Speaking with government officials at a televised outdoor meeting in a vineyard in eastern Georgian region of Kakheti, President Saakashvili said that grape and wine was “a matter of identity” for Georgia, which was more than just agriculture.
“[Grape] harvest is not an usual event,” he told Agriculture Minister Bakur Kvezereli, Governor of Kakheti region, Giorgi Gviniashvili, and other officials. “It’s very important fundamental political issue.”
“Grape and wine – it’s a matter of our identity, a genuine passport of culture, that’s our pride; that’s on which our identity, existence stands,” Saakashvili said.
“We have to work hard to popularize our wine, because, I repeat it again, that’s our passport in the civilized world,” he added.
He said that by banning import of Georgian wine, Russia wrongly thought it would have triggered residents of Kakheti, home to over 60% of Georgian vineyards, to turn against the Georgian government. He said that Russia also wrongly thought that the ban would have triggered collapse of the Georgian economy; he said that instead Georgia improved quality of its wines and diversified export markets.
Even if Russia opens its market for the Georgian wine, “one day they may again kick you out,” Saakashvili said.
“The Russian market is based on plunder, piracy, hypocrisy and illegality; but we have learnt to work in normal conditions.”
“Russia considers us as a huge problem, so unfortunately at this stage we should not expect anything good from them,” he said.
Agriculture Minister, Bakur Kvezereli, told the President that the Georgian winemakers had “learnt the lesson” of Russia’s embargo and were no longer actively seeking return on the Russian market.
Late last month Russia’s chief sanitary inspector, Gennady Onishchenko, said that Russian experts were ready to arrive in Georgia to inspect quality of the wines as soon as Georgian winemakers applied to his agency. In 2006 Russia banned import of Georgian wines, as well as of mineral waters citing sanitary reasons. Officials in Tbilisi say that such statements are made in Moscow time after time amid the Swiss-mediated talks with Georgia on Russia’s WTO entry terms. The issue of embargo, according to the Georgian negotiators, is not part of those negotiations because Russia will anyway have to lift that politically-motivated embargo when and if Russia joins WTO.
Saakashvili also said on September 3, that although Georgia diversified export markets for its wine, a lot still remains to be done in this direction, especially in respect of accessing markets in the Baltic states, as well as in Poland and especially in the United States.
2011 state budget allocates GEL 500,000 (about USD 300,000) for “measures aimed at promotion of the Georgian wine.”