Monday, August 29, 2022

It’s time to pay attention to the wines from Georgia, wine’s birthplace

According to current history, the first evidence of wine-making consists of jars dug up in Georgia, in very far eastern Europe — the jars are about 8,000 years old. The next bit of evidence consists of jars from present-day Iran (7,000 years old). After that, the first evidence of large-scale production is a winery ruin in Armenia, right next to Georgia — this is dated to 6,000 years ago. All of this pre-dates things like writing, for example, and so wine-making is one of the earliest civilized activities. (Note: the existence of wine alone does not imply active wine-making, since fermentation of grape juice occurs naturally.)

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:

Mother of Georgia

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.
There is also, of course, the effect of the current situation in neighboring Ukraine (The Bay Area fell in love with this country's natural wines; then the war in Ukraine made them scarce):
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

AAWE posts

Post 1

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.

Post 2

Vineyard area in Georgia, 1993-2019.

Post 3

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.

Post 4

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%).

Post 5

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).

Post 6

Georgia’s average wine export prices to main markets, 2000-2021.Export prices to the U.S. are rising — against the trend elsewhere.

Post 7

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%).

Post 8

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%.

Post 9

U.S. wine imports from Georgia and Armenia, 2000-2021.

Post 10

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!

Post 11

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%.


  1. Hi David

    I realise you were quoting from another website, but I think this bullet point could use some qualification: "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."

    It is certainly true that qvevri wine accounts only for a very small part of commercial production, and also for exports to Russia and the West. But homemade wine production is much larger than commercial in Georgia, and a significant proportion of homemade wine is made in qvevri. Estimates are difficult to obtain, but something like 2/3 of production is probably homemade, and maybe 30% of that is made in qvevri. So even including homemade, a sizable majority of wine production would be non-qvevri, but qvevri wine is a lot more common in Georgia than official statistics might suggest, perhaps accounting for something like 25% of total production. Irrespective of any possible unjustified hype, qvevri wine is an important part of the wine scene in Georgia.

    I discuss this in more detail here:

    Best wishes, Steve

  2. (Didn't mean to make my last comment anonymous. If you, and wish to, please de-anonymise. No big deal if it proves to be difficult!)

  3. Hi, Hey, you both are right. David and Steve make excellent points about qvevri's official 1% total of production and broader family made production. Qvevri's use as the thin edge of the wedge proved central to promoting and marketing all Georigan wine into the greater world. The increased export of larger modern production has followed that market. For me, as important has been qvevri's central role in the reversal of autochthonous grapes slow decline into extinction. I've touched on it here: