The CIS or Commonwealth of Independent States was formed in 1991; a union of 10 post-Soviet republics in Eastern Europe which marked the end of the Soviet Bloc.
Prior to the 1990s, former Soviet and Soviet-controlled countries were exclusively allowed to export within the Soviet Union. While the focus on Russia exports was on bulk rather than quality, the 2006 embargo on trade hit the CIS countries and other former Soviet states, and almost destroyed their wine industry. Russia’s aim was to bring the increasingly European-leaning erstwhile states to heel. They missed.
With their guaranteed export market stripped away, countries such as Moldova and Georgia turned to new, and more demanding, European and American export markets, with a resultant revolution in their quality aspirations.
Moldova’s Moving and Shaking
In Moldova, billions of dollars were wiped off the wine industry overnight with many wineries closing and those which survived having to change their strategy drastically to suit new potential export markets. Elizaveta Brehana of the Moldovan ONVV (the body responsible for regulating and developing Moldovan wine producers) expained:
“Half of the wineries shut down and thousands of people lost employment. I myself had many months when I wasn’t paid my wages. In that moment I understood that Moldova needs to produce high quality wines and to diversify markets.”
The response of the Moldovan wine industry was to create the Export Heroes project. This initiative helps bigger wineries to produce and position wines appropriate for new markets, helping to cultivate competitive branding and a presence in key export nations like the UK, USA, Germany and beyond.
Make mine a qvevri
Take also the way Georgian producers have embraced qvervi winemaking. It’s no longer a niche, hipstery thing – qvevri production has even reached the UK, with English winemakers using versions of this ancient Georgian clay fermenting vessel. In Georgia, the revival of this ancient technique was originally a protest against the homogenised, bulk output of the old Soviet policy. Today, highly technical producers are embracing and adapting qvevri to make seriously interesting wines with the consistent quality the older styles lacked.
Georgians in Japan
Similarly, Georgian producers – several steps ahead of Moldova and other CIS states – are increasingly working to specialise different products for different markets. Japan, for example, is an important market for high quality orange wine as it works incredibly well with their cuisine. The agreement of a new trade deal between Georgia and Japan is a key opportunity – and is being marked by the Japanese hosting of the acclaimed exhibition on Georgian wine culture which was originally developed by Bordeaux’s Cité du Vin. (Georgia is an increasingly favoured destination for Japanese tourists, who are drawn by their love of beautiful countryside, ancient history, and – yes, really – wrestling. The current Sumo Wrestling Champion of Japan is a Georgian.)