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Georgian Wine Tourism, Traditions and Export

by Levan Sebiskveradze

On April 1, 2014, Mr. Irakli Cholobargia, a representative of the National Wine Agency, has visited the Wine Club to make a speech about the ongoing state and perspectives of the wine tourism and to reflect on the topics duscussed during the sixth International Wine Tourism Conference held for the first time in Georgia, at Tbilisi Marriott Hotel on March 29th and 30th.

The International Wine Tourism Conference is one of the most important events organized by the National Wine Agency and Georgian National Tourism Administration, where large tourist agencies along with the wine experts, wine masters and importers from around the world including Canada, France, Russia, Italy, Ukraine, Sweden, Singapore, Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Germany, United Kingdom and the U.S, are brought together to discuss the current issues and tendencies of the global wine tourism industry.

A two-day comprehensive program of the conference has encompassed various presentations, business meetings, wine tastings and wine tours in different regions of Georgia among all sectors of wine and travel industry. The previous hosts of the conference included Italy, Spain, Portugal and Croatia. The conference itself plays an important role in arousing interest from the leading international tourism agencies, journalists, photographers and bloggers, in helping participant countries raise awareness of wine tourism, in establishing international relations and finding new partners around the globe.

Irakli Cholobargia, Head of the Marketing & PR Department of the National Wine Agency: "The Georgian Wine Agency sponsored one of Croatia’s Internationa Wine Tourism events last year and that’s when they announced that the next conference would be held in Georgia. The Tbilisi conference attracts the professionals working from all sectors of wine, starting from winemakers to writers and travel figures.”

Approximately 100 delegates have been invited at the two-day event. The specially created website has enabled the wine lovers and professionals to register for the conference. Out of 100 delegates there were 20 tourists who participated in the conference and wine tours. 

Irakli Cholobargia: "It's been four years since the wine tourism has become a trend in the world. Wine producing countries are still establishing the infrastructure where tourists are offered various services: entertainment, engagement in some of the winemaking processes, participation in grape harvesting/squeezing, food tasting, etc. According to the foreign field experts, Georgia has a great potential in the area as the traditional method of winemaking is still kept in the country, as wine is an essential part of the culture and an important element of Georgians’ everyday life."

The speakers from around the world attended the conference. A two-day pre-conference tour has also been arranged where the foreign guest have been guided by the representatives of the National Wine Agency to visit Georgian wine companies, cellars and vineyards as well as taste some Georgian wines.

It is no wonder that the guests have had a keen interest in Qvevri Wine and Qvevri itself. This increasing interest is derived from the fact that UNESCO has declared the Georgian traditional method of Qvevri winemaking as a significant intangible cultural heritage not so long ago. As Irakli Cholobargia has noted, Slovenian winemakers were the most familiar with the subject among the guests from abroad. This is not a surprise as a while ago, Slovenians have purchased Qvevris from Imereti region and taken to Slovenia where they are successfully making Qvevri wines there. The diversity of Georgian wine always impresses the guests from around the world. This divergent nature of the Georgian wine is what makes it distinctive and competetive.

One of the Slovenian speakers talked about the advantages of Qvevri during his presentation while telling a story about how he used the Georgian Qvevri. He courteously noted that giving a speech about Qvevri in the place of its origin, where this magnificent invention took place centuries ago, made him feel a little uneasy.

As Irakli Cholobargia noted, "The role of social media is very important for the development of wine marketing and wine tourism. Therefore, various social platforms should be used for these purposes. Different groups of wine consumers, distributers and other field professionals can be found on the Internet. For example, there is a group of three hundred journalists and writers duscussing the current issues of the field and delivering a good deal of infromation to wine lovers and enthusiasts. They publish their works on several magazines and Internet publications simultaneously and their texts often set the trends in wine industry."

It is interesting to discuss what marketing steps should be taken to achieve significant developments in this direction and what are the markets that we should be targeting.  First of all, we have to admit that, there are markets, where the Georgian wine has low popularity and then there are the “traditional” markets (mostly Post Soviet Union countries) where the Georgian wine is more or less recognized. Mr. Cholobargia points out three countries that should be considered as main new markets: The Great Britain, the U.S. and Poland. 

The National Wine Agency has emphasized the importance of these three markets for the following reasons: England has one of the largest numbers of wine consumers and the demand on high quality wines is increasing continuously. The U.S. also represents a large market where wine quality matters. Additionally, it is a very important trade partner of Georgia. As to Poland, even though it’s a relatively new market, Georgian wine is widely welcome there partly due to the historical relationships between the Polish and Georgian people. Pointing up these three markets doesn't decrease the importance of other markets of the world. However, at this stage Georgia’s wine marketing will be targeted towards these three countries.

Irakli Cholobargia admits that in the beginning, the National Wine Agency has paid a little attention to the media and specifically, to the social media. Indeed, the conference has proved that a considerable attention should be paid to the media, so the priorities have been changed regarding wine marketing issues. Finding those people who are interested in wine is very easy through the Internet, which also enables us to contact and keep in touch with the target audience free of charge.

Irakli Cholobargia: "Making tours and showing local wineries are not novelties for the visitors. The participants of the conference have also been introduced to the Georgian culture, to the method of Qvevri winemaking, to Georgian cuisine and to various Georgian traditions in general. Similar conference is planned in Champagne next year, where the major meetings will be held in small wine cellars. All of these are the signs that traditional wine cultures become trendy and popular all across the world and Georgia should become one of the a beneficiaries of it."

More tourist agencies should practise offering wine tours to their local or foreign customers to increase the awareness of traditional wine culture of Georgia and Qvevri, which, one may say, is the cornerstone of these winemaking traditions.

In the past, one could not find wine cellars and wine tasting places in any other part of Georgia but in the region of Kakheti. Fortunately, this has also changed recently. Tourists and wine lovers are now given the opportunity to visit the regions of Imereti, Guria and Mountainous Achara to enjoy wine tastings and other wine-related services.

It is our hope that journey has only begun.

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May 2023