Working Lives Georgia

Working Lives Georgia: Wine merchant

If there's one export that encapsulates the spirit of Georgia's turbulent relationship with Russia it is wine, as Giorgi Margvelashvili, 39, knows all too well.

Together with his twin brother he runs Tbilvino, the country's largest exporter of Georgian wine.

Georgia Direct graphic

In 2012, the company produced three million bottles of the drink that graces many Georgian dinner tables and every feast.

(They say the Georgians have been making the stuff for 7000 years.)

As he walks through his company's cavernous wine cellar in Tbilisi, Giorgi beams with pride, but his is an industry that has been through tough times.

Seven years ago the Georgian wine industry was decimated when Russia placed an embargo on imports of Georgian wine, barring it from its largest market.

At that time Russia took more than 80% of Georgia's wine exports, so the embargo was designed to exerted significant pressure on a country seeking to escape Moscow's influence.

"We were very close to bankruptcy," remembers Giorgi. The ban from selling to Russia forced him to look for new opportunities.

Giorgi helped to rebrand the company, finding new buyers in the Baltic states, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Belarus, Azerbaijan and Poland.

This year Russia says it will lift the embargo, opening up the possibility for Tbilvino and other large exporters to sell to Georgia's former colonial power and warring partner.

But, having survived the crisis, Giorgi says he would be "mad" to depend on one market again. He now sells to many others around the world, and feels he has the whip hand over the returning Russians.

After a meeting with some Russian wine importers, he said: "Lots of them want Georgian wine now. But we are in a good position. There is more demand than supply."

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