Franco-Georgian alliance

Georgian Wines & Spirits currently account for only a small percentage of Pernod-Ricard’s portfolio, but increased investment and technological know-how are raising the stakes, says Nicholas Faith

JUST occasionally good deeds bring their own reward and not, as New Yorkers prefer to put it, their own punishment.  So it has been with the casual partnership arranged 10 years ago between Pernod-Ricard and the Georgians. Well, no, that’s not strictly true.

The partnership which created Georgian Wines & Spirits was between a bright young Georgian, Levan Gachechiladze, who was attending a Belgian business school, and Theodore Jansen, who was then in charge of a Dutch subsidiary of Pernod-Ricard.

Although head office knew nothing about the deal at the time, Jansen ensured that the infant GWS was backed by US$150,000 of Pernod’s money. 

Levan promptly teamed up with Georgia’s leading winemaker, the veteran Tamaz Kandelaki, who knew the exact sites of the best vineyards in a country which had been making wine for over 6,000 years.

The timing, however, was not propitious, with political conditions, shall we say, unsettled – at one point the winemakers were held up at gunpoint in their own tasting room.

But at least the venture proved that the leading local black grape, Saperavi, could become a competitor for Sangiovese, another variety with enough acidity combined with abundant fruit to accompany pasta – or rich Georgian food for that matter.

Fast forward to 1998, a year when everything started to change.  On the positive side Hugh Johnson’s earlier description of Georgia as "the Cradle of Wine" had been exploited by Sophia Gilliatt when helping to design Vinopolis, which featured Georgia’s gorgeous vinerelated gold ornaments dating back well into the pre-Christian era.

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