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Hopes stir for Russia-Georgia export ban thaw

Two developments the past week have stirred hopes for Georgia's wine producers, who have been banned from exporting to Russia for more than six years.

Georgia: ‘exported 89% to Russia’

Russia banned imports of Georgian wine in 2006 after its military conflict with the former Soviet state, citing poor quality as the reason, while Georgia – which until had exported 89% of all its wine to Russia – denounced the ban as politically motivated, and illegal.

Now, following Georgia’s recent government elections, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov last week said, ‘When they tell us Georgia wants to further improve relations, we are ready to discuss resuming imports of Georgian agricultural products as well.’

Lavrov said a meeting with Georgia’s commercial envoy to Russia will occur soon. The Russian news agency Interfax reported that following recent Georgian applications to Russia to resume trading relations, officials are ready to discuss the resumption of Georgian wine imports.

Georgia’s Ministry of Agriculture has appointed Levan Davitashvili, a former director of Schuchmann Wines, one of Georgia’s major wine companies, to direct its National Wine Agency.

Davitashvili’s tasks will focus upon the competitiveness and quality of Georgian wine and developing new markets.

Since the ban, Georgia has found new export markets but Davitashvili said ‘the agency will be working towards the return to the Russian market’, whose potential he said made it the most important by far.

But some find the new developments of mixed value. While a strong supporter of Davitashvili for his ‘extensive wine knowledge and industry experience without any biased connection’, Keith Johnsen of US importer Daqopa Brands expressed concern that the former Russian market would be a ‘gigantic distraction’ which might influence Georgian wineries to tailor their vinification methods to suit it.

They would produce half-sweet reds in keeping with the Russian palate, thereby not exploiting the potential American market, he said.

Georgian wineries won 28 medals at the Decanter World Wine Awards 2012, inlcuding two silver medals. The majority were the blends of the country’s indigenous red grape, Saperavi.

Written by David Furer

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