Exports are down almost 40%, so Why are Georgian Winemakers smiling?

Highlands Region of Adjara, Georgia, Where Smallholder Cultivation Flourishes, Including Viticulture

Georgia, widely regarded as the birthplace of wine, is increasingly capturing international attention for its unique viti-culture heritage. But macroeconomic shocks are badly undermining demand for Georgian wine in its traditional markets like Russia and Ukraine, which both face severe economic slowdowns.

Data released in January by the Georgian National Wine Agency showed that Georgian wine exports were down 39% in 2015, driven by cratering demands in Russia and Ukraine: -51% and -56%, respectively.

Despite the gloomy trends, 2015 data might give Georgian winemakers reason for optimism. An unlikely third country, China, defied expectations and posted roaring 121% growth in 2015 — leaping into position as Georgia’s fourth largest wine market after Russia, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine.

I have heard that Georgian wine is becoming more popular in China, and I like that. There’s a sense of optimism among Georgian winemakers because China is a massive, wealthy market. And in general I like that we’re building relations with China.
— Male, Georgian, 26, Journalist, Tbilisi

Until recently, Georgia’s wine export strategy depended almost entirely on selling in post-Soviet states familiar with the Georgia’s viticulture brand. China, by contrast, is a success story for Georgia’s bid to translate its wines’ growing international acclaim into fresh export markets.

The Georgian government has aggressively courted the Chinese market, opening wine promotion centers and a constellation of “wine houses” to showcase the country’s ancient and varied offerings. If 2015’s robust numbers are anything to go by, Chinese consumers have responded enthusiastically — potentially showing a way forward for Georgia’s ambitious agricultural export strategy.