Cuttino's Georgian Life

A journal of my Peace Corps service in the Republic of Georgia, 2006-2008.

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Birthplace of Wine

October is grape harvest time and as luck would have it, last week I was in the wine region of Kakheti at the height of the season. I took the opportunity to visit the main wine factory of Badagoni, a fairly new wine company based outside of Telavi. Badagoni is a joint venture between Georgians and Italians. The result of this partnership is a strange combination of East meets West, Telavi meets Milan. The finest Italian wine making technology is plopped down in the middle of rural Georgia. Their marketing campaign (you can view television ads on Badagoni's website) juxtaposes a quaint Georgian bebia with some chic Italian models.

This is Georgia??

For all the rich tradition behind Georgian wine, its surprising that its not all that well known in the West. For a long time, Georgians were exporting strictly to customers within the Soviet Union. The Soviets' emphasis on high yield forced Georgian wine makers to sacrifice quality for quantity. Old Georgian vineyards were destroyed and various additives were used to make the grapes go farther. By the 1990s, Georgian wine was all but unmarketable to the West (this article from the NY Times gives a pretty interesting background on the situation).

As I witnessed in the Badagoni factory, all this is beginning to change. With Russia's embargo on Georgian wine, producers are looking to other markets. As a result, Georgia's wine is tasting a lot better. We were lead through the factory with lots of nice, shiny Italian machinery. At the end of the tour, we were given a tasting of three Georgian specialties--Saperavi (dry red), Mtsvane and Tsinandali (dry white).

The company Badagoni has poured a lot of money into the project, and it will be interesting to see where things go from here. In a few years, Kakheti may be the next Napa. Well, maybe I'm getting ahead of myself... Word on the street is that the bottles will begin appearing in the US very soon, and at $5 a bottle, that's quite a deal. If you find one at your local grocery store, say a toast for me.


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