According to Reinoud Nuijten, CBI programme manager for Eastern Europe, wine producers in Georgia are earning a higher profile for themselves on the European wine market because they offer something different. “The taste of Georgian wine is unique and exuberant and it showcases Georgia’s rich history and tradition.” But today, Georgia is a promising but still relatively undiscovered wine region for European buyers.
But that’s not the only reason CBI was so interested in supporting the Georgian wine sector. Wine is also Georgia’s export product with the highest potential, says Nuijten. “Wine exporting makes a huge contribution to Georgia’s overall GDP, because it also helps reduce the country’s high unemployment rate. High-quality wine requires a good production infrastructure, including bottles, corks and label manufacturing, as well as good roads. Wine production, in other words, stimulates economic development.”
Consumer awareness, however, remains a big hurdle for Georgian wineries. Wine connoisseurs often call Georgia the France of the Balkans and Theo Jansen, wine expert for CBI, intimates that some Georgian wines might even be better than French wines. “But Georgian wines have yet to establish themselves in the European mindset. Twenty years ago Georgia had a reputation for delivering excellent sweet wines, but that reputation is also its greatest handicap. Buyers don’t realise that Georgia’s wine offering has long since diversified.” However, Jansen feels that Georgian wineries should not give up on the European market. “Trade can be very political and Georgia does not want to be dependent on Russia. This is mainly why they trade with Europe, even though prices are currently lower.”
Jansen recently helped video producer Huub Ruijgrok make a CBI-commissioned film about the Georgian wine sector. When visiting Georgia to make the film, Ruijgrok was struck by the hospitality of the Georgian people. “They have an incredible passion for food and tradition. And wine, which was on the table with almost every meal.” Tradition, adds Jansen, is a great marketing tool that Georgia can use to gain a foothold on the European market. “Farmers from Eastern Europe were the first to have vineyards and they perfected winemaking techniques. Later, the ancient Greeks shared those techniques with the rest of Europe. Tradition fuels consumers’ curiosity and will make them at least want to try Georgian wines.”
But Georgia is a relatively small country, cautions Nuijten. If every Georgian winery were to pursue its own strategy they wouldn’t be able to compete with other major wine exporting countries. That’s why CBI is urging Georgian SMEs and the public sector to consolidate their efforts to enter the European market. “In trade fairs, B2B events and wine tastings, we are encouraging SMEs to represent Georgia as a whole, because this will make market penetration a lot easier.”
Evidently, the strategy of getting Georgian wineries to join forces is paying off. Georgian wine exports are growing at such a rapid pace that it would surprise Nuijten if CBI was still active in the sector after 2016. “The Georgian wine sector has really matured since we first started there. More exposure and further quality improvements are our main priorities for the coming few years.”
Ruijgrok feels his film has captured the spirit of the improving wine sector in Georgia. In closing, he sketches an analogy between filming and cooking. “The ingredients comprised CBI’s input and the stories of Georgian SMEs, while creating the ‘dish’ was a joint effort. CBI provided us with most of the information for the film and it was my job to articulate it visually into what I hope has become a feast for the eyes.”