Georgia invests in hi-tech wine testing lab

- Last updated on GMT

Archeologists believe that wine was first fermented in the now
Republic of Georgia 9,000 years ago. But, the opening of a new
hi-tech wine testing laboratory has given Georgian winemakers a
reason to look to the future, writes Kim Hunter Gordon.

According to the Georgian Ministry of Food and Agriculture, the laboratory, which was opened in Tbilisi on Tuesday, is the only one of its kind in Eastern Europe.

Georgia has long suffered from a reputation of producing poor quality wine, notorious for containing illegal additives and stray grape varieties. The new lab, which was funded with 1.4 billion euros by German company GTZ, will certify safety, place of origin and identify illegal additives. Being able to meet the quality and safety standards needed to beat legislation and consumer confidence will allow the country to export more wine to foreign markets.

Georgia was the wine factory of the Soviet Union and its famous son Joseph Stalin was known to be fond of some of its produce. Needless to say, most of Georgia's vineyards wouldn't have been to the dictator's taste, and few will feature in the auction of his wine collection at Sotheby's this month.

There are about 500 indigenous grape varieties growing in Georgia, of which around 40 are in commercial production with wineries producing only 15 per cent of what they did during the Soviet period. Many of the owners are those who ran the wineries during that time and quantity is often still a more obvious goal than quality.

But, things are beginning to change. Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania seems determined to cash in on the industry. He said on Tuesday that "2005 will be crucial in terms of the renaissance of the wine sector. The era of the destruction of the market by adulterated wine is already over."

Last year Georgian winemaker Shalva Khetsuriani won the Geoffrey Roberts Award for Great Potential in the Worlds of Food, Wine and Travel. And, since November 2003 the Georgian Wines and Spirits Company, part of Pernod Ricard, has exported three wines to the UK.

Pernod Ricard has for some time been pushing for a system of quality control. In 2001 Philippe Coutin, general manager the company's Moscow office told BusinessWeek that ''without that kind of body, it will be very difficult to give consumers confidence."

Now in place, we can expect the country to begin to export with increasing stature, playing on its heritage as the birthplace of viticulture.

Related topics: Markets, Beer, Wine, Spirits, Cider

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