Sandwiched between the European and Asian continents, Georgia boasts ancient and booming viticulture.
Along the coast, the country has a cool temperate climate. However, the central and western plains, benefiting from lower rainfall and higher temperatures, are home to several micro subtropical zones.
Up until recently, these microclimates have helped the country’s age-old wine industry thrive. The country’s wine export market faced near collapse after the Georgian-Russian war in 2008 which was followed by heavy sanctions from Moscow.
Today, thanks to low production costs and a heavier focus on European and American markets, business is booming.
That said, climate change has devastated much of this year’s crop and the ongoing war in Ukraine may affect this year’s sales, as Russia remains the biggest importer of Georgian wine.
Despite challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, Tbilisi exported more than 100 million bottles of wine in 2021, and, more than half of these were sold on Russian markets.
"Since 2013-14, the volume of Georgian wine exports has grown," says Levan Mekhuzla, Chairman of the National Wine Agency. "However, in recent years there have been some challenges, which were primarily caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“2021 was the most successful year since the country gained independence. However, this year we still face problems because of the war in Ukraine,” he concludes.
Global warming impacting the vineyards
In addition to Russia's invasion and the COVID-19 pandemic, much of this year's harvest has been laid to waste due to soaring summer temperatures and prolonged drought.
“We are now in the micro-zone of Tsinandali, but if we move to other areas, the problem is the same," says Giorgi Ghvardzelashvili, who has worked in viticulture for many years. “Everyone I know and consult says the same. All the winemakers are facing the same problem: their vineyards are also drying up."
“Now, it is impossible to go on without special irrigation systems since the climate has changed so much”, he warns.
The NGO Shaping the Future by Changing Today (CENN) says global warming is also affecting Georgia's sub-tropical zones where most of the country's commercial wine production takes place.
With at least 430 indigenous grape varieties, drier wines are more popular on the US market. However, 70 per cent of the wines produced on Georgian soil are semi-sweet varieties.
"As a result of certain conditions, the soil can be degraded, and climate change can provoke this process. The increased number of hot days and droughts can lead to the destruction of vegetation,” says Jimsher Koshadze, CENN Coordinator in agriculture and development.
While the full effects of global warming on the country's vineyards remain to be seen, ecologists say that if nothing changes, the future of this emerging wine market will hang in the balance.