Russian Imports of Georgian Wine Skyrocket After Ban is Lifted

Priest pours Georgian wine in glass
A priest pours monastery wine during the Wine Festival at an open-air museum in Tbilisi, May 14, 2011. Georgian wine imports have done well in Russia since the lifting of the 2006 embargo. David Mdzinarishvili/Reuters

Russia has more than doubled its imports of Georgian wine in the first two months of the year, only three years after lifting a ban on sales of the drink, Georgia’s National Wine Agency reports.

Moscow’s relations with Tbilisi were nearing an all-time low in 2006, when Georgia’s then-President Mikheil Saakashvili openly pursued NATO membership. In response, Russia slapped import sanctions on the former Soviet republic, banning sales of Georgian wine, mineral water and agricultural produce.

Saakashvili at the time said that Russia was trying to “strangle” Georgia’s economy, but the official reason given for the ban was that the products allegedly did not meet Russian safety standards. In 2013, however, after calls from both sides to resume trade of the popular drink, Russia reopened its market to Georgian vintners.

Georgia is one of the oldest winemaking countries in the world and it was one of the Soviet Union’s most renowned wine producers. Even after the collapse of Communism, wine remained a major national export and Russia remained Georgia’s biggest customer until 2006.

According to Georgia’s official statistics, wine exports to Russia have only gone from strength to strength since, as 2016 kicked off with a 154 percent increase in wine sales to Russia compared to the same period last year.

In the first two months of the year alone, 2.5 million bottles of red, white and sparkling Georgian wine made their way to Russia. This makes Russia the top importer of Georgian wine, buying more than all other countries in the top five—Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Poland and China—combined.

Georgia’s total wine exports for the start of the year are worth almost $11 million, which is over half of the country’s total $20 million alcohol export revenue.

Ironically, while Georgian wine is raking in the dollars on the Russian market, Russia’s national liquor, vodka, is suffering a drop in exports and in sales. Over 2015, exports of Russian-made vodka and other spirits dropped by 40 percent to a record 10-year-low.

Russia still has trade sanctions on a number of food products from European countries, in protest to their support for Ukraine. The destruction of smuggled European food products has caused a public outcry in Russia and remains a controversial issue.