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The Kakhetian Winemakers Guild Takes First Step

by Nana Kobaidze

Several months ago, in the spring of 2014, one more organization has been added to the list of existing wine associations in Georgia. A group of wine enthusiasts have set up the Kakhetian Winemakers Guild in one of the great cities of Kakheti region – Telavi. There are five companies united in the guild: Telavi Wine Cellar, Teliani Valley, Kakhuri, Viniveria and Kindzmarauli corporation. It is a non-profit organization and as strange as it may seem, has altruistic motives and a noble goal of promoting Georgian wine.

The Path from Napa to Telavi

The story began several years ago when Zurab Ramazashvili, the founder of Telavi Wine Cellar and Zurab Goletiani, the owner of Kakhuri, visited the Napa Valley Welcome Center. This small, inviting office is the perfect starting point for tourists, who want to explore and plan the Napa Valley touring experience. It provides guests with insider information about wine, restaurants and itineraries. Fascinated by the Napa Valley Welcome Center, the desire of creating similar service in their own country was born in the minds of the Georgian winemakers. However, making the dream a reality turned out to be not so easy. Creating an organization that would serve as an informational center of wine touring experience in Kakheti region and at the same time, promote Georgian wine, required joining forces of the like-minded people. Fortunately, it was not hard to find such enthusiasts who would take the responsibility of this important and noble mission and as a result, a team was formed.

“The majority of us, the founders of the five companies that are the members of the guild, are winemakers. We make wine, we are involved in marketing and we have also worked in the direction of wine tourism. We have experienced all kinds of difficulties that exist in the field. We speak the same language and are not driven by a financial interest. That is why our relationship is quite easy and comfortable,” says Zurab Goletiani, one of the founders of the organization. Mr. Goletiani got involved in the business many years ago, when as a young man, he started working in Tsinandali winery. It was a prestigious institution at the time that was visited by a lot of honorable guests of Georgia. Thus, receiving and treating visitors has not been an unusual activity for him. Still, wine tourism was not a familiar concept at the time. The stature of wine tourism has started to grow since 2000. Despite the fact that almost every wine company worked in this direction, there was no general system that would provide with necessary information. The guild focused, first and foremost, on this issue – a database of the wine tourism companies was created, which filled the gap that existed in the field. Nowadays, the visitors of Kakheti region are given a variety of choices – several interesting itineraries are offered that provide guests with an introduction to Kakhetian touring experiences.

The founders have involved tourism companies in their business as well. Even though they do a good job of bringing visitors in the region, they are not specialized wine industry representatives and therefore, are not aware of the specifics of a particular region. The Kakhetian Winemakers Guild serves this purpose well. The founders believe that this cooperation will be successful for both sides. More than 100 tours have already been executed and they hope that this number will grow significantly in the near future.

Kakheti – “Bordeaux of Georgia”

Commitment to wine tourism is important, but there is a bigger mission: the members of the guild are joining forces to promote Georgian wine and educate consumers as well. They also plan to promote the Kakheti region itself as being the leading wine producing region of the country. “If we draw a comparison between France and Georgia, Kakheti is Bordeaux, or even Burgundy of Georgia. This is the message that needs to delivered to the wine world,” says Zurab Ramazashvili, the founder of the organization.

The Kakhetian Winemakers Guild made its home in one of the historical buildings in the heart of Telavi. There is an old cellar in the basement of the building that dates from the 19th century. They plan to restore it and convert it into a wine tasting hall. So far, no tastings take place there, as there is not enough space for that. In the future, the old wine cellar will serve as the ultimate accessory for holding tasting events. They also plan to have a wine dispenser there. As a result, wine consumers and enthusiasts will be given the opportunity to taste a variety of wines of different companies at a minimum price. At the moment, the consumers are able to purchase a wide range of wines there, which includes not just the wines produced by the guild members, but also those of other companies. The buyers are mostly the foreign visitors. Once in a while, however, Georgians do purchase a wine as a gift. Surprisingly, they are quite “frugal” when it comes to buying a bottle of wine for themselves. Fortunately, some buyers are also interested in exposing themselves to different wines to educate themselves. Yet, the number of these people is quite small. This is exactly the direction the Kakhetian Winemakers Guild plans to take and develop.

Zurab Goletiani: “We want to increase the wine knowledge in Georgians, especially, in young people. For this purpose, a two-hour lecture will be held for 10 to 15 young people every week. We will try our best to teach them the A, B, Cs of this field. For example, explain what dry wine or Protected Designation of Origin is, also give lectures on grape varieties and on various other topics. The length of the course is going to be one month. If we manage to educate at least 10 people in this amount of time, it should bring some results.”

The project is targeted at the young people of Telavi. It is free and does not aim to gain any financial benefit. “The organization is by no means a source of profit for us. We have joined forces to realize an idea and it is a gift to the residents of the city. We are actually, altruists,” said Zurab Ramazashvili. All five companies pay their membership to cover the costs of the office rent and employee salaries. The amount of profit they gain from selling company wines is fully spent on the guild development.

Telavino Festival 2014

During the process of working together, they came up with the idea of holding a festival that would be semi-professional. There was no such precedent in the city. People usually perceived wine as part of a festivity that was quaffed in combination with Mtsvadi - Georgian Shashlyk and some bacchanalian music. Here, the visitors were given the opportunity to explore various wines of Georgian producers, all gathered in one place, and taste them from professional wine glasses.

The guild members purchased Spiegelau wine glasses for the festival, which were sold to the visitors along with the tickets at a nominal price. The guild and the festival logos were also engraved on the glasses that came with hangers. Telavino lasted from 12 to 5 p.m.. There were the samples of 21 leading wine companies showcased in the foyer of Telavi Drama Theatre. A lot of guests arrived, who were treated to folklore music performances during the event. There was a lot of wine, music and positive emotions. In a nutshell, the festival was a success.

Zurab Ramazashvili: “We want more wine companies to participate in the festival, which is part of our future plans. Our slogan says: “Taste to discern the truth.” This has been the concept of this year’s Telavino and it is going to be the same in future as well. We want to establish the wine tasting culture in contrast to a meaningless drinking bout. Every Georgian should know how to taste wine. It is extremely important.”

It should be noted that it was the first festival that was organized by a private sector and free for the participant companies, which usually, it is not the case. The guild members took care of everything, they even set up the signboards for the companies, which is something to appreciate about the festival organizers.

Telavino will be run next year as well. The format of the festival may slightly change. Also, Telavi Drama Theatre is too small for such festival considering that the number of visitors will likely increase in the future. The guild members may hold one more relatively small-scale event in spring, as it is part of their future plans. As of now, they are still evaluating the results of the first festival, which did have a good start. How is it going to be carried out in future? Time will tell. We do hope though that Telavino will become a tradition.

The founders of the guild have other future plans as well – they want to expand the scope of their activities with the aim of making business connections abroad. There are many similar wine corporations all around the world. Thus, the main goal is the promotion of Georgian wine. As to the local plans, they want to form a club, the members of which will be able to purchase new wine releases at a discount. They will also be informed first about the future events that will be organized by the guild members. Again, the plan is to improve communications among wine lovers, to unite people who are interested in the essence of wine and are ready to share the truth that exists in wine. After all, even ancient Romans believed that “in wine, there is truth.”

Translated by Tea Kokhreidze

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February 2018