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Georgia targets UK

Published:  23 July, 2008

This week, just two months after Russia imposed an outright ban on the importation of wines from neighbouring Georgia, the Prime Minister of Georgia, Zurab Nogaideli, was in London promoting his country's wines at a trade and press tasting held at Vinopolis.

Although it was purportedly imposed on health grounds, no one seriously believes that the ban is a wine scandal akin to the alleged antifreeze furore in Austria in 1985. It is all about politics.

Following the Rose Revolution' in 2003, when former Soviet minister, Eduard Shevardnadze, was ousted from power, Russia has become ever more irritated by Georgia's tendency to move away from Russian influence and towards the European Union and the United States.

With a special irony, this month Russia is reported to have added to its import ban a Georgian mineral water that is highly regarded as a cure for hangovers.

In his opening speech, the Prime Minster commented: Perhaps no other sector of Georgia's agriculture has received more attention recently than our wine and spirits sector In March, Russia banned Georgian and Moldovan wines - closing this traditional market for us Given this non-market-based decision, the Government and the private sector, working in a public/private partnership, are now actively exploring new markets for Georgian wines.'

Of course we hope the Russians will change their minds,' commented Aleksandre Khareba of Winery Khareba.

We have been good neighbours for hundreds and hundreds of years.'

Russia took around 90% of all Georgia's wine exports and new markets now need to be found. Hence the London tasting.

Whatever happens, it is a lesson for us not to rely too heavily on any single market,' said Zurab Ramazashvili of Telavi Wine Cellar.

But there has been significant recent investment from World Bank projects, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and others.

GWS, which began as a joint venture in 1994, is now wholly owned by Pernod Ricard. Consequently many of the wineries have re-equipped with the latest technology and are making appealing, modern-style wines.

Georgia also has a range of indigenous grapes unrivalled in the wine world.

As the Prime Minister said: Out of 2,000 species known worldwide, more than 500 sorts of vine belong to Gerogia, more than any other country'.

Although, with grape names like Rkatsiteli and Napareuli, and often indecipherable labels, some imaginative packaging and marketing may be called for.