ABKHAZIA (Suchumi) - Nikolai Açba is dreaming of the day that he will export his wines to Europe and overseas and wine fans from all around the world will love and appreciate his wines. However, as the boss of the largest winery in the war-struck and devastated region Abkhazia, he has the problem that the only importer of his wines is the vodka-loving country Russia.
Other markets are not interested in his wines, since Abkhazia -an independent state- is only recognized by Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and the small Pacific island Nauru. The rest of the world is still confused about the political developments in the ongoing conflict between Georgia and Abkhazia. Only troops of about 10.000 Russians guarantee treacherous peace.
"Of course it is a problem that no other countries besides Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Nauru accept our documents and certificates" sighs Açba, who also represents the wine and spirits industry as director in Abkhazia. "Here, we depend on trade and export of tobacco, tea, fruit and wine. Those are our most important economic sectors. Besides the narrow coast along the Black Sea, where we can grow things, we have a large amount of hills and mountains. We are only minutes away from Turkey, however we are not allowed to export anything there either. That is our dilemma."
However, there are even more problems in Abkhazia. This region is virtually isolated from the rest of the world. There are no ATM's or companies and the trade there does not accept any credit cards. Russia, Abkhazia's huge neighbor in the North dominates the economy along the picturesque coast of the Black Sea, which used to be the most popular holiday destination in times of the Soviet Union.
Abkhazia is consequently using the Russian rubles as currency and half of the budget of the separatist government comes from Russia. About 80 percent of the foreign investors are Russians. "When the Russians began investing in Abkhazia in 1999 our wine and spirits industry started expanding. Today we almost produce eight million bottles of wine a year", says Açba.
"The continuous import of our wines to Russia encouraged me to found a large winery", explains Valery Avidzba, another big wine producer in Abkhazia. "The Russians still remember our wines from their summer trips to our region. They love our traditional sweet, young wines, that in other places, for example in Europe is most likely not wanted. For the Russians it is some sort of nostalgia."
Impressive metal tanks that both carry two million liters of wine can be found in the humid cellars of the large factory complex in the capital of Suchumi. But outside in the sunlight there is a spark of tons of French oak vats. "This is our future" explains Avidzba. "We planted new vineyards with European grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and here on this property we have enough room to install modern cellar technology, like in Europe."
"Yes, together we experiment here for wine of the future", says Said, a nephew of Açba and adds: "We have huge plans and want our wine economy to become like that of Europe." The Açba-family comes from an Abkhazian princely family and has been making wine in this region for many generations. Said Açba was sent to Bordeaux in order to study the viticulture and the craft of it from A to Z. Now he is an oenologist and back in Abkhazia in order to make a difference.
"We are determined to launch our wines on the global market", assures Said confident. "I think that we will soon be able to produce a respectable wine with a European style, philosophy and quality. After maybe two or three years we will meet again at wine tastings in Europe - that is my goal."(aw.yoopress / translator c.siegel)