Georgia to pose itself as a wine tourism haunt
14 July, 2011
Georgia to pose itself as a wine tourism haunt

Georgia, an acknowledged cradle of viticulture and wine, steps up to promote itself as one of key wine tourism haunts. Qvevri wine, ancient Georgian wine-making technology based on clay jars, is supposed to be the major lure.  

 

Georgia, having been producing wine for about 8 thousand years and keeping 520 grape varieties in its national gene pool [out of total 2 thousand varieties of global pool] is a scarcely popular w

ine tourism destination while wine tourism is pillar of economy in almost all major wine-producing countries including the so called New World regions like New Zealand and South Africa where wine producing started 200-300 years ago – really teenagers compared to Georgia.  Low level of awareness and underdeveloped service and infrastructure, lack of the sector development strategy and incoherent partnership of the state and private sector are the reasons impeding wine tourism development in Georgia.

Georgian wineries as well as tourist agencies and foreign experts believe Georgia with its viticulture history tracing back to B.C., with its traditional worship to wine and vine intertwined in religion and culture, ample choice of varietals and unique Qvevri technology, beautiful landscapes varying from low lands to highlands, and local cuisine – has a huge wine tourism potential if marketed and wrapped properly.

Guarantee to the success is the recent trends of the wine world seeking for different and unequal tastes and Georgia can provide by both - antic Qvevri-wine technology offering different taste of healthy bio product coupled with extensive varietals choice. Therefore Qvevri technology shunned by Georgian wineries as something unpopular at the international market becomes popular nowadays even among foreign wine-makers in Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia who sell Qvevri wines for EUR 150 and USD 120  in Europe and the US respectively.

And Georgian wine-producers craving for lost Russian market-paradise [consuming wines of all qualities] realized that they have a chance to hit the expensive premium segment at western market and be competitive if they focus on the best quality Georgian varietals and Qvevri.  The recent trip of Georgian wine-producers and tourism agencies to California in this past June [supported and organized by the USAID’s Economic Prosperity Initiative (EPI) and American Chamber of Commerce in Georgia] convinced Georgian wine-producers they may get big profit of wine tourism and Qvevri.

“They got convinced how big a profit they can get if wine tourism is developed,” Tina Kezeli, President of Wine Association of Georgia founded past year, told Georgian Journal. “Actually all wine experts and marketing pundits we have met told us that wine export is impossible to develop without wine tourism. And we have huge potential for that. Wine experts tell me that people spin marketing legends while we have plenty of ready-made legends. Karen MacNeil’, an author of wine Bible had tears in her eyes when she examined Qvevri and said she needed several hours to think over her impressions to draw conclusions, she said a new language must be created to describe our wines. Such results our wine and Qvevri have.”

One of the mistakes hampering Georgian wine tourism and industry at large was focus on European wine-producing technology and grapes. According to John Wuderman, a founder of Pheasant’s Tears winery producing Qvevri wine in Signagi, Kakheti region, nobody is interested in Cabernet Sauvignon for instance produced in Georgia while the French and New Zealand - produced Cabernet Sauvignon infests the market.

“Georgia cannot compete with either France or New Zealand in quality and price of French wines, it should focus on its endemic grapes and Qvevri technology, or produce foreign varietals but in Qvevri that offers different taste. One wine connoisseur told us in America that we need not to take “foreign identification passports” [he meant producing foreign varietals], but “focus on our identification passports.” The wine world seeks new tastes, there is our niche, to produce smaller quantity but in expensive premium segment for USD 120 per bottle,” Wurdeman told GJ.

EPI experts that help Georgia to shape out wine tourism and export strategy specifically with the focus on the US market, assure wine sector may get bigger profit through wine tourism that includes no extra commercial chains and is sold at the cellar door rather than wine export. Wuderman agrees and assures that irrespective he sells only 25% of his production through wine tourism in Signagi he gains 60% of his profit from this segment. On the other hand it exempts from advertisement costs.

“I am an advertisement myself when standing and speaking of wine qualities and traditions and history, culture etc,” Wuderman said adding that it is more profitable to invest money in tourism business to open a new wine bar for example rather than put money in advertisement that may not work.

He believes that the more wineries will perform wine tourism service the better this business will be developed. However about 10 big wineries perform wine tourism service across Georgia and few household cellars. And none of them offer the full package of service like wine degustation, tourist accommodation, entertainment, wine bars and show rooms, cuisine etc.

To boost wine tourism Wine Association, Association of Incoming Tour Operators and Tourism Agency of the state started closer cooperation to work out standards for potential wine cellar sites big and small alike, make their data base and pose markers [green Qvevri on white background] at all cellar spots in Kakheti that respond to standards.

After Kakheti is done the marking will go ahead in other regions countrywide. The working group also plans to make available the rich wine-related bibliography and ethnographic works on wine through internet to unfold more tourism perspectives.

One of specific lures of Georgian wine tourism can be monastery cellars – no other country has such tradition of producing wine in monasteries, Kezeli said. It is planned to restore ancient Academy of Ikalto Monastery where wine-making was studied next to astrology and philosophy since 11th century – also an unprecedented thing. Moreover, Qvevri crafting that is almost expiring is to be restored and Qvevri building be available for tourists as an exciting and extraordinary show. An international Qvevri Symposium is scheduled to be held in mid-September summoning elite wine connoisseurs and wine writers.

“Some wine experts still inquire whether or not Georgia does exist on the map of wine-producing countries – that must be settled once and for all,” Kezeli said.

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