Qvevri wine to save Georgian wineries
23 June, 2011
Qvevri wine to save Georgian wineries

Qvevri wine, the ancient Georgian wine-making technology may secure an unrivaled niche for Georgian wine at the international market if produced and marketed properly. 

Qvevri, the Georgian name for the big clay jugs embedded in ground for keeping and fermenting wine, has already entered the international wine vocabulary because the wine connoisseurs could not find anything similar to Qvevri-based wine-making technology globe over. International Association of Qvevri Wine including Italy, Germany and Slovenia agreed on this. And now Qvevri wine is

expected to save Georgian wine industry thanks to three key reasons: it is antic – this technology has been practiced for 8 thousand years in Georgia without changes, provides new taste and is healthy.

Today when the global wine market is awashed by wine only new and different taste may attract consumers’ attention. And Qvevri wine seems unrivaled to this end – perfect combination of tradition, bio-product and ample choice of varietals. Out of 2 thousand varietals globe over more than 521 are Georgian endemics, Gia Bibileishvili, Agriculture Value Chain Manager with the USAID supported Economic Prosperity Initiative, told Georgia Journal. And although only 30 out of them are commercially active at the moment, Georgian wine-makers work on restoration of extinct species. About 420 varietals are already restored and available for winemakers in Saguramo lab, John H. Wurdeman, a founder of Pheasnt’s Tears winery, said. Wurdeman himself has 300 varietals.

According to Bibileishvili, Qvevri wine became popular lately because it is different and bio. It may provide with chemical-free wine processing chain starting vineyard-keeping to fermentation and storage. Therefore experts agree almost unanimously that Qvevri wine may secure a niche to Georgian wine at the international market and all Georgian wine needs now is to stick to its traditional technology without adulteration tricks they inherited from the soviet-volume-oriented-quality-free past, plus a good marketing legend that already exists: wine connoisseurs agree that Georgia is a cradle of wine.

“Each detail is well-calculated in Qvevri technology that produces bio-product: its oval shape with pointed bottom insures natural filtration of wine – slag flows down to the bottom without any chemical or mechanical interference used in European technology; the fact that Qvevri is laid in the ground insures stable storage temperature, also fermentation on tannin keeps all useful substances in the wine that usually are lost during filtration  in European model, and the product comes fully bio”, Bibileishvili said.

Some foreign wine-makers have already got a grip of Qvevri perspectives, and provide market with Qvevri-wine at the moment while only 15-29 Georgian wineries just started exporting small quantities of Qvevri wine. Closure of Russian market that is not as picky as the western one made Georgian wineries go to senses.

Local vineyard-keepers usually make wine through Qvevri for their own family consumption, while commercial volumes were produced by both farmers and wineries in barrels and tanks. The reason was easy profit. The European barrel-based technology does not require as painstaking hand-labor to preserve sanitary conditions as Qvevri and enables to produce big volumes of wine. The immense Russian market that consumed all drinks including alcohol was perfect for easy-profit-oriented wine-makers, Giorgi Barisashvili, a wine-expert with Elkana, a non-governmental bio-product watchdog, told GJ.

“Our mistake was that winemakers focused on European technologies while we had not proper skills and knowledge for that, and we could not compete with famous European wine-producing countries to this end. While we forgot out traditional Qvevri technology that did not change for 8 thousand years and that makes it unique for export. Ultimately our wine-makers stuck between these two technologies that led to lamentable results. Closure of Russian market was the best thing that might happen. Willy-nilly people started to think of restoration of Qvevri wine. We have to focus on EU market and Qvevri wine may save our wine industry because it is for premium segment and if we observe all due procedures we can provide a really different exquisite product there. But the state also has to make it as a priority and support this industry,” he said.

Elkana works with about 20-30 people who already export small quantities of Qvevri wine and claims that demand is much higher at the international market than the supply. Big wineries also started Qvevri deployment. Pheasant’s Tears that entered market in 2008 by Qvevri wine exports 30 thousand bottles  to the US, Canada, Sweden, Norway, Germany, China, and Hong Kong and demand is so high that it plans to double production. Wurdeman believes Qvevri wine that is sold by Georgian companies at average USD 20-35 per bottle may be sold for USD 120 at premium segment as an Italian-based Granieri company producing Qvevri wine sells today.

“Our wine is of equal quality and even better but this company operates at the market for more than 10 years while our company is new and we must fix modest prices. Gradually when consumer realizes our wine value we will increase prices by about 10-15% per year,” he said. “USD 120 per bottle is a natural price, our unique technology and number of varietals enables us to target that high.”

Wurdeman claims disconcerted activity of government, wine association and private sector slows down promotion of Qvevri wine that first ever participated in wine exhibition held in Tbilisi early in June and won gold and silver prizes.

“All bodies responsible for wine should concert their activity. Only through joint effort we can achieve results,” he said.

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