The 14th Annual Conference of the American Association of Wine Economists (AAWE) has been held in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, from August 24–28, 2022. To this end, the AAWE Facebook page has had a series of posts on the current wine-making situation in Georgia; and I thought that I might compile them here, for reference.
As a starter, though, the AAWE also provides links to show that Georgians have a sense of humour when advertising their wines:
- 2017 Georgian Badagoni wine commercial: Wine Experiment #1
- 2017 Georgian Badagoni wine commercial: Wine Experiment #2
It has been noted (The birthplace of wine) that:
Wine isn’t just a small part of the history of Georgia and the Caucasus Region — it is woven into Georgian and Armenian culture everywhere you look. In fact, upon landing in Tbilisi, one of the first things you’ll see is the Mother of Georgia statue standing tall above the city on a hill, with a sword for her enemies in one hand and a bowl of wine for guests in the other.There has, of course, been a lot of wine history between the beginning and now. Most recently, of course, was the situation as part of the U.S.S.R. (basically 1921–1991; aside: Joseph Stalin was actually an ethnic Georgian). The situation since then was recently summarized by Meininger’s Wine Business International (Georgia: Caucasus blues):
- Russia is still the biggest buyer of Georgian wines. However, dependence is decreasing, exacerbated by the conflicts over the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The Russian trade embargo on wine from 2006 to 2013 has led to greater diversification.
- Autochthonous grape varieties are important. The near-black Saperavi grape and the white Rkatsiteli are the two leading varieties
- Georgia should not be equated only with Qvevri wines. Despite the hype, they form only a small part of the production — this is true for the Russian mass market as well as for the western markets.
- Cultivation is often traditional. But wines are also produced in large-scale wineries, some of which still have equipment from the Soviet era.
- Wine tourism is developing well, as history, food, wine and epic landscapes come together in unique exotic experiences.
- The “land of 8,000 vintages” balances tradition with modernity as it looks to the West.
Bottles from the Republic of Georgia have been dramatically scarce in recent months, wine buyers report. These wines are a darling of the local wine scene, embraced particularly by natural wine fans, who appreciate the ancient, pre-industrial techniques that many of the country’s smaller wineries employ ... Skin-contact white wine, also known as orange, macerated or amber wine — which has been the Georgian specialty for thousands of years — is by far the most popular type of wine ...
Map of the viticultural regions in Georgia
The country of Georgia is the birthplace of winemaking and home to 500+ indigenous wine grape varieties. However, most are not used commercially. In 2016, 87% of Georgia’s vineyard area was planted with white varieties.
Vineyard area in Georgia, 1993-2019.
Overall, grape prices in Georgia are very low (about US$410 per ton). In Kakheti (75% of Georgia's wine production) grapes cost just US$385 per ton. In contrast, grape prices in the mountainous Racha-Lechkhumi & Kvemo Svaneti regions are above US2,000 and rising.
Wine export share of national commodity export value, 2020. Wine is most important in Georgia (6.3%), Rep Moldova (5.5%), New Zealand (3.4%), Montenegro (3.1%), Chile (2.5%), France (2.0%), Togo (1.9%), Portugal (1.59%), Italy(1.5%), and Argentina (1.4%).
Georgia’s white wine is on the rise. Although white wine accounts for approx 70% of Georgia’s wine production, most Georgian wine imported into the U.S. is red! But the share of white wine imported from Georgia has been growing from below 23% in 2014 to now almost 41% (2021).
Georgia’s average wine export prices to main markets, 2000-2021.Export prices to the U.S. are rising — against the trend elsewhere.
Compared to 2020, the value of Georgia’s 2021 wine exports grew by 13.8% to $239m. By far the most important export destination is Russia (55% of value), followed by Ukraine (11%), China (7%), Poland (6%), Belarus (5%), Kazakhstan (4%), and the USA (2%).
How dependent are Georgia’s wine exports on Russia? In 2021, 59% of Georgia’s wine export volume and, due lower prices paid by Russia, only 54.7% of its wine export value, went to Russia. Here a monthly view. Georgia’s dependency on Russia is slowly declining, but still above 50%.
U.S. wine imports from Georgia and Armenia, 2000-2021.
U.S. imports of wine from Georgia, 2021. The organic share of reds is much higher than of whites. Also, an 18% organic share for reds is second to none. Note, in order to be called “organic” in the U.S., a wine must not contain any added sulfites!
Little known — 11.3% of U.S. bottled still wine imports from Georgia are certified organic (by value). That makes Georgia a distant #1 among U.S.’s main import sources. #2 is Austria with a share of 7.4%, followed by Canada with 7.1%.