Spirits, Wine

Soviet policies ruined Vitiviniculture in the Caucasus

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Vitiviniculture in the Caucasus

Archaeologists consider the Caucasus (today Georgia and Armenia) the birthplace of wine. This region has been producing wine for at least 4000 years possibly longer.

In 1991 when the U.S.S.R collapsed Georgia chose to join Europe, but Armenia stayed with Russia for economic reasons. When Georgia and Armenia were in the soviet realms, everything was planned and dictated centrally from Moscow.

In 1930, the government seized private vineyards and grape growers became government employees.

Remuneration for effort suffered affecting quality. Instead of quality, quantity reigned supreme.

Before collectivization, grape growers were the masters of their vineyards, and were rewarded for their efforts by the “market”. Humans work for rewards!

Russia absorbed all the wine that Georgia and Armenia produced. Moscow decided that Georgia was a `wine country`, and Armenia a `brandy country`. State farms worked to increase yield, and never invested in meaningful research, or to improve quality. As every serious wine drinker knows, grape quality requires investment, research, and time.

After independence, capital was scarce, and it still is, due to high interest rates, thus vineyard acreage in both countries decreased substantially. (During soviet times Georgia boasted 160 000 hectares, now 48 000, and Armenia 36 000 now 18 000).

Georgia lost its most important wine market in Russia for political reasons, and still struggles to increase its exports to make up for this loss.

Armenian’s viticulture now depends on brandy production, 95 per cent of the grape crop goes to distilleries, and the most important market remains Russia.
When the elite of tsarist Russia in the 19th century decided that Armenian brandy was the best tasting of all brandies at the time, the fate of the Armenian distilling industry was sealed!

Stalin hosted the Yalta Conference in 1945, (President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Prime Minister Winston Churchill being participants). Winston Churchill, then the prime minister of the Untied Kingdom, liked the Armenian brandy served after dinner, and Stalin shipped one case of Armenian brand monthly during his reign of the U.S.S.R. Churchill appreciate the gift and happily savoured each bottle with gusto. Although Armenian brandy acquired world-fame the best market was the U.S.S.R, and today Russia remains the most lucrative of all.

Now, brandy in Armenia is produced using grandmak, rkatsiteli, mishali, kangun and voskeshat grapes. The oldest and most famous of all distilleries in the Yerevan Bandy Factory, now owned by Pernod-Ricard of France, followed by Ararat, Aspeti3, Shahnazarian Wine and Brandy, and Ara Jan.

Recently, a rose wine from Armenia won a gold medal in a reputable international competition and several well-to-do Diaspora Armenians bought suitable land and planted vineyards in an attempt to produce high quality grapes. The rose was produced using the areni grape variety.

As for Georgia, several European wineries bought exiting wineries and vineyards to produce western European style dry wine. Russians still like sweet red and white wines. Georgian wineries are desperately trying in developing European markets to make up for the loss of the Russian market.

As for Armenia, in 2015, five brandy producers presented their products in Dusseldorf (Germany) during the annual wine festival with financial support from the government.

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