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Grape harvesting to begin in Kakheti

By Salome Modebadze
Monday, September 5
The President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, discussed the situation in wine-producing areas of Kakheti recently. Meeting with the Minister of Agriculture Bakur Kvezereli, Kakheti Governor, Giorgi Gviniashvili, and the Heads of regional districts on Saturday, the President observed preparations for grape harvesting in the region.

The authorities hope that 60 million GEL income from grapes harvested by 110,000 families in Kakheti will stimulate the economy and provide income for local farmers. Viticulturists who had previously worried about bad weather conditions for the harvests welcomed the successful end of the year's tasks in the vineyards and forecast having twice as many grapes as the previous year.

The President emphasized the necessity to plan for the higher economic benefits from the 2011 harvest, expressing his hopes that with the increase in tourism the main target for marketing wine would become the tourist sector in Georgia itself with its local customers and tourists.

Talking of the harvest as “a very fundamental political issue” Saakashvili emphasized the importance of agricultural development for the program of modernization by 2015. “Grapes, vineyards and wine mean more than just agricultural products but they are an issue of identity and cultural pride. This is a sensitive topic and we have to work hard to make it understood by sharing and learning from international experience,” he stated.

Despite the 400 local varieties of grape, Saakashvili suggested introducing new technologies for further promotion. Announcing establishment of an institute of wine technologies in Kakheti the President highlighted that the Government would send local specialists for training abroad and also invite foreign wine-makers to support the development of wine culture in Georgia. Saakashvili recollected that a few years ago Georgia had faced the danger of annihilation of the vineyards. “By imposing an embargo on Georgian wine, Russia wrongly hoped that they would make the Georgian economy collapse. Fortunately we have saved our vineyards and overcome the crisis by improving the quality of the wine and diversifying export markets,” said the President.

Welcoming the 30% increase of exports Minister Kvezereli pointed out that Georgian wine has been introduced to Chinese, EU and USA markets, and told the President that Georgian wine companies have “learnt a good lesson” from the Russian embargo, and have stopped thinking of returning to the Russia market. Praising the American market for its legacy and transparency, Saakashvili underlined the fact that Georgia has protected its trademark in the USA recently, thus it would export more products there.

Encouraging everyone to actively promote Georgian products to Europe and Asia, Saakashvili welcomed the new successful export agreements with Ukraine and Kazakhstan and stressed the necessity for more intense cooperation with the Baltic States and Poland.

“Everyone knows about Georgian wine but they didn’t have an opportunity to drink it in many countries. This means that the older methods of promoting exports can’t develop the sector without an efficient marketing system and new technologies,” said the President, stressing the need of intense effort. “The implementation of modern technologies and renovation should be a constant process. We have very open-minded people in Georgia and the only thing they need to do is to study and work,” the President concluded.

GEL 500,000 have been allocated from the state budget for promoting Georgian wine, while 150 000 tonnes of grapes will be received by the special collection points in Kakheti for receiving grapes and making wine.

Georgian analysts emphasized the importance of traditional winemaking with The Messenger. Shota Murghulia Economic analyst from the Center for Economic Problems Research (CEPR) wasn’t quite optimistic about the export potential of the country. According to Murghulia the Russian embargo badly damaged Georgian export conditions but at the same time it encouraged the Georgian Government to orient towards the wider international markets. Emphasizing the high level of competition in Europe, Murghulia stressed that Russia had been one of the best targets for promoting Georgian wine.

Talking of Georgia as “the homeland of wine” Executive Director of International Foundation for Sustainable Development (IFSD) Professor Alexander Tvalchrelidze approved of the state initiative about wine promotion but disapproved the “inactivity” of the state officials in terms of ensuring better exports. Tvalchrelidze suggested introduction of quotes on wine to the World Trade Organization (WTO). “The Russian market is so unstable that we can’t rely on their foreign policy, while I think the European Union would be the best target for exporting Georgian wine,” the analyst told us.