Giorgi Samanishvili: “Our Main Challenge is to return the Wine Culture to Georgia!”
“Today ‘Qvevri Wine’ is the emblem of Georgian wine and we can speak of it throughout the world and be proud of it!”
Starting from 2015 the National Wine Agency has a new chairman. Giorgi Samanishvili replaced Levan Davitashvili on this position. And, Mr. Davitashvili was appointed Deputy Minister of Agriculture.
The new head of the National Wine Agency is not a new face for the representatives of viticulture and wine-making sector. Giorgi Samanishvili, 38, has a very interesting and boastful successful past of a wine-maker starting from Georgian Agrarian University continued with the Master’s Degree of Burgundy and Bordeaux Universities of France, studying the Alsace and Provence wine-making technologies and finishing with important contribution to the development of Georgian viticulture and wine-making sector.
– I am not from a wine-maker’s family though my ancestors, like all Georgians, have had some relations with wine. By origin I am from Simoneti, 100% Imeretian, – with these words started Mr. Giorgi Samanishvili talking of some remarkable episodes from his life, – From today’s view, I can tell that my grandfather used to make a good wine and to consume the wine in a civilian manner. Every day he used to drink three glasses of wine, like I do now, and more wine he used to drink only at big parties. So, my grandfather is a good example for me…
After graduating from the Komarov School he has chosen his profession according to his interest. He entered the wine-making faculty of Agrarian University; after it he continued his study at the Burgundy University; he also studied on the Faculty of Law at the University of Bordeaux and got master’s degree in the wine sector management. The subject of his thesis referred to: “Protecting Appellations of Origin. Evaluation of ‘Georgian Cognac’ according to International, European and Georgian Law”. During his university period and after graduating it for several years Giorgi worked as a wine-maker in the wine-producing regions of France – Alsace and Provence, particularly, in “Domaine de la Courtade” (Provence, France), and “Domaine Auther” (Alsace, France).
The Georgian wine-maker educated in France returned to Georgia in 2001, and started to work as a wine-maker at “GWS” – Georgian Wines and Spirits Company, one of the best and successful wine companies by that time. After this, for a short period he was the Executive Director of “Tiflisski Marani”, as well as, he was involved in scientific works at Jighauri Research Center, and till present he is the member of the Tasting Committee. For a short period he worked as Deputy Chairman of the Committee. In 2008 he was the Deputy Chairman of State Department of Vine and Wine “Samtrest” under the Ministry of Agriculture.
From December 2011 till November 2014, Giorgi Samanishvili worked as the Director of “Tsinandali Wine School”. He used to give lectures and conduct workshops for the 12th form students at the Sunday school on the history and culture of viticulture, wine-making and alcoholic drinks.
And, starting from 2012, simultaneously he was the head of the National Wine Agency Strategic Development Board. From November 2014 he was appointed the Acting Chairman of the National Wine Agency, and starting from February 2015 he works as the Chairman of the agency.
What is Giorgi Samanishvili’s position on current problems in the viticulture and wine-producing sector, what is the strategy of the agency for popularization of wine culture and entering the new markets and currently what challenges the National Wine Agency faces – these are the issues Mr. Giorgi Samanishvili talks in his interview with the magazine “Wine”.
- Samanishvili, as the new chairman of the wine agency, in your opinion, what is the main mission of the agency, what has already been done, and what challenges you face?
- First of all, as you are aware, the Agency is the legal successor of the “Samtrest” established in the 20ies of the XX century. During the soviet period, “Samtrest” was actually managing the viticulture and wine-producing sector, it was the owner, the producer, it used to invent, and it had a very big influence. Luckily, at the end of the 90ies, a very good reform has been carried out, when privatization was conducted and private sector was involved in the development of the field, “Samtrest” has changed its function and was transformed into the regulator body.
I would estimate positively the activities completed by “Samtrest” in its time up to 2011-2012. It was the certifier, fighter against counterfeiting, controlling entity, and the active protector of appellations of origin.
Yet, in the beginning of the 2000, half of the export of Georgian wine included “Kindzmarauli” and “Khvanchkara”. The volumes of “Kvanchkara” and “Kindzmarauli” were equally the same and the cost was one and a half dollar. It was very difficult to fight against counterfeiting, to control it, and the specialists of the sector had to work very hard. Together with “Samtrest” other organizations were also actively involved in resolving this problem, and the field survived till now. Then I was also the supporter of “Samtrest”. Even today, many people who issued the first law of vine and wine still work with us. By the way, there are not many countries in the world which have a separate law on vine and wine. After destroying the soviet system the existing vacuum was filled just with this law. It may be said that even it was some revolutionary idea adopting the Vine and Wine Law in 1997.
Though, time has passed and, it should be mentioned that after the name “Samtrest” was changed with a new name “National Wine Agency”, it became the institution which has a different meaning and mission.
We have passed through the period when we used to fight against counterfeiting. Maybe the counterfeiters had some supporters… But we have already been moved to the new stage. However, if I am asked today, I would say that currently counterfeiting is a very meager problem in our sector and we have quite different challenges right now: We need to increase popularity of Georgian wine in those countries where Georgia and Georgian wine is not familiar. In the countries where Georgian wine is known we need to make the consumer younger and make them change their old opinions, as, unfortunately, most people of older generations remember Georgian wine and very often these are the stereotypes of Georgian wine, I mean the former soviet countries. In other countries people do not know us. In these countries we have to start everything from the beginning – either to create an image, or to change it.
And, our main challenge is to return wine culture in Georgia!
The years of bad periods have pulled us back, and we started to use beer and vodka instead. This happened not because of a good life. Wine is used by successful people and it is popular just in the successful countries.
Currently, the Wine Agency has two main trends: one is – the quality control and certification that will be continued and, to my mind, should be very strict but very simple and acceptable for everybody. I often repeat it that following the law should be easier than breaching it; the second trend is – the one on which the main part of our budget is spent – increasing popularity abroad and in Georgia. Or, I want to say that in Georgia, the National Wine Agency is the main moving force in resolving all the above-listed main problems.
And, maybe, next stages will cover delegating of all these processes. For the time being, control and certification, i.e. quality management and certification will still be left to the government but the issue of popularization of Georgian wine should be moved and given to the companies, associations, wine enthusiasts, who are involved in the process even today, who need to make their activities more effective. From this point, maybe at present the National Wine Agency represents some kind of a center but it is not our request we to remain as the main moving force in resolving this problem. Maybe, we, i.e. the government, will participate in this business with funds in the events scheduled for popularization of wine but time by time it should become a natural process, and all, who has some kind of relationship with this section, should be involved at maximum level in popularization of this culture.
To this, I would also add that we want to adopt a new term: not only the popularization of wine but it is needed to encourage the popularization of vine and wine culture in our country – Georgia, and beyond its borders.
Maybe in farther perspectives we will implement such a reform in the system of control that this issue will also be delegated. In many countries the companies themselves are interested in it in order to control one another. Maybe Georgian wine companies themselves will create such an organization which will do this and which they will trust to control Georgian wine quality. We observe the development of this section and when this issue is matured, we will make a step in this direction too.
My position is that we should not hinder the natural development of the field. If some problem appears there we need to be involved and encourage its development. I think, at this stage, we have rather a well-arranged field.
- Isn’t it scheduled to register some additional appellations of origin of wine?
- According to the legislation, a new term “Geographical Indication Wine” will be introduced that is approximately the same as the Appellation of Origin of wine, though it has less connection with the place. It is more oriented on reputation. The reputation is so well-known, for example, “Alaznis Valley” that it may be manufactured in Moldova, Ukraine, etc.; so, we want “Alaznis Valley” to be protected as geographical indication that is tied to Georgia.
- Samanishvili, maybe you’ll agree with me that, in respect with quality control, Georgian Table Wines are comparatively out of control, and before they are marketed they don’t go under state tasting. What’s your opinion about it, and will there be any changes in this sphere?
- I can’t say that they are completely out of control … Generally, the wine certification process covers: first – the official wine-producer should be registered at National Wine Agency; second – he/she should provide us with information about the volume of the grapes harvested or received, what volume of wine was made of it, which wines have been manufactured. If he/she has appellations of origin wines, for example, “Tsinandali”, we need to know in advance that he/she is going to produce this wine and how many liters of “Tsinandali” wine has been produced. We need to be informed if he/she has Saperavi, Usakhelouri, i.e., we make registration of the volumes of wines manufactured by all wine companies. During this period, without any preliminary notification, the agency checks the information of these companies on the spot. This process is still going on: spot-checks are conducted of how much correct information was given to the agency. As a rule, all the companies have rather a well-arranged system of this procedure.
The second stage of certification is foreseen for export wines, i.e., this company brings the samples in the accredited laboratory and makes analysis of these samples according to the requirements of the law. The Appellation of Origin wines arrive here for tasting, they are tasted whether they are in conformity with requirements that should have the Appellation of Origin wines, and later all this information is gathered at our agency: tasting, analysis, surplus, the pieces of information provided beforehand. Based on all these details the certificate is issued.
The difference between the table wines and the Appellations of Origin wines is only the fact that the table wines are not tasted. But they need to pass all other procedures. There was a talk to establish tasting of the table wines for controlling them. But this has both positive and negative sides. Today maybe it does not create a great problem; but it will not be a bad idea. We may think of it. At the same time we should foresee that establishing additional control should be carefully examined.
If we look at it generally, this is not because the quality control system exists but the fact that Georgian wine quality became rather high and we talk now only on some small details and stylistics. Fortunately, those bad wines almost do not exist in the country anymore.
- Or, we may say that the quality of Georgian wines has been improved due to imposing on them Russian embargo?
- We can’t tell that it is so… I have also heard this very often but I don’t like this formulation. Yes, in 2005 there were such companies which used to produce very low quality wines in Russia but I think those companies would not stand so long… I don’t know… Anyway, I know for sure that the good wine producers have had great loss due to Russian embargo and those bad wine manufacturers were transferred to other businesses. They did not make big investments in it or some other activities. From one side, it was good that those companies, in fact, do not exist anymore, or are dying. Fortunately, the good wine producing companies have survived in despite of the great financial shock.
This embargo has shown us why we should not be focused only on one market. Russia and the former soviet republics are actually considered as one region. Now the companies know that they should not be localized only on one country and they need to widen their trade area.
- Are we completely protected from counterfeiting today?
- No fake wine is exported from the country, 99.99%… As far as we are aware, on local market no fake bottled wine is sold. Generally, all of us know that some kind of falsified or low quality wine may be sold in bazaar, so I advise everybody not to purchase any wine in bazaar, especially if it costs 1-2 GEL.
I can say for sure that in Tbilisi it is not difficult to get a good wine, even if it is that on draught. There are wine shops, special company shops, supermarkets. The bottled wine is not as expensive as people think it is. We can buy a good wine in supermarkets for 4.90GEL. We can even purchase the good wine in 5-litre plastic bottles in Tbilisi, Batumi, maybe in Kutaisi too. In this respect in regions there may be some problem to get such wine but gradually this issue will also be resolved.
In restaurants you may meet the wine mixed with water. This is also considered as fake wine, and this is also the group of high risk. The government works on the problem of restaurants. The National food Agency is controlling it, we also cooperate with them, and however, we don’t conduct any control on restaurant wines. The plan was drafted jointly, and the performer and the main moving force is the National Food Agency. The wines on draught are checked and the responsibility is imposed on the restaurant management of not using fake wines. To my mind, it is only temporary, and time by time we need to start providing more cultural service. It enters into life gradually. It’s obvious the customer becomes more demanding but not at such a level as he/she should be.
The fact that in Tbilisi selling special wine glasses has been increased is a good mark that shows the customer becomes more and more exacting and the culture rises. This shows that in good glass we won’t taste bad wine, we will not like it. The small old wine glasses are of course very good and the part of our culture but it shows that people are more interested in it. Even the corkscrews you can find today in every family that was a rare case in the past. Increasing the incomes will help the wine culture to return to Georgia.
- Samanishvili, I would like to hear your opinion about Qvevri Wine classification. It’s a fact that Qvevri Wine has become a business card for Georgia throughout the world. And the ancient technology of making this wine has been acknowledged by UNESCO as well. But, as I know, there are two trends: one is making the wine using the absolutely natural method, and, the second – making the wine in qvevri (pitcher) with usual technology. And, which trend do you consider more important?
- In order to give you a full answer, let’s divide your question into two parts. There are different methods of wine-making in the world. But the whole world has agreed on one thing – what wine is and how it can be made. By the way, wine is a unique product and the whole world agrees on the fact that it is traditional and it does not need too much involvement. Nowhere is this permitted.
But for the last 10-15 years, one new trend has been separated from this wine – the so called natural wine trend that is some kind of continuation of organic wines. The approach is similar, only the organic wines need to have official certificate. Among the organic wines there are also distinguished the bio-dynamic wines which have farther strict rules to be followed that means there should be minimal involvement starting from the vineyard. There is a special list which drugs should be used for it and which shouldn’t. But the most important in bio-dynamics is the approach that, for example, as I remember, my grandfather used to consider the moon phases while gathering the harvest. In bio-dynamics it should also be considered. It should have a certificate that costs certain amount of money. So, the trend of bio-dynamics is being followed by the natural wine producers who without certificates prove that they follow minimal involvement. And, a separate niche has been established which is not a big quantity, less than 1%, generally, in the field, in the whole world, and in each country. But it is very popular, as many people speak of natural, ecologically clean product, etc. This niche is a growing one but still very small. This natural trend does not mean making the wine only in qvevri, it may be in cistern, or even in concrete wine vessel.
As for qvevri, for the last 10 years the Qvevri Wine has become very popular. 10 years ago we, the wine-makers, used to gather and taste the Qvevri Wine made by different wine-makers, and then we even could not imagine that this wine would become such a popular one. But gradually, it moved on and revived. In this business many good wine-makers contributed much, who have discussed of this subject too much. First we ourselves have believed that the Qvevri Wine had some potential, and later, it crossed the borders of the country. Today Qvevri Wine is the emblem of Georgian wine, the symbol of it, and we can tell that we can speak of it throughout the world and be proud of it. Especially, after we know that it is acknowledged by UNECSO.
And, if we consolidate these two questions, we can say that Qvevri Wine has found a very good place in this niche, the so called, natural wine segment because, clay, the clay beneath the ground, small manufacturers (imagine, if you make qvevri wine even if you have 100 qvevris, you can’t make more than 200,000liters of wine, and you know, how difficult it is to take care of 100 qvevris) become popular. It means that in this small niche where you can talk too much of wine, its extraordinariness, and, especially, when Georgian traditional Kakhetian method is connected to qvevri, where wine is made with special taste, qvevri is very popular, generally, everywhere but, especially, in this natural wine trend. That’s why very often the qvevri wine is associated with natural wine that is not bad because it also helps us in some way.
At the exhibition of natural wines Georgian wine-makers are standing as the leaders to whom the visitors come up and ask for advices, how they make wine.
So, both trends are very important. The qvevri wine is also very important in the segment of usual wines and we can talk here also too much. At the international exhibition where the tasters are walking dressed in tailcoats when they get acquainted with the Qvevri Wine they evaluate it highly. Our official position is that we support both trends and consider both trends as the priorities.
- And, still, both the popularization of Georgian wine and the publicity are estimated with the results, i.e. with the sales rate. Maybe we can talk more specifically about markets, what is scheduled to work up the new markets?
- For today there are selected 4 main directions: the USA, China, Poland and Great Britain, where the activities of National Wine Agency are more important. In the countries where we have representations they themselves arrange wine tasting events. Sometimes we also arrive there to participate. The wine tasting and presentations are arranged in the post-soviet countries also for changing the image; articles are issued in foreign media means, periodically invite wine journalists to Georgia, those people, who later will write some stories of our wine. Last year wine tourism international conference was arranged in Georgia, and this year it will be arranged in Champagne and we are invited to participate in the conference. I will make a speech at the conference. I’m also aware of the fact that it is possible next year Georgia to be the host for International Sommelier Association (A.S.I.) Assembly. We do our best the whole world to learn more about Georgian wine.
Besides these four markets, Georgia participates in all the important exhibitions. Very often the companies come to the exhibitions only in purpose to make their own contribution to increasing the popularity of Georgian wine. So, the field is trying jointly to talk of wine everywhere that also brings positive result.
We participate in the exhibitions arranged in Georgia – “Tbilisoba”, “Wine Day”. We are actively involved in such events. We have also funded several books and screened several documentaries. Especially, we are looking forward to appearing on screens the film about wine authored by Georgian Sommelier Association and directed by Nana Jorjadze.
For this time, the big part of export comes on the countries mostly where they know Georgian wine. These are post-soviet countries: Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus. From the side of Europe, Poland is a very important and growing market. 10 years ago our wine has not been exported there at all, and last year the exported wine to Poland made up more than one million bottles. It was one million two hundred thousand bottles and this vector does not stop; it is growing in a stable manner.
We want to be more active in Baltic countries where the market does not grow in the way it should do. Here we need to make a new image, and in this business Georgian Sommelier Association and its president Shalva Khetsuriani are involved.
China market is also the growing one. It is 0.3% currently, and even if it reaches 1% within next five years perspective (we even have not planned more) it will be important and sufficient for us.
We also want the sale to be increased in the United States of America as we see a big potential there.
- Wishing you a success in your activities, Mr. Samanishvili, and, here is my last question – what is wine for you?
- I can’t answer this question as wine for me is much more valuable thing than I can express in words. I am a wine-maker, the professional of this field, and wine is the part of my life both in emotional and essential understanding.
Like each Georgian person, I also think that when I am aged, I will have my own vineyard and make my own wine that will not be produced only for commercial purposes… Though, I think, I am not an exception in it.
For the time being, in Terjola Girogi Samanishvili has a small family vineyard inherited from his ancestors where together with his brother and sister and his own family he always participates in harvesting and pressing the grapes, and later their big family enjoys drinking the wine made of grapes grown on their family ground.
- Giorgi Samanishvili
- Giorgi Samanishvili at the Georgian Wine Days in Germany