Georgia: Russian ban on Georgian Wines
As I tucked into all manner of Caucasian delicacies, the smiley Georgian owner of the restaurant placed an array of further dishes in front of me. “Eat, eat! Don’t be shy!” she encouraged me, pointing at the beautifully presented food on the table.
Georgians are renowned for their warmth and hospitality, and food and drinking play a vital role in all social occasions. Wine-making is of particular importance to Georgian culture and national identity, in this country that gave birth to the production of wine 8000 years ago. Georgian born Stalin was a keen drinker of Khvanchkara wine.
In 2006 Russia banned Georgian wine, water and fruit, supposedly on the grounds of health issues. Given that wine accounts for 80% of the country’s exports, the ban had a substantial impact on the local economy. Ukraine is now Georgia’s main export destination.
Relationships between Georgia and Russia have long been sour, in particular following Russian involvement in territorial disputes in the region. Georgia accuses Moscow of supporting Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the two breakaway regions that the capital sees as independent states. Georgia does not recognise their independence, nor do most other UN member states.
There are no direct flights between Moscow and Georgia. If travelling to Tbilisi from Russia, the easiest route is via Yerevan in Armenia.
Muscovites’ love for Caucasian cuisine is evident in the innumerable Georgian restaurants dotted around the Russian capital. As Georgian grapes cannot feature on the extensive wine lists, Azerbaijani wine features heavily instead. Yet a little wink and a smile to the waiter will lead to a carafe of full-bodied or semi-sweet Georgian wine being placed on the table, illegally smuggled into the country via Belorussia with an Azerbaijani label.