting preferences, it would be hard
to argue that the correct answer is “both”. The more traditional Qvevri wines
have an appeal on some segments of the market, but it’s unquestionable that a
more accessible style should also be made available to less acquired tastes.
The good news is that some of the wineries in Georgia can offer both styles
with good quality.
web site (in English) is a must for any future efforts to market Georgia and
its wines in the US. Austria and Chile have very good examples of how a site
can be instructional and visually attractive in one package. This website must
be useful for both efforts (promoting wines and tourism).
Luiz Alberto, #winelover
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