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Gastronomy and Wine Portal

Ljudmila Bobik: “I am grateful to the destiny that there are always special people on my way”

Today, Ukrainians, who act according to the slogan “what does not kill us, makes us stronger”, show the world miracles both on the battlefield and at work. And the wine industry is no exception. Our journalists now have to observe almost unbelievable stories of people that are worthy of reflection, if not in marble during their lifetime, then in literary genres. We bring to your attention one of such life stories. The columnist D+ interviewed a resident of Uzhgorod, who made a breakthrough in her career and, having given up the comfortable chair of the owner of a prosperous business, chose the profession of a sommelier. In an incredibly short period of time, she managed to study in London and Bordeaux, gain experience in a Michelin-starred restaurant, at a winery in the Loire Valley, and as a global market analyst. And Ljudmila Bobik had to go through a significant part of this path already during the liberation war of Ukraine with russia.


D+: Ljudmila, I looked over your resume and was surprised by the twists and turns of your fate, and even more so by the rapid development of your professional career in the wine industry. What brought you to wine education? Perhaps it wasn’t your dream since childhood?

Yes, you are right, a few years ago, I made a sudden change in my career. It happened unexpectedly for me, but really on time. I consider it a gift of destiny. I was a successful top manager in another industry – selling fibreglass premium-class swimming pools and equipment from leading European producers. It was our family business. After the divorce, I founded my own company, which had exclusive rights from one Spanish manufacturer on the territory of Ukraine. Thanks to many years of management experience, I was able to organize my work in such a way, that I could travel at the same time. Over the past fifteen years, I have visited more than 30 countries around the world on three continents, as I’m a real passionate traveller.

It was one of those regular summer trips and I’ve decided to spend it in Sicily ‘cause kitesurfing is one of my hobbies. That hot Italian evening, as they say, I was “surfing” through pages of Google (at that moment I was found reading the blog of Eugeniy Chichvarkin on Instagram). And so, just out of curiosity, I opened his website Hedonism Wines… I must admit frankly, I was embarrassed because I realized that I was looking at dozens of coloured wine labels and didn’t understand anything. And when I saw the prices with four zeros, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Of course, a lot of questions arose. And I went to the section where the team is presented: I wanted to understand what kind of education is necessary to get to be more comfortable in this wine space. The wine consultants listed their education with the abbreviation WSET.

Людмила Бібик

It was on that warm August Sicilian evening while sipping delicious local Nero d’Avola, I discovered for myself a new universe and the existence of wine education.

D+: And what, you dropped everything and started acting?

Almost: I found a window in my work schedule for September, and, without hesitation, sent an application for the 2nd level intensive the very next day. I have always admired England and its history. So decided that a visit to London, plus something useful for comprehensive development, is a good idea. The one-week intensive wine course in London changed everything about me. I still remember that storm of positive emotions, a kind of excitement and just “wow!” from everything I heard. And unexpectedly for myself, I realized that I have well-developed receptors, so it was very easy for me to describe wine. In short, I returned home and immediately invited my friends to my first wine tasting. I wanted to share the experience with as many people as possible and shout: “Bingo! We can read the wine!”. That’s how I discovered a new, exciting, sophisticated and diverse world – the world of wine. But I received only a small piece of information that could answer those many questions which arose while flipping through the pages of the Hedonism webpage. At that moment, I understood that I had to move on. And immediately after receiving the result of the 2nd level exam, I applied for the 3rd one. At the same time, I began to research all possible information about the wine. I learned later that the WSET school has branches in 70 countries around the world and Ukraine as well. While waiting for the exam results, I accidentally came across an announcement on Facebook about the 1st Wine Hub in Kyiv in February 2020. I am very glad that I attended this event. But it again gave me a lot of new questions to think about. Because it was a wine business meeting and discussions. It was about marketing, trends, and production problems. There I learned about educational offers in Ukraine. That was the first time I looked at the wine industry from a business perspective, which started to interest me a lot, although it had nothing to do with the purely academic teaching of the material during the wine course in London. You may have already guessed what my next step was – I found a sommelier school in the same London and paid for the nearest course to make an independent assessment of the difference between these two types of wine schools. This moment was fateful for me because I realized that I was no longer just playing a wine lover, but began to seriously delve into it. And the further I moved, the more questions I had, but at the same time, the feeling of admiration didn’t subside. This knowledge had become like a drug for me (a state in which I have been already for the fourth year). Then, in February 2020, I decided to sell my company and go deep into studying and understanding this new for me wine direction. The wine topic gave me emotions of a new level, the knowledge of something extraordinary, which brings intellectual, cultural and gastronomic pleasure. So, at the start there was no clear plan – I just trusted my heart and intuition.

And then, already in the process, at the subconscious level, the habit of thinking strategically, having several options for the development of the situation and clear goals, developed over the years was included. But the most important thing was full dedication and passion for what I was doing!

Людмила Бобик

D+: I know that you have recently successfully defended your thesis and are receiving the title of Masters & MBA in Wine Marketing and Management. Can you explain how it is located in the coordinate system of wine education? Most of us know that there are levels of WSET, MW, etc. To what level is your title adequate, how much do you need to study, and which exams to pass – please share with those of our readers who are interested in moving to higher levels of education.

At the end of August 2022, I successfully graduated from INSEEC (Institute of Higher Economic and Commercial Education), which was renamed OMNES just last year. This French higher education school was founded in 1975 as a private institution with 10 branches around the world. By the way, the Institute is considered the best business school in France. As for my education, the abbreviation MBA briefly speaks for itself – Master of Business Administration. The basic level of the INSEEC institute involves three years of study. The best students have the opportunity to continue their studies at the Masters level, a program which is designed for two years. Graduates are top-class specialists according to the best world standards in the business. As in any educational institution, this one also has different faculties. The Faculty of “Wine Marketing and Management” is one of it, which is considered a specialized wine business education. It covers all areas of the wine business with a detailed study of the specifics of the main strategic wine markets of the world and those that are developing. The program includes marketing strategies, e-commerce, international wine trade, business negotiations and types of agreements, the legal side, pricing, management of wineries with the development of a business plan for production, international logistics, branding, media marketing, and wine tourism. All lecturers are held by top managers from different areas of the wine industry: corporate top managers, CEOs or top managers of online wine platforms (Vivino, WineLister, Liv-Ex and others), lawyers of well-known wine corporations, etc. Our studies were in the form of 100% real -case studies examples from the modern wine business with their detailed analysis.

I’m not familiar with the information about the procedure and requirements for admission to the entry level: as I said, I immediately submitted a package of documents (all previously obtained specialized certificates WSET 3, CMS and AIS Diploma) for the 2nd, that is, the highest level of Masters (MS2), considering CV with 15 years of business experience in top management positions, albeit in a different industry. Then there was an interview in a very unusual (modern) format.

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D+: Which one exactly? Decipher, please.

I received clear, detailed instructions that even included requirements for appearance and dress code. The interview was digital. Before starting, I received a link to the online page. Questions were presented on the monitor and I had one minute to prepare, and then my task was to formulate a complex answer lasting two minutes and dictate it. A new question appeared exactly after 2 minutes. Of course, the content of the questions was unknown and even the number of questions was not announced in advance. The language of the interview was English, as for all further studies. By the way, the language of study can be chosen: either 100% English or 100% French, or both 50% English and 50% French.

I waited for the result quite a long time, I remember, I even lost hope. A positive answer came three months later.

As for Masters of Wine (MW), this is a title obtained after graduating from the privately owned “The Institute of Masters of Wine”, founded in London in 1955. Before entering the MW study programme, prospective students must have advanced qualifications in wine, at least Diploma level from the WSET, or a sommelier certificate of an appropriate higher level, such as an Advanced Sommelier from the Court of Master Sommeliers. In addition, ideally, the applicants should have a minimum of three years of professional working experience in the international wine industry. Applicants must submit a basic essay, pass a blind tasting exam and a short motivation letter that clearly explains the goal of becoming a Masters of Wine. The program of the English institute can be approximately (by 70%) equated to the Masters program at the INSEEC business school. I say this because I had the opportunity to familiarize myself with the questions of the written part of the final exam for MW and understood all the answers related to business. The difference is that the English institute nevertheless focuses more on the scientific aspect of knowledge of oenology, and high awareness of wine evaluation. Therefore, I would call this higher wine education scientific. While studying in Bordeaux, I systematically attended blind tasting practices for applicants to the MW degree and our group consisted of sommeliers with titles from international competitions and graduates of the WSET Diploma level. We also practised and analyzed the specifics of theory questions. Tastings were led by one of the MW candidates. To apply for admission to MW, you also need to have a mentor, that is, someone who already holds this high rank.

Людмила Бібик

There is also the title MS or Masters Sommelier. This is the highest title in the field of HoReCa, which is highly valued in Europe and around the world. This is already the third school with a world name that trains sommeliers of the highest status in the Court of Masters Sommeliers. Very interestingly and in detail, these schools and exams are described in the autobiographical book of Gerard Basset, who was the first holder in the world of all three Master’s school statuses.

D+: If you compare the institutions where you studied, what exactly distinguishes the sommelier school from the programs of other courses?

Back then, at the beginning of my wine journey, it was a real discovery for me that London is the world’s wine capital. That’s why I say: higher-quality education with the best specialists and practical samples of wine cannot be found anywhere else. After successfully completing WSET Level 3 with a mark “Pass with Marit”, I chose the sommelier school at the UK Association of Sommeliers. And I don’t regret it. The basis of the course is the complete program and methodology of the Italian Sommelier School with an in-depth study of the wine regions of Italy and their unique autochthonous grape varieties. Also, this school provides an in-depth study and understanding of the principles of combining wine and various dishes. And the third component is service. But I must note that I learned all the details of the highest service standards later in practice, working in a Michelin restaurant.

D+: After having your own business, not everyone will be ready to go, so to speak, “into the fields” of the hospitality sector. Haven’t you been told that sounds weird?

Imagine, at that moment, after finishing wine school, I dreamed of working as a sommelier – and only in a Michelin-starred category-level restaurant. Yes, it looks a little strange: to be so eager to work in the hospitality sector, considering that before I was a top manager and the owner of a successful company. But I became so obsessed with the desire to learn about wine that I saw the only chance available to me to re-taste all the dream samples of wines if started to work as a sommelier. By the way, I was often asked about this at interviews. So, with no experience whatsoever, but with recommendations prooved by high marks in the sommelier school exams, namely from Andrea Rinaldi – President of the UK Sommelier Association – I sent out my CV to London’s top restaurants. And it turned out that four Michelin restaurants were ready to hire me at once! I was lucky even to choose one of them by myself. But there is a small detail (so don’t get the impression that getting a sommelier position in London is too simple, especially in a Michelin-starred restaurant,). The situation worked in my favour: after the second lockdown, a lot of hospitality workers left London, including sommeliers. This was one of the advantages of getting a position easier. Although it is clear, I was lucky to receive invitations to work in the best places primarily thanks to my professional education.

Людмила Бобик

D+: By the way, regarding education, to summarize, which of the schools to choose – what are your recommendations?

If you want to go into the wine business, choose WSET (you must pass all four levels), and it will take at least five years because 80% of students do not pass the third level from the first attempt. Studying requires an excellent command of the English language and writing.

Studying in an MBA is a great option specifically for a business career too, but I would advise finding a sponsoring company (during the entering procedures, the school provides access to a database of European companies that are ready to pay for study with parallel employment and it’s called “alternance”).

If you plan to get a prestigious job in the field of hospitality or to be a professional wine consultant at HoReCa, I undoubtedly recommend the sommelier school. A true sommelier is a person-encyclopedia, a wine addict for whom wine is the vocation and sense of life. I have great respect to people of this profession. Also, training in sommelier schools has the most effective ratio of price/time/knowledge gained. For example, the Court of Master Sommeliers textbook contains the entire volume of study material at once, including information for the Advanced level exam.

Людмила Бобик

WSET doesn’t have that. There, extended training and information are given dosed in accordance with the level. The first three levels of the WSET do not contain any precise information about real-case samples from the wine business and it’s logical, as those levels prepare students for a further one. Though, at the Diploma level, there is only one unit block on the wine business. That’s why I didn’t go to the Diploma level but chose a reputable specialized wine business faculty.

While working in one of London’s Michelin-star restaurants, I passed the Court of Masters Sommelier certification exam. It would be impossible to pass this exam without the previously acquired knowledge. There is, of course, another option – to have two or three years of work experience as a sommelier. My apologies for not being humble in mentioning my service abilities, but in just one month of working at Michelin, I was trained so well that I received the highest score for service on the CMS exam. Thanks to the interviews during the hiring process, I’ve met many of the most famous Londons’ Head Sommeliers.

Людмила Бобик

D+: I have long ago wanted to look behind the scenes of a star restaurant. After all, I understand that the same beauty and refinement of details in everything that guests see, looks a little different at backstage. I assume that not all employees can withstand this pressure because apparently there is almost military discipline (perhaps even the traditions of relations are similar to those “military”, right?) and strict requirements for personnel. Can you satisfy my curiosity – what does the day of an employee of a star restaurant look like?

So. Everything is correct. The requirements for standards are the highest, there are a lot of rules connected with service moments and therefore discipline is a core always and in everything. But discipline often goes overboard. So I call my period in a Michelin-starred restaurant a little rude, but most close to “special forces”. Because the conditions were often simply not human: you don’t have the right to sit down even for a minute, and you don’t have time for that either. But when you’re on your feet from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., which is the end of the first shift, and then immediately begins preparation for dinner and evening service until midnight, or even longer, and all this with the opportunity to go on a break in turn for only 30 minutes, and another 30 minutes are allocated for lunch, which you often eat standing up, so I’m not sure that everyone who dreams of working under the stars of “Michelin” can stand it. The pace of the service is simply insane because everything has to be on time, everything according to the rules, the guest never touches the bottle, and one sommelier has more than two dozen such guests at the same time (and during the evening service, even more than thirty people). And you have to make sure that nobody’s throat, sorry, doesn’t dry up (guests really know the rules and nobody even thinks to serve water to themselves) – you had to walk fast all the time. The schedule is also crazy: four working days with two shifts, or two services daily, and only the fifth day – one service. Often senior staff (waiters) try to burden newcomers and additionally train them in “rigidity”. That is, almost military hazing, I even had to hear rude phrases from some of my colleagues (these people simply do not even notice who they have become after years of work). I can just be compassionate to them… I will also note the following specifics: as a newbie, in addition to two services after midnight, I was also asked (politely, but in a commanding tone) for an indefinite period of time to help the staff in the glass washing section to perfectly wipe the glasses. The restaurant where I worked had 150 seats and all the glasses were Riedel and Zalto. That’s how I learned to perfectly wipe glasses in a month, which also has its technology. But after these additional tasks, I crawled home at 3 in the morning. And at 8 o’clock it’s already up again… After several months of work, my illusions about the honorary position of a sommelier in “Michelin” shattered against the hard everyday reality. And if in the beginning, I was motivating myself by discovering and tasting real wine treasures, then later everything turned into trekking (and it reached more than 10 km per working day on my Apple Watch) to keep alive until the two days off… It’s good that I ran every morning 6 km during the lockdown, so everything was fine with my physical state of health. But in such conditions, money is no longer a joy (although the salary was excellent). So, just five months later, I submitted my resignation letter. At the same time, I was offered to be the managing sommelier in a small Italian restaurant in the very city centre, but the so-called residual aftertaste and disgust from the everyday realities of the previous place of work created resistance in my mind. And I, having to outstep this experience, moved on.

Людмила Бобик

D+: Forgive me for forcing you to return to unpleasant memories, but I will still ask – how are the responsibilities of sommeliers in “Michelin” divided: are the wines fixed among the team members by country, or by price level, or according to some other principle? I understand that each institution has its own rules, but for the most part, how is it arranged?

Service is provided to the same standard by everyone, but recommendations are mostly made by senior sommeliers. When there were a lot of guests, I was made an exception and allowed to make recommendations as well. The number of sommeliers depends on the number of seats. The only thing is that the Head Sommelier mostly manages the process and makes sure that everything is clear, beautiful, refined and on time. He/She also does wine service for VIP guests in the main hall. We had three separate additional VIP rooms, where the service was conducted by each of the sommeliers in turn and the one on duty was appointed by the Head Sommelier. We always knew in advance who our guests were because twice a day we had a short briefing (10-15 minutes), where the restaurant manager explained in detail the special wishes of each table reservation. It was practically impossible to enter our restaurant without a prior booking. During the service, each sommelier had a clearly defined section of the restaurant space to serve. But if someone was freer, he/she always helped a colleague with the service of his/her tables.

D+: How were sales trainings conducted, do they give instructions on how to sell more expensive wine?

Once a week, for 30 minutes we were practicing blind tastings held by the Head Sommelier. There were no special sales instructions. All sommeliers (and there were four of us) have an understanding of the availability of wine. And for the service, this is one of the features of the work, when the sommelier has to skillfully understand the taste of the guest and the approximate price maximum during communication and making recommendations. A talented and educated sommelier will find a way to offer a rare sample because you always get a special pleasure from it by yourself – as you tell the story of the wine, describe the aromas and tastes in combination with the dishes. A sommelier should appreciate guests and be their best advisor. The guests of our Michelin-starred restaurant – and it was located in one of the skyscrapers of the banking centre of London, i.e. the most expensive part of the city – were mostly open to interesting offers. Also, many of them were knowledgeable in exclusive wines, so communicating with them during recommendations was a real pleasure.

Людмила Бобик

D+: And what about your idea – to taste all the wines of your dreams?

The goal was achieved in just a few months, thanks to the wine list of our restaurant, which had 60 pages and an excellent selection of the assortment. But, as it turned out, I was not satisfied with the prospects of the next two or three years. I skillfully mastered all the requirements for Michelin standards in the shortest possible time, which, I note, was very surprising to the restaurant management. But there was no development: according to the rules, according to the rank, I had to perform the boring basic work of a Junior sommelier for at least a year! For example, I had much higher knowledge than my colleague, who had already worked for two years, and I became impeccable in the field of service in just a month. But I didn’t have those formal hours – so I wasn’t allowed to fully use all the knowledge in practice. Instead, I heard from my colleagues: “What, you are going to make a revolution in our field?” The rules didn’t envision rapid personal or career development!”. So, I decided to move on in another wine direction that could satisfy the level of my requirements. Especially since there were still many questions that I had not received answers to in the previous two schools. So, in July 2021, I submitted the resignation letter, and at the end of September, I started studying again, having moved to France, in Bordeaux.

Людмила Бобик

D+: As far as I understand, the war caught you there? On the Facebook page, you shared your regret that it was not possible to write a thesis on the topic of Ukrainian winemaking. What exactly did you want to tell the world about our country?

I had an idea for the project and for this I had to work closely on studying and analysing the consumer tendencies in the wine market in Ukraine (surveys, interviews, testing). And the beginning of the war made all my research work impossible. Like all Ukrainians, I believe in our victory and then, if it is still relevant, I will return to my idea. Since this project is an idea, I cannot disclose it. I would like to note that, unfortunately, the Ukrainian digital space is very limited by open professional information (different statistical data) from the wine industry. When I was preparing a business case for the premiumization of Sicilian wines for the Ukrainian market, I encountered simply terribly outdated analytics, and a lack of access to the type of information that we easily found when preparing business cases about the European or the USA wine market. During my study experience, I had to face a lack of information only in countries where the wine sector is developing. Of course, the most valuable info in Asia was in Chinese, so luckily for our group, we had a native speaker among us, so we could turn to him when working on China-related projects. I also noticed that the availability, quality and quantity of information about the market made it clear the economic level and transparency of doing business in specific countries. I am currently studying and observing the work of the Ukrainian wine market and in the future, I have a great desire to meet and communicate personally with Ukrainian sommeliers and winemakers/wine producers. And I would still like to talk about Ukraine and Ukrainian wine and present it from the position of a sommelier. But for this, I need to taste all possible Ukrainian samples today and form my own professional opinion. That is, I have plans to dive deeper into the world of Ukrainian wine.

D+: Instead, your topic sounded like this: “The canned wine and its perception by the French market”. Can you elaborate – what, in your opinion, are the prospects of such a container?

Людмила Бобик

This is a very interesting topic with future prospects. The type of packaging is still unusual and not too familiar for European consumers, but in the USA and Australia, the wine-in-can has successfully established its position and has been actively developing since 2001. A big role in the perception of an aluminium can is played by the culture of the country, and US consumers, as you know, are very democratic.

Of course, this type of packaging is intended only for wines ready to drink, and that type of wine volume on the shelves is 90%. Usually, the maximum shelf life or terms of use of this type of packaging should not exceed one year. There is a producer in France who packages quality aged organic wine. In England, the segment of premium wines in cans is generally developing. There are many additional specific requirements which make wine suitable for this type of packaging. It should also be taken into account that this is an alternative type of packaging for certain places of consumption. An aluminium can can’t completely replace a glass bottle. Wines with a long ageing potential it is ideal to store exclusively in glass.

From an environmental point of view, this type of packaging has many advantages in use over a glass bottle, although there are also disadvantages. But that is a big and interesting separate topic.

D+: My next question follows logically from the previous ones: what is your final goal, what exactly do you want to do in the wine business?

My initial desire has remained unchanged – I want to make as many consumers as possible fall in love with wine and help them understand it. I would also be glad one day to give lectures on wine marketing for Ukrainian youth who plan to do it professionally. The business school in Bordeaux finally put everything in order and on its shelves and I have a clear understanding of the structure, principles and interaction of all areas of the wine industry. All three schools were important, three completely different directions that helped me develop a deep understanding of the exquisitely worked-out system of this complex wine organism. The aim is to have my own project. But while it’s in the process of creation at the moment, I will not make any statements in advance.

Людмила Бобик

D+: You recently completed an internship in the Loire Valley, also helping to harvest, and oversee the winemaking processes. I guess one can only dream about that, right? Share, have you had to learn something fundamentally new, which is not told during the study of theory?

It was extremely interesting to dive into the everyday life of a small French winery. The first thing that struck me was the modern equipment with digital control because this is not even a mini-factory. It is nice to note the level of quality control in all processes, starting from the picking of grapes in the vineyard. There were many technological points that neither the WSET school nor the sommelier school teach, but this is not necessary for people who will not connect their lives with wine production. There are specialized faculties for the profession of winemaker and oenologist. It was important for me to finish this year at the winery, because, in parallel with my office work (as the export manager during the internship period), I observed the life of the vine almost every day, starting in April, how it behaves in different soils, on different altitudes of the vineyard in the landscape. So, it was interesting to see how this affects the quality of the future product. I am very satisfied with this experience.

D+: During your education, you had to live in different countries, so you saw different wine communities. At least in Great Britain and France (perhaps in some other countries?). How do they differ, what do they have in common – apart from, of course, the wine itself?

My most vivid impressions are from the sommelier community in London. It is interesting that probably more than 80% are Italians. Relations between the majority are good and warm. Sommeliers often share interesting new wine samples and places where you can buy this or that wine. It was the Italians who helped and supported me in many ways. At that time, I was preparing for the Court of Masters Sommelier certification exam, and it was the Italian sommelier Beatrice Bessi who helped me and gave me two free master classes on blind tasting and champagne service. By the way, she is also an honorary judge in the Decanter nominations. Once again, I am very grateful to the sommelier school of The UK Association of Sommeliers, namely Federica Zanghirella, for the detailed instructions in understanding the pairing of wine with food. Many thanks to Andrea Rinaldi for the service lessons, which are of course an integral part of the sommelier’s role in a restaurant.

I also developed good relationships with sommeliers and wine professionals in Bordeaux during my time in business school. In our group there were also those who were preparing for the entrance or final exams for the WSET Diploma, there were three MW candidates. All of us were united by the desire to better understand the principles of blind tasting and simple communication, all about the same wine.

Людмила Бобик

D+: This year, our Drinks+ media group had the honour of co-organizing the Ukrainian national stand at the London Wine Fair, as well as the Wine Travel Awards ceremony. It was very difficult for us, considering that we were doing everything in the conditions of a war waged against our country. And the first to lend us a helping hand was The UK Association of Sommeliers. To be honest, we are impressed by such a vast combination of professional level and humanity, passion for work and desire to help, which the English sommeliers demonstrated. Are we right – it’s no coincidence that the UK sommelier community really has such a high level of communication principles? Please tell us more about people in the UK hospitality wine industry.

Allow me to clarify: although you have been supported by The UK Association of Sommeliers, the vast majority of its leadership are Italians. As I mentioned above, these are very open and sincere people. Their nation is sunny and happy. In general, the sommelier community in London is international, so everyone knows what it’s like to be in a foreign country. This is probably the main thing that unites all British sommeliers so strongly. And that’s why there are sincere relations and mutual support and understanding between everyone. By the way, during my work and studies, I did not have the opportunity to meet a purely Englishman or an Englishwoman in the HoReCa field. Also, in my opinion, Ukraine is now supported by the whole world and it was really a charitable gesture from the side of The UK Association of Sommeliers to help you present Ukrainian wine. Because usually, as everywhere, and especially in London, any serious services are paid and it is understandable – it’s a business.

D+: The next question will be about national sommelier associations. What is their ideal function – from your point of view?

The Association of Sommeliers is an organization that unites people by professional skills, that is, sommeliers. The association cooperates with sommelier schools, namely, creates and monitors the teaching program in accordance with the standards of well-known world schools and informs about updates of current trends. It organizes sommelier competitions, and interesting events and thus is the initiator of networking, and exchange of experience, novelties or ideas. The Association of sommeliers should play the role of an intermediary between the winemaker (producer) and the consumer. Also, one of the main missions of the Association of Sommeliers of a specific country is the promotion and popularization, first of all, the best samples of local wine products. It may sound unexpected, but since the president and vice president of The UK Association of Sommeliers are Italians, so this association is extremely active in promoting the brand of Italy as a wine country in London. Even the main sponsor of the competition for the best sommelier in Great Britain is always one of the famous Italian wine houses.

I would like to note that the right to become a member of any of the European associations of sommeliers is exclusively for sommeliers who have received professional education and successfully passed exams.

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D+: I know you had to collect analytics for one of the head consultants in the wine industry for the World Bank – can you tell us more about this mission and comment on the main global trends?

I am truly grateful to destiny that there are always special people on my way. This is exactly what I consider the experience of working at Frederic Julia’s company – Verthemis International. Yes, he is currently a consultant on international wine expertise and technical support from such international financial institutions as the World Bank Group, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Food and Agricultural Organization, the International American Bank, and the International Finance Corporation. But this is only one of his activities. I worked in his company in the export department. My responsibilities included a detailed analysis of potential companies of a certain segment in European countries for partnership – the sales of an assortment of the company’s portfolio, which included not only wines but also several exclusive positions of spirits. Another interesting experience was the analysis of the French spirits market, as the company is currently at the stage of introducing a new product to this market.

About trends. In my opinion, it is possible to consider the trend regarding a specific country, because consumers of different countries have very different tastes and local traditions, history, mentality, and economic factors influence this. A few words can be said about the main trends in the wine industry. Number one is taking care of the environment and drastic climate change, which means working to achieve a reduction in CO2 emissions. Organic and natural wines are gaining, or rather, maintaining their popularity. After two years of covid, digitalisation is gaining momentum. There are more and more online platforms for selling wine. And the consumer is no more a goal – he became a resource. Improvements in the use of artificial intelligence for marketing purposes in the wine industry are rapidly developing. Exclusive alcohol began to be sold on platforms in the form of NFTs.

Людмила Бібик

D+: We strongly believe in such a trend in the wine industry as wine tourism, which becomes not only the lure of wine regions but also the driver of local wine sales. How do you assess the development of this industry? In which countries do you think wine tourism is best developed?

I completely agree with you that wine tourism is a very important branch in the promotion of the country, wine regions, and specific winemakers. This industry is very well developed in the USA, especially in Napa Valley and Sonoma. Some wineries sell almost 90% of their products exclusively through direct sales, so to speak, from their domains or wineries. The important thing, as always, is quality, service, as well as skillfully planned marketing. These wineries have special clubs where members profit from various bonuses. In the famous European wine-producing countries, as well as in the USA, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, there is a clear division of the wine market by segments. There are three of them: mass market, premium class wines and luxury segment or “icon” wines. The scale and philosophy of the presentation of a wine house or winery depend on the specifics of a wine region, history and traditions, the audience the wine house is targeting, and its positioning in the wine industry. There are wine houses where visits and tastings are possible only by prior appointment, and there are those that work during normal working hours and are open for visits to everyone. For example, in France, all wineries are closed for tours on Sundays. The cost of the visit also depends on the price of the wine on the shelf. In Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne, there are wine houses that only welcome their regular customers, sommeliers and wine specialist partners – these are most of the houses or chateaux with luxury wines or they are also called wine icons. In small wineries, you will have the opportunity to communicate with someone from the family, since the owners do not hire an additional employee to conduct tastings. The level of consultants is also very different. The highest requirements for wine consultants in the tasting room in wine houses with a world name. Each wine region of France has an organization dedicated exclusively to the promotion, creativity and development of wine tourism: wine maps, marketing identity, planning and organization of various events with tastings (bicycle tours, walking tours, days of music and theatre performance in wine regions). Another feature, the tourist period in France is seasonal, that is, the active phase from the end of April to the end of October. In the region where I did my internship (Loire Valley/Anjou), there are wineries where you can stay overnight (a few B&B rooms right in the middle of the vineyards), there are luxurious chateaux with stylish rooms (maximum 4-5 apartments), a hall for celebrations and a conference room and, of course, a tasting room with a wine boutique.

I saw similar principles of organization and management of the tourist wine business in wineries in Portugal, Spain and Italy. Winery owners are very interested in the development and popularization of their products, attracting the attention of direct buyers without intermediaries. But this still applies to premium-class wines or small family wineries. Because for large companies, so-called wine groups, tourism is primarily a part of maintaining the brand image, so not everyone practices it. But I agree that wine today is an attraction, the icing on the cake of tourism, and tourism is a tool for promoting and selling wine.

D+: Thank you, Ljudmila, for such a long and meaningful conversation.

Today, Ukrainians, who act according to the slogan “what does not kill us, makes us stronger”, show the world miracles both on the battlefield and at work. And the wine industry is no exception. Our journalists now have to observe almost unbelievable stories of people that are worthy of reflection, if not in marble during […]

Anna Sarkisian: “Ukraine was given a key task in the Sea of Wine project, and we coped with it perfectly”

All wine travel lovers are in for a surprise: several of the world’s leading specialized institutions, including the Odesa National University of Technology (ONUT), have taken part in a 26-month project implemented within the framework of the Joint Operational Programme Black Sea Basin 2014-2020, Promotion of the Black Sea Region as a Wine Tourism Destination – The Sea of Wine.

The goal of the project is to create a joint brand of wine tourism in the Black Sea region, which is recognized as the cradle of world winemaking. So, experts from Armenia, Georgia, Ukraine and Greece developed 33 innovative thematic wine routes, which included 156 wineries along with historical and natural sights, restaurants, museums and other attractions. We asked the Dean of the Faculty of Wine and Tourism Business of ONUT, Professor Anna Sarkisian about Ukraine’s participation, as well as her personal role in this large-scale project.


Anna, for you as a sommelier and Dean of the Faculty of Wine and Tourism Business of ONUT, the concepts of wine and tourism have probably already become inseparable. Please share with us how these two directions combine in your life. Tell us about the project that you are taking care of today – the Sea of Wine.

Don’t be surprised, but since my childhood, which was spent in blooming and diverse Bessarabia, I was familiar with winemaking. After all, my parents worked at a large winery in Tatarbunary. So when it was time to choose a profession, I entered the Odesa National University of Technology, which has the only Department of Wine Technology and Sensory Analysis in the country. After defending my master’s thesis, I decided that I should get to know wine from a different angle. Therefore, I graduated from the First Sommelier School “Master Class” in Kyiv. In the end, my candidate’s thesis was devoted to the production technology of grape juice with a high content of polyphenolic compounds, and my doctoral thesis was devoted to regional tourism markets, because I work part-time at the Department of Tourism Business and Recreation, which is part of the structure of the Faculty of Wine and Tourism Business which I head. I teach various disciplines and, in addition to students who are future winemakers, I work with hoteliers, restaurateurs and tourists. Actually, food and wine tourism is not just a job, it is my passion. This is a very interesting modern discipline, which includes the organization of the work of sommeliers and guides, the basics of wine production, sensory analysis, etc. This direction has great prospects for the wine industry.

So, when Arthur Grigoryan, the director of the International Center for Agribusiness Research and Education (ICARE) approached us and offered to participate in the Sea of Wine project aimed at promoting the Black Sea region as a wine tourism destination, this idea aroused great enthusiasm in us. Such authoritative organizations from four countries as the International Center for Agribusiness Research and Education (Armenia), the Odesa National University of Technology (Ukraine), the Fund “Georgian Center for Agribusiness Development” (Georgia) and the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (Greece) participate in the project.

How did it happen that these countries were united in a single route?

The lead beneficiary of the project was Armenia, which invited other participants to it. When the application was submitted and approved, each country received a field of activity in which it would act as a responsible partner.

Ukraine was given a key task – to develop an ICT (Information and Communication Technology) platform and a mobile application, as well as create training materials. Interaction with trainers from each country helped to identify common ground. For two years, our team was engaged in research and, together with foreign specialists, created a database. We coped with our task perfectly. Soon everyone interested will be able to make sure of that.

What does it give each participant? In particular, what does collaboration with other countries in the Sea of Wine project give Ukraine?

First of all, it is an opportunity to exchange experience with leading specialists from other countries. Ukraine is a very young country from the point of view of a wine tourism organization, so positive experiences are on demand.

Equally important is the opportunity to present your own routes. As part of the project, our team visited Greece at a tourist exhibition in Thessaloniki and had the opportunity to work with students of Aristotle University. As a result, we talked about the wine regions of Ukraine and learned about others.

Afterwards, we accumulated all that experience on the platform developed by the Ukrainian ICT team, where the wine routes of the Black Sea Basin of all participating countries will be presented. Thus, each participant of the Sea of Wine project expands the horizons of wine tourism. The logical result was the creation of a single route, the Black Sea Wine Route, which covers all participating countries. In Ukraine, it starts from Odesa, from the Wine and City Life route.

Who exactly and how developed wine routes in Ukraine, which locations were included in them?

In general, when announcing this project, we invited all wineries of the Black Sea region to participate, because our goal has been to promote the wine tourism potential of Ukraine at the international level. In order to develop routes for the Sea of Wine project, a team of colleagues from our department and I went on an expedition to the wineries of the Odesa, Mykolaiv and Kherson regions. The audit focused on the winery’s ability to host tourists, infrastructure, road quality, and local gastronomic offerings. In this way, we have chosen almost fifty wineries, including large and well-known, as well as very young and craft ones. To list some wineries, I will mention SHABO, Leleka, Odesos, Kolonist, Frumushika Nova, Kyrnychky, Beykush, SliVino, and many others.

Currently, seven thematic routes have been created for the Sea of Wine project: Wine and City Life, Wine and Legends, Wine and Flowers, Wine and Art, Wine and Religion, Wine and Ethnicity. First of all, we emphasized the particularity of the regions and included local holidays and festivals in the routes. For example, the winemakers of Bessarabia invite guests to Trifon Zarizan, a holiday of pruning vines, which takes place on February 14 in Bolhrad. We selected bright events for each route featured on the website. The final product, developed by the efforts of specialists of our department, is tours for domestic and experienced international travelers. We have set the bar high.

How important is tourism for the development of wineries?

This is a very important tool for the promotion of Ukrainian wineries, even small and completely new ones. Speaking of which, during the expeditions, we opened the Kyrnychky winery to the world (and to ourselves!). There, we found an interesting history, traditions, good potential of raw materials, and quality wines. It gave a chance to a very young winery to take part in an international project. We are sure that thanks to this, this winery will become popular in the future. Winemakers dream of meeting tourists, treating them with their wines and giving them emotions. I would like to note that we made our itineraries free of charge in order to support the winemaking and tourism industries of our country.

We know that there are even plans to introduce a single label for participants. How do winemakers feel about it?

The label has already been created. We will distribute it electronically to all route participants. They can use it on their websites, in booklets, at international events. After all, it is prestigious to be part of the European Neighborhood programs.

Does the project provide for the development of routes, the addition of new locations?

Yes, winery owners can apply, and information about them will be posted on our ICT platform. After all, it can be updated, and wineries, locations, festivals can be added.

What special educational programs are planned for guides, sommeliers, winemakers?

Educational training based on materials developed by our Ukrainian specialists was held in each participating country. In January, we held a three-day training on the topic “Wine tourism: tapping into new opportunities”. The entire material is divided into three main topics: “Wine tour guiding”, “Wine destination product management”, and “Destination sustainable management”.

The event took place at a high, international level. It was a lively discussion. After the lectures, practical cases were provided, in which winemakers participated. Very useful communication between manufacturers, developers of the tourist product, and those who will accompany the tourists happened there. We are proud that it was Ukrainian scholars who developed educational materials that will be used in other countries. It should be noted that these documents are now kept in the European Library. All our reports and studies are a great contribution to the development of the scientific aspect of wine tourism. We are happy to have been the first to do so.

What measures to popularize wine tourism in Ukraine are taken within the framework of the Sea of Wine project?

“Let’s talk about wine” forums were held in all partner countries. They were aimed at bringing together wine experts, winemakers and wine lovers and acquainting them with the results of the project. The Ukrainian side, in view of the war in the country, planned to spread information online, although we saw how it happened in other countries through in-person meetings with winemakers, tastings… It became sad only from this thought that we would have to talk about wine online. So we made a decision anyway to gather like-minded people, wine lovers, representatives of the tourism business and winemakers who present their wines in a safe place. The meeting was warm, full of hopes and dreams for the best wine future for our country.

What joint promotion activities are being carried out and planned in the project?

It includes visiting festivals and specialized exhibitions. As I mentioned, this year we visited a tourist exhibition in Thessaloniki, attended the National Wine Day of Moldova, where we held a presentation of the wine routes and the ICT platform. We hope for very close cooperation with Moldova after the war finishes and a transnational path opens. Our partners from Greece and Armenia visited the London Wine Fair, where our project was also introduced.

The next event is the closing ceremony of the project in Yerevan. It consists of two activities: on the first day, a conference, and on the next day, a large-scale wine event “Black Sea Wines” held according to the standards of the International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV).

In what forms will the Sea of Wine continue to exist?

First of all, this is the work of the ICT platform and mobile application, which are convenient tools both for specialists in the wine and tourism industries, and for tourists, consumers of these products. Here you can get detailed information about the routes, wine-growing regions, wineries of the participating countries, and about the events taking place there. This turns out to be a solid database for planning trips.

How did the war change your plans, and what remained the same?

I can’t say that we change our plans, but we certainly adjust themaccording to the situation. So, for example, at the Department ofTourism Business and Recreation, we organized a webinar “Tourism as a means of rehabilitation in post-war times” this month. Psychologists, rehabilitators, specialists in the tourism industry wereinvited. We talked about how to restore your morale, includingraising such a topical component as “wine recreation”, which aimsat a moderate wine consumption. We also discussed those brightemotions and unforgettable impressions that a wine trip provides. Imyself observed when I recently conducted an excursion to a winery, how people relaxed and distracted themselves from the news,stayed without the Internet, but with a glass of excellent wine inthe middle of the endless steppe. They returned home completelydifferent – with a thirst for life and new ideas. Therefore, I believethat our cause is very important.For the sake of safety in Odesa, tastings and wine festivals are heldin the Odesa catacombs. The war forced us to take such unusualmeasures. And all the wineries included in our routes continue towork – despite everything.

…This year was sunny and raw materials have good potential. As for the energy of the war, let’s see if it was transferred to wine. In these difficult times, we support each other. And the whole world supports us. I am very grateful to our partners. We could have left the project, but the partners declared with one accord: “You should stay with us.” And we proved that Ukrainians are stable in everything, both in war and in work.

All wine travel lovers are in for a surprise: several of the world’s leading specialized institutions, including the Odesa National University of Technology (ONUT), have taken part in a 26-month project implemented within the framework of the Joint Operational Programme Black Sea Basin 2014-2020, Promotion of the Black Sea Region as a Wine Tourism Destination […]

Nina Basset: “Hotelier is something that I still identify as being because it’s shaped who I am and what I’ve done”

Nina Basset, FIH Hotelier, Mentor, Co-Founding Trustee and Chair of the Gérard Basset Foundation, Co-Founder and Vice President of the UK Sommelier Academy, kindly agreed to share her experience in the hospitality and wine industries. In her interview with Oleksandra Hryhorieva, Drinks+ Editor and Project Lead of the Wine Travel Awards, where Nina became a judge, she also talked about activities and projects of the Foundation. This is a longread that may give you some insights and incentives to act.


Dear Nina, on behalf of the whole WTA team, I would like to express our gratitude for joining the pool of judges of the WTA second edition. We perceive this as a kind of feat for the sake of our project because we know what an incredible workload you have. And the first question will relate to the order of job titles you mentioned in your bio. Why did you not choose “Co-Founding Trustee” or “Chair” of famous and solid organisations but rather “seasoned hotelier” to put in the first place in your resume?

Seasoned hotelier, it’s what I’ve been doing for the last probably 30 years. I entered the hospitality business when I was very young and so hospitality to me has always been a huge part of my life and also Gérard’s life when he was alive. Hotelier is something that I still identify as being because it’s shaped who I am and what I’ve done. And then within that, obviously, I’ve also mentored people. Then as time has progressed and life has changed, the setting up of the Foundation has become something very important for all sorts of reasons, one of which is because my son, Romané who’s also a co-founding trustee, and I wanted to ensure that Gérard’s legacy and memory was continued. And we wanted to focus on something that was very important to him, which was education and mentoring. So, the foundation is very much set up to help support young people who are wanting to come into the drinks, wines and spirits or hospitality industries, but cannot see a way to do so. It might be through inclusivity issues or diversity issues or economical or ethical reasons. And so we tried to make their path into the industry easier through funding educational programmes, through helping them with internships, through helping organisations as well as individuals to fund education programmes. It’s become something that’s very dear to our hearts because we know that Gérard would have been very proud to have his name associated with such a foundation.

Please, tell us about the Spot in the Woods project, it probably occupies a special place in your life. If I’m not mistaken, you started it with Monsieur Gérard. In one of his interviews to our media he talked about a small but elegant hotel in Hampshire called TerraVina (which was later conceptually changed to Spot in the Woods), where some of his and your dreams were to come true. I read later that the hospitality there is so thought out down to the smallest detail that rubber boots for walking in the forest and reading glasses are offered if you forgot yours at home. And the restaurant and wine list are outstanding. Is this about the same hotel?

TerraVina was the hotel that Gérard and I set up after we’d sold our original hotel business, which was called Hotel du Vin. And we had Hotel TerraVina for approximately 15 years and it was very much a wine focused hotel. When Gérard became ill and was unable to be at the hotel as often, we decided to change the style of the hotel. It wasn’t so wine focused because obviously people were coming to TerraVina hoping to see Gérard and when he wasn’t there, it was a disappointment to them. So, instead we changed its concept to a boutique bed and breakfast with a deli and a lifestyle store and less focus on wine. Consequently, we changed its name and we had that business for two years and during those two years, Gerard was very poorly. So when Gérard subsequently passed away, I made the decision to sell the business altogether. We no longer have the hotel Spot in the Woods. So, I guess I’m a retired hotelier.

Nina Basset

In fact, behind you as a professional is a whole series of projects in the field of hospitality – Hotel du Vin, Hotel TerraVina, Spot in the Woods. Did you receive an education specifically as a hotelier? Can you tell us about the origins?

Yes, I went to a hotel school. I left school when I was 16. How it works in England is you take exams called, well, in my day they were O levels, but now I think they are GCSEs. And then often people stay on at school and do A levels and then they go on to university. However, when I was 16 and having taken my O levels, I decided that I didn’t want to take A levels or go to university. I wanted to go to a hotel school and do four years of hotel training to become completely focused on a hotel industry career. And I remember my headmistress saying to me: “Why are you doing that? You’re clever and you could do all sorts and why would you want to leave school and become a waitress?” I was so horrified by her attitude that I was determined that I was going to prove her wrong and create a career within hospitality that I would be proud of and that ultimately would show other people like her who were small minded enough to think that it wasn’t important as a career choice. So I went to hotel school. I did four years, which at the time were diplomas, but would be now the equivalent of a university degree in hotel management.

When I left, I went to work at a hotel called Chewton Glen, having spent some time in Paris beforehand doing a work experience “stage”. It was at Chewton Glen where I met Gérard. I stayed there for a year. Then I saw an advert for a hotel and restaurant inspector. Bear in mind, I was only 21, I was very young and I thought, well, that sounds really interesting. I know I’m not going to get the job because I’m completely inexperienced, but I think it would be interesting to go and see what it’s all about and have an interview. Interview practice is never a bad thing. So, I went for the interview and there were a number of rounds of interviews and eating out in restaurants with inspectors and all sorts… And to my amazement, I got the job and so I became the youngest hotel and restaurant inspector ever. There’s never been a younger.

To become an AA Hotel and Restaurant Inspector at 21 y.o. is an incredible, truly great achievement!

Yes, and I absolutely loved it. It was an amazing experience; I met some incredible people. I did that for just shy of six years. And the reason I stopped was because whilst being an inspector, Gérard and myself and my former boss from Chewton Glen, and at the time, Gérard’s current boss from Chewton Glen, Robin Hutson, had decided that we wanted to co-found a hotel – Hotel du Vin. It was difficult. I couldn’t really be involved in being an hotelier and being a hotel inspector. It was a conflict of interest. So, because the Hotel du Vin needed my help and support at the setting up time, I stepped away from being an hotel and restaurant inspector and became a proper hotelier. That’s sort of how it all started. And then we went on to have a number of hotels before we sold Hotel du Vin. And then Gérard and I never expected to redo another hotel after we sold Hotel du Vin, but we felt we had one more hotel in us. So, that’s how Hotel TerraVina came about.

Nina Basset

Over time, how did this activity combine with the wine industry in your life? Was it as unexpected as for Gérard, who went to a football match, and got into the world of wine and for all life?

When I met Gérard, I had already an interest in wine before I met him. And in fact, when I’d gone to hotel school, I had toyed with the idea of slightly changing specialisation and becoming a wine buyer because I enjoyed wine and I liked learning about it. However, I hadn’t done so. When I met Gérard, suddenly all of my holidays were spent in vineyards. And obviously he was travelling quite a lot and I was travelling with him; and he was tasting a lot, so I was helping him taste. My life became very immersed in wine, but the wine industry is a lovely industry to be involved in. So, it wasn’t a hardship.

In one of his interviews, Gérard mentioned that Burgundy was one of his favourite places to visit and he had one of his greatest wine experiences there.

Absolutely. And in fact, our son is named after a Burgundian vineyard. Our son is called Romané as in there’s a lot of vineyards with Romanée as part of their name. It’s their beginning name: Romanée-Conti, Vosne-Romanée, etc. Burgundy was very close to Gerard’s heart, as was Madeira. He loved Madeira wines. And in fact, one of our dogs was called Malmsey, after a type of Madeira wine.

Бассе

This is definitely a creative approach to choosing names. At one time, you became the youngest winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award for Women in Business. For what merits and under what circumstances did it happen?

To be honest, it is quite a long time ago now, so I can’t remember exactly what the criteria was. However, it was one of those things that somebody had asked me, my acquaintance I knew from when I’d been a hotel inspector. She was actually a hotelier, a very young one. She’d taken over her mother’s business and subsequently she’d started a Women in Business Award. So, we tentatively stayed in touch. She then contacted me to tell me about the awards and encouraged me to be involved. And I happened to be nominated by somebody. The first year I didn’t win, but it was nice to have been nominated.

The next year, I got invited to be involved again because I had been nominated and done relatively well the previous year. I was put forward, but with no expectations whatsoever. In fact, so much so that on the night of the celebration of the awards, I couldn’t go because Gérard had a big wine event taking place at the Manoir aux Quat’Saisons with Raymond Blanc. He was doing wine dinner with Raymond, and I’d already committed to going to that with Gérard. So, I had to send my apologies that I wouldn’t be at the awards ceremony for the Lifetime Achievement. Anyway, I thought I wasn’t going to win, so not too terrible for me not to be able to attend. I sent my general manager who I didn’t think and nor did she, that she looks like me at all. She asked me: “But you know what, if I have to make a speech?” And I said: “Well, you won’t have to make a speech because I’m not going to win.” And I got a text message during the wine dinner that I had won and that my general manager just left the stage, and she did have to make a speech. Even though she told everybody that she wasn’t me and that she was standing in on my behalf because I couldn’t attend, and that she was thanking everybody who organised the event on my behalf, in the local press, it got reported that she was me and what she said was as if it was me saying it. So, I kind of felt actually that although I did win it, I didn’t really win it because actually everybody thought I was somebody else. But, it was a lovely thing to win. To this day, you know, I’m surprised I did win it because I always thought to receive a lifetime achievement award, you have to be relatively aged. However, somebody did point out once you were a hotel inspector at 20, why wouldn’t you get a lifetime achievement award at 40.

Gérard Basset Foundation

It is well deserved, Nina. Now let’s discuss your current position. If I am not mistaken, you are the vice president of the Academy of Food & Wine Service. Please tell me about the activities of this organisation, its geographical scope, goals, as well as your responsibilities there in particular.

No, it is not totally correct. So, the Academy of Food & Wine Service was something which Gérard was very involved with for a lot of years. It was an important organisation that supported and championed sommellerie and hospitality within the UK. However, in recent years it did become a little bit lost in terms of activities. There wasn’t a lot happening within it. As a result, a lot of the people had stepped away from it. Gérard obviously had passed away. It had been taken over by people whose intentions were very positive. But unfortunately, it wasn’t the most important part of what else they did. So, it sort of slipped by the wayside, really.

The president, Nicolas Clerc, as was then, was a young chap who I’ve known for a very long time and who Gérard was very fond of. He called me up and he said: “Look, you know, the Academy is a bit of a lost, and it’s not really doing anything. I’d like to recreate something better, more innovative, more exciting for the young sommeliers within the UK because the Academy of Food & Wine Service was not really doing it for them.” And I thought it was a great idea, so I agreed to help him.

The Academy of Food & Wine Service is no longer active. It’s not affiliated to the ASI because we’ve recreated something new and fresh and exciting. And that’s called the United Kingdom Sommelier Academy that is now affiliated to ASI. This is very important because it means that within the UK by being affiliated, anyone who wins the UK Sommelier of the Year automatically becomes part of the ASI organisation and can compete in European competitions, ASI World Champion competitions, should they be eligible and at the level to do so. I’m Vice President of the UK Sommelier Academy, which has replaced the Academy of Food & Wine Service. And whilst we’re very fledgling, we have exciting plans. We have just held the United Kingdom Sommelier competition a couple of months ago. And we hold examinations in affiliation with the ASI certification and diplomas for a number of students we mentor. I’m in London for three days next week doing some training sessions with eight sommeliers to help them with competition preparation and so on. So, it’s an exciting involvement and I would say for me it keeps a connexion with sommellerie and wine, but it’s a connexion which is very enjoyable, not just because of my connexion to Gérard. I’ve been invited because of me and what I can offer, rather because who I was married to. So that’s nice.

Is the Academy open only for UK sommeliers?

The membership is predominantly sommeliers, but certainly restaurant managers, food and beverage managers, anyone really who has a food or beverage career can become involved. However, it is UK based and the reason it’s UK based is because every association within ASI in its own country has its own organisation. We work with other ASI affiliated organisations too. We’re closely affiliated to the Irish Sommelier Guild for example, but to be a member of the UK Sommelier Academy, you have to be based in the UK working within hospitality, wine or spirits business, retail or hotels or restaurants.

Nina Basset

As far as I know, you took this position at the UK Sommelier Academy in 2020, just before the pandemic, which hit this industry the hardest. How did you cope, maybe you can share some life hacks?

We worked on the project during COVID. We had endless Zoom meetings and it all was created by email and Zoom because we could not meet up. We had to postpone our sommelier examinations and the UK Sommelier of the Year competition because of COVID. In July, when we did the UK Sommelier Academy’s first competition, that was the first one in two years because of the pandemic.

Please share your thoughts on effective ways to become a true food & wine service specialist? Which global networks of educational institutions, in your opinion, are better to choose as today there is such a variety of schools, courses, academies? Where exactly did your son Romané study? He followed in the footsteps of his parents, didn’t he?

Obviously, to have a specific education within any career, whatever industry is useful, but I think for some people, it’s not necessary. Some people just don’t like studying, they don’t like taking exams. For those people a hands-on experience of learning will be what suits them better. That is why, in my opinion, to become involved in hospitality, the most important thing is you have to love people and not just because you’re going to be serving people and offering them hospitality experience, but also because you’re going to be working within a team of people. And working within that team is very important because hospitality demands an awful lot of you in terms of the hours you put in. Working within a team of people, you have to have a camaraderie. It becomes an extended family. If you don’t like people, there’s no point in it. And that’s the first really important thing.

If you can get to study and you do enjoy education and reading books and certainly travelling, I think that expands experiences which you can then bring into your hospitality career. But I think it’s even more fundamental than that if you’re going to be working in hospitality, then you have to understand what it is that as a customer is important. You have to experience being a customer at any level. It doesn’t have to be a Michelin star level restaurant. It can be at any level. You know, just being a customer in a coffee shop or a cafe is equally as important in terms of understanding what it is that people want from a hospitality experience. And that experience can be literally just buying a coffee on your way to work or sitting having a tasting menu with friends. Thereafter, obviously if you decide that there’s one specific area within hospitality, so it could be wine, it could be becoming a chef, then I think the educational aspects become more important. You can learn through doing courses, reading books and so on. Especially with wine, you have to expand your knowledge by reading about wine as well as travelling to vineyards and visiting wineries.

So, I think it’s not just one thing that makes it important. It’s a lot of little things which when you stitch it all together, make a patchwork and offer very important aspects that create the best possible way for you to progress and develop within your chosen career.

ЖЕРАР БАССЕ

Sorry to make you recall the times when you and Gérard were together, but this is a unique figure in the history of mankind – his achievements and experience are unsurpassed. Perhaps, here it will be appropriate to offer our readers to watch a new film you initiated A Life in Wine: Gerard Basset | The World’s Favourite Sommelier | 67 PALL MALL TV. Could you comment on it and share Gérard Basset’s life and work rules. From whom did he learn the profession, how much time did he devote to work? Would it be more correct to ask if you had any rest days at all?

Thank you for sharing the link. The film came about because there’s a private member’s wine club in London called 67 Pall Mall, and they have a TV production company which became very important during the pandemic. They brought vineyard tours and tastings to their members and it’s a really good TV show. They have some great programmes on offer. They approached us and said to Romané and I that they would really like to make a documentary about Gérard and his life. We were delighted to work with them. We worked for nine months with the team and they were brilliant. They did an amazing job. The film is, I think, very watchable and very personable.

It gives a snapshot into Gérard’s determination in terms of the way he studied and the way education and travel was such a big part of what he did. For him, studying was never a chore or a challenge. It was something that he delighted in. He’d left school with no qualifications because he hadn’t knuckled down at school. He loved the idea of being with people and that camaraderie that comes from working within hospitality. Then, because he was front of house within a food and beverage environment, inevitably he became involved in serving wines. This really fascinated him. There’s so much to learn and once he opened his first wine book, that triggered his love of the subject. It was like the floodgates had opened and he wanted to learn as much as possible, however he could. Wine became his passion. However he always used to say: “I love wine, but I think in order to be a great sommelier, you have to love people more than wine.”

So, as he progressed in terms of learning and developing his own career, he realised that it was really important to take other people along the journey. He was very keen on supporting and mentoring and nurturing young people within the industry. He became quite famous for having proteges whom he gave a lot of his time and expertise to. He had people who wanted to work with him because they knew that if they worked with him, they would have an all encompassing experience of learning about wine in all different ways. And he gave them a lot of responsibility on very young shoulders, but he was always supportive. So, for example, when he had Hotel du Vin, each of his young, head somms had the responsibility for creating their own wine list for each hotel. It meant that those young people had been given a role to play and a large amount of responsibility at such a young age, they perhaps wouldn’t have been given if working elsewhere. So they felt very supported, but also encouraged. They were very loyal to Gérard. And, you know, even after we sold the hotels, all his proteges still used to come to visit and see him. They were and still are great friends of mine and Romané’s .  They still talk about Gérard with huge respect. I think that’s because they realise that with his help and support it gave them a huge chance within an industry that they were stepping into at a very young age. So, that was a very important part of Gérard’s career: not only his ability to win competitions and study and learn and gain exam qualifications, but it was also to help other people do the same thing because by doing so, it was improving their opportunities within their own careers, but also improving sommellerie as a whole within the UK.

Nina Basset

Perhaps you have a lot of business trips? Which countries could be singled out as exemplary from the point of view of enogastronomic tourism?

I think one of our favourite places to travel to at the time, it was quite a few years ago that I went there with Gérard, was California. We loved California. And in fact, at one time we had thought that we would probably leave the UK and go to work within the Californian wine industry in some way. It didn’t happen because we had Romané and he didn’t want to leave school. He was just very happy where he was. I loved the wine country, you know, Sonoma and Napa, and Gérard did too. Obviously France was always dear to his heart because he was French and the Champagne region was somewhere that we always loved to be. Equally, his sister lived not too far from the Rhone, so we often used to go to visit her too. Madeira was somewhere that was very dear to Gérard too. We loved going to Madeira and tasting Madeira Wines. Madeira and Sherry, all fortified wines, were something that Gérard absolutely loved. At every opportunity to go to Sherry or Madeira, he would jump at the chance. Certainly the marriage of all those different styles of sherries and the delicious tapas food was always something we loved. However, to say that there was a favourite region or favourite place would be difficult because it would depend on who we were with, what we were doing, whom we were having a tasting with, what the weather was like. I mean, every experience was special for one reason or another.

Probably somewhere that stands out, because it was so simple but was so beautiful, was when we were in Italy (Tuscany) one time. We were sitting right up high on a hill overlooking vineyards for as far as the eye could see. We were in a very, very simple little taverna where the Italian mama was cooking. There was no choice there. It was just the pasta that she was cooking that day. We could watch her making the pasta parcels in her kitchen. And she brought them out just with some home grown olive oil and some local cheese. And it was just the best meal, I think, that we had for a long, long time. We still used to talk about “do you remember when we went to… and that’s an amazing pasta…” So, sometimes it was the simplest things that made the biggest impact.

Nina Basset

Can you comment on how The Gérard Basset Global Fine Wine Report is developing?

That’s something which Gérard and one of his dearest friends, Lewis Chester, created before Gérard’s death. The first report came out in 2018 and they created a company called Liquid Icons together because they wanted to work together doing something involving wine, but they didn’t really know what. The Global Report was something which they thought would be interesting to do. So, 2018 was the first one. In 2019, Lewis suggested that we renamed it to The Gérard Basset Global Fine Wine Report in honour of Gérard because by then he had passed away. Lewis said: “You know, we gather all of this information from all these amazing people within the wine industry, the offices of wine, sommeliers, wine collectors, wine lovers, wine enthusiasts. Then we produce this report, but actually it could be perceived as being quite dry. We didn’t do very much with it thereafter. So, I think it would be really good if within that we asked people, well, who do you think at this moment and time of the year is making the best wine? And it’s clear for the best wine in Europe or the best wine in the Americas. We create an award and we give an award every year.”

So, here was Lewis’s idea to come up with The Golden Vines® Awards. And it’s worked very well. People think it’s great for other people to be awarded something for their hard work and effort. So, it’s made the report punchier, I think, and sexier and more interesting, more fun. On the back of that, Lewis said: “Well, if we’re going to give out an award, we ought to have an awards ceremony. So we should have the Golden Vines Awards ceremony each year. And why don’t we do a wine auction? And if we’re doing a wine auction, all of the funds should go to a charity which is then set up in Gérard’s name.” And because previous to that, Romané and I had set up various awards which we needed to have an umbrella that they were all within. Lewis suggested: “We need a foundation and we need to have a remit that is really impactful. I think diversity, inclusivity is something that we need to be addressing within the wine industry.” And Romané and I agreed. If we set up the Gérard Basset Foundation, everything can come under one umbrella. And then if we raised funds within the auction of The Golden Vines® Awards ceremony, that would then be given to the foundation. We can do great things with it. And that’s how, through just the Global Fine Wine Report, how everything else started. Working with somebody like Lewis is incredible because he has an idea and then he runs with it and it gets bigger and bigger and more amazing. So the impact is huge, whereas Romané and I had ideas that were so little. I know Gerard would be so proud of Lewis for what he has created and achieved and all in Gerard’s honour.

We didn’t ever envisage that what would happen has happened, but it is thanks to Lewis driving it forward.  Obviously we’re thrilled that we’ve now got all of these scholars throughout the world and 16 grantees (to date in 2021/2) around the globe who we’re helping and all connected with wine, spirits and hospitality. I think Gérard would be thrilled and humbled to think that his name has been put to something that’s so important for the wine industry.

Nina Basset

To the attention of our readers, the next Golden Vines® Awards ceremony was scheduled for October 14-17 in Florence, where the auction raised over £1.1million for the Gerard Basset Foundation. Talking about the incredible Fine Wine, Rare Spirit & Experience 2022 auction, what do you think will be the standout drinks featured there?

Lewis works very hard all year collecting the auction lots and he has an amazing network of people that he asks to be supportive and they all are enormously supportive and generous. The thing that’s very important for us is that it’s not just about being able to buy fine and rare wines, because if you’re very wealthy, inevitably you can afford to buy such wine. Often what you can’t experience is a specialness of having something else added on, which is what the auction aims to do, is that each individual auction has an experience within it, which is more than just buying amazing wine. That could be lunch with a winemaker, staying overnight at the winery. And sometimes these wineries don’t open their doors to the public, but somehow Lewis manages to get them to do so. So I think it’s the experience of the auction, which makes it special, besides from the fact of the wines that are on offer. And in this year’s auction, there are 107 lots, which in itself is amazing. Some of them go from a starting bid of as little as £500, right up to as much as over £100,000. And they’re all very varied and very different, but each one of them is unique and super special. As with much of what we do within the foundation, it’s all been enabled by Lewis and his incredible and tiny team, within the Liquid Icons, Lewis works so hard to offer such amazing and unique auction lots and the team work so hard to ensure the Golden Vines events are a huge success. It’s incredible. So there’s not one that is more special than another, they are all super special and very diverse.

Do the raised funds go exclusively for scholarships? Or do you invest in other projects?

All of the funds that are raised are donated to the foundation. For example, last year we raised just a little under £1.3 million. And with that money, we were able to fund all sorts of scholarships. Then we have our headline scholars for the Golden Vines Diversity Scholarships, which last year we had two master of wine students, this year we’ll have three (two Masters of Wine and one Master Sommelier student). They each get awarded £55,000, which pays for their fees for their Master of Wine or Master Sommelier courses and help with their studying and their travelling to various places. Besides, they have an internship programme which includes more than 35 different wineries around the world that they have the opportunity to work within. And again, sometimes they’re internships which ordinarily wouldn’t be able to be offered because they are at wineries where internships are not usual, but they’re opening their doors specifically for Golden Vines scholars. Last year, we had two further scholars who didn’t receive internships, but they had their study fees paid. One was for MS and one was for MW. This year,  we have four Dom Pérignon scholars, which will have the same arrangement. Their fees will be paid, but there’s no wide ranging internships. We have a Hennessy scholar, specific to Spirits with a bursary and a 12 month internship with Hennessy. We have five Artémis Domaines scholarships. These have an internship of up to six months and €20,000. In addition to the other scholars that we have, we also had ten Wine Scholar Guild scholars last year and we’ll have ten this year too.  We also have further scholarships to be announced in the coming months, based within both wine, spirits and hospitality

Then we also have our global funding grantees, of which there are currently 16 of them around the world, and that’s within five different continents. Some examples being, the Pinotage Youth Development Academy set up in South Africa. We have a programme working with indigenous people of Australia within Adelaide University. We have a similar project working with indigenous people of Canada in Okanagan. We have a project working with disabled people within a hospitality and wine focused environment in America. So it’s very diverse.

Nina Basset

We recently wrote, in particular, about the establishment of The Artémis Domaines Golden Vines® Victims of Conflict Charity scholarships. Who won it this year, were there Ukrainians among them?

These scholarships are granted for victims of conflict from anywhere in the world. In addition to that, we have something which we’re quietly doing in the background, where we’re funding people who are specifically impacted by what’s happening in Ukraine and Russia. Some of them are displaced, we’re helping them by paying for educational programmes such as the WSET courses and/or English courses. Some of the people that we’re helping are Russians who have left Russia because they don’t agree with the political situation and have lost their careers. And others are Ukrainians who have had to flee Ukraine. And that’s something that is in addition to the scholarships – we’re helping a number of people in that way.

Could those people contact you directly? Or what channel of communication did you choose?

Yes, we reached out to the Ukrainian Sommelier Association and various other Ukrainian contacts that we had. We showed what we had available and we’ve had a number of people reach out to us directly too. Various people came to us via having contacted Jancis Robinson and Ian Harris, retired CEO of the WSET, both of whom are trustees of the Foundation, and explained their situation. Jancis passed and Ian then on the details and we all agreed we had to offer help and support. Obviously, we want to help as many people as we possibly can, with some restrictions because of the finances that we have available. That is why this year we hope that the auction will raise even more funds and then we’ll be able to help even more people.

Nina Basset

Let it be so. Are you familiar with the wines of the countries of Eastern Europe and the Caucasus – Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia? Have you been to any of the countries?

I haven’t visited many of them. Gérard did. Gérard loved Georgia and Ukraine. I’ve tasted the wines of Georgia, specifically orange wines, and I like them very much. And it’s an area that I think I would love to travel to more. The last few years, obviously, travelling to wine places has been difficult because of COVID. However, now the world is opening up and it would certainly be somewhere that I would love to be able to go and visit. Some of the wines that are coming out of such countries are really interesting and have great potential to stand with their heads held high on the world stage.

I hope you will be able to visit Ukraine one day. Thank you very much for your time.

Thank you very much for inviting me. And, you know, I’m thrilled to be involved in the judging with WTA also.

 

Nina Basset, FIH Hotelier, Mentor, Co-Founding Trustee and Chair of the Gérard Basset Foundation, Co-Founder and Vice President of the UK Sommelier Academy, kindly agreed to share her experience in the hospitality and wine industries. In her interview with Oleksandra Hryhorieva, Drinks+ Editor and Project Lead of the Wine Travel Awards, where Nina became a […]

Salome Lomsadze: «You can’t produce wine and not think about beauty, nature, people…»

Drinks.ua and winetravelavards.com columnist talked to Salome Lomsadze, Commercial project manager, a representative of the young generation of top management of the unique Shumi Winery complex. Believe us, they had something to talk about!


Let’s start with the fact that your winery, located in Georgia, the country where winemaking dates more than 8 thousand years, became the winner of the Wine Travel Awards in the Magnet of the region category. And in such a region, such a title is worth a lot. In addition, we know that back in 2019, the territory of the Shumi complex was recognized as the most beautiful in Georgia!

Regarding participation in the WTA, Shumi Winery became the record holder among the nominees, being nominated for nine different categories and conquering all of them during the public voting stage. Also, a significant part of the international judges in the second round of evaluation of the nominees gave the Shumi complex the highest scores and literally a few points were not enough to win in several more categories! Congratulations on your victory!

Thank you! In turn, I want to thank your company for the excellent organization of the Wine Travel Awards, which met all expectations. It is a pleasure to be your partner. Based on my experience in holding corporate events related to tourism, I can say that everything went at a very high level of understanding of how it should be launched and organized. I have worked with organizations from different countries, and I want to note your comprehensive and forehanded approach – everything from PR and marketing to the organizational part, logistics, communications and certificates, and how all this was presented – a clear and correct “packaging” of the WTA.

Thank you for the kind words about the Wine Travel Awards and the work of our team, we hope that our cooperation will be developing in the future. We would like to learn more, and tell our readers, about Shumi Winery. Let us start with symbols. What does the name «Shumi» mean and why is the company’s emblem depicting a griffin?  

Everything is simple here: the word «shumi»  in the ancient Georgian language meant «the best of wines». The one that we call exclusive, premium in the modern world – that is to say, a product of the highest quality. This is both our name and our principle: to create wines of the highest quality, and we have been following such a principle for the past 25 years. It should be emphasized that it was no coincidence that the Faskundzhi griffin became the symbol of Shumi Winery: this is a character from Georgian mythology. According to the ancient legend, it was he who brought to the people the first bunch of grapes, which gave rise to the cultivation of vineyards and winemaking on our land.

 Salome, how did Shumi Winery start? You are a representative of the younger generation, but you are certainly aware of this amazing story. The founders immediately placed a bet not only on the production of wine, but also on tourism, or did the understanding of the importance of this vector come with time? In your opinion, what has led Shumi Winery to such a bright success: tourism or wine? 

You are right: initially the bet was placed on both production of wine and tourism. I think that in our case, we should not separate these concepts. Certainly, the first vineyards had been planted, and thereupon production was launched; already in 2002, Shumi was the first in Georgia to open the doors of its tourist complex, where guests can find more about the wine culture, specifically, they are able to visit the wine museum, participate in wine tastings, harvesting, and various culinary master classes. All this was done to show to the whole world the potential of Georgian wines and reveal the magic potential of our autochthonous varieties. Due to this assignment, we have created a company incorporating viticulture, winemaking, and tourism

It is not a secret that in Georgia, people are very passionate about winemaking. For example, if we talk about our winery in Tsinandali, I should say that almost everyone who lives in these places is directly connected with the production of wines. Our employees give much care and love to their work, thus helping us achieve our goals. Our success is directly linked with the fact that Shumi Winery treats our traditions with care and love, all employees share these values, and hospitality is an integral part of Georgian culture. This is the approach we are resorting to, when creating products – be it wine, excursions, master classes or events for guests.

Tell me please, Salome, whether Shumi Winery employed foreign specialists or relied exclusively on the wisdom, love for winemaking, and the experience gained by the Georgian winemakers.

Since 2005, we have been cooperating with the famous French winemaker Jean-Michel Ferandet. Since the very first day, Jean-Michel has been admiring the unique terroirs of our vineyards, local autochthonous varieties, and particularly, the Saperavi variety, and he believes that the 21st century, on a global scale, belongs to the Saperavi variety. The French winemaker generously shared his knowledge with our winemakers. Giorgi Khatiashvili, who is now very famous in Georgia and has been working with us for more than two decades, was among his students. Incidentally, I presume that such loyalty and stability of personnel is also an indicator and guarantee of our company’s success.

According to the statistical data, for many winemakers, wine tourism is becoming the leading vector, and for some wineries, income from tourists prevails over the sale of wines outside the winery. How is your company doing? Are there any statistical data available for this area? 

Shumi Winery is a major producer, and, undoubtedly, retail sales constitute the main source of income. Such wine production volumes intended for export can hardly beat the tourism proceeds.

The tourist complex is our soul, a kind of window through which we communicate with the world and show our essence to our guests, wine lovers. Here, we talk about the intricacies of contemporary wine production and the ancient technology of qvevri, about the varieties and types of wines, as well as our collection of vineyards, harvesting methods, and scientific work that is being carried out. As concerns the statistical data, the retail sector represents the main part of income, tourism is rather a method of promoting wines, a certain point of communication between the consumer and the brand. The point, where a special kind of loyalty is being developed. 

Our business related to the winery has two vectors: distribution, and wine and gastronomic complex. All these [vectors] exist simultaneously, but the tourist complex can be built without a winery. For us, the most important thing is wine. 

The tourist complex, which opened its doors in 2002, has already won more than one international award. The same can be said about the Shumi wines, which are annually awarded a bunch of medals at various competitions. Please tell us in more detail, what kind of an enogastronomic complex Shumi has.

Given our DNA, it was a natural decision to create such a platform where we present the culture of winemaking and viticulture, the culture of hospitality. The tourist complex and the winery are located in the village of Tsinandali, Kakheti, a territory awash with history, which at various times belonged to the Georgian and Kakhetian kings, the family of Prince Alexander Chavchavadze. However, when we bought the land, there was – and you won’t believe it – a garbage dump and a swamp. In addition, there was practically no soil – it was once washed away by the river and only bare stones remained. It took a lot of effort to put everything in order, drain the wetlands and clear the area. We imported land, cultivated vineyards, and orchards. It should be emphasized that we consider protection of nature and improvement of the land as one of our priority tasks. You can’t produce wine and not think about beauty, nature, and people… 

It will not be an exaggeration if I say that guests visiting us are immersed into the Georgian culture of winemaking. Everyone can visit the Vine Museum, the Wine Museum, the Georgian Ethnographic Pavilion, where we organize master classes in cooking, bread baking and tasting, crushing grapes in a three-hundred-century-old solid wood wine press, distilling chacha, etc. Our marani wine cellar, where qvevri wines are produced, also attracts tourists. No wine collector or connoisseur would skip a visit to the Shumi Winery enoteca, where the very first releases of wines from our winery are presented. A beautiful garden with flowers and rare plants, a sculpture park, gastronomic zones, where you can taste a lot of delicious things – all this ensures that a visit to Shumi would leave no one indifferent. Guests are happy to share on social networks their videos from various master classes, and events that we celebrate. 

In the tourist complex, there is a great diversification of the services offered. For example, there are many offers for local residents who come just for relaxation during the weekend, some guests would order banquets: with a traditional toastmaster, and the noise of many voices. We organize a large number of events for foreigners who want to get to know Georgian culture better. In addition, we often hold events for the wine industry professionals, who want to learn more about our production. 

Generally speaking, Shumi Winery opens up for its guests the Georgian culture: famous Georgian artists, musicians, singers, and dancers give their performances here. I recall that once our team of journalists, at the invitation of your director, participated in a supra feast and enjoyed wines, dishes, dances, and male-voice polyphony. Please tell us about the events and festivals that are held at Shumi Winery. Are there any international events of such kind, attracting influencers from all over the world?

The most significant festival, which is loved by both Georgians themselves and guests from different countries, is Rtveli, which is a grape harvest festival in Georgia. From September to mid-October, our guests participate in the grape harvest and the production of wine according to ancient technology. Accompanied by the performance of our ensemble Shumi – with traditional Georgian polyphony – the guests are participating in grape-stomping (crushing grapes with their feet) in the ampelographic pavilion. A special energy, and friendly, unifying atmosphere reign at the festival. The guests are cooking churchkhela, khachapuri together, raising glasses, and saying toasts; to cut a long story short, they become one big family celebrating a wonderful holiday

This year, we are preparing special events, surprises, and gifts for guests for the Rtveli festival. Our sculpture park will also be replenished with a new collection, where the works of Zurab Tsereteli, Merab Merabishvili, Gia Japaridze, and many other masters are collected. 

Superb! We will be waiting for your video from this anniversary celebration, which – we hope – you will share with the Wine Travel Awards community?! Which exhibits of the Wine Museum are you most proud of? 

I would like to emphasize that our museum is the first Wine Museum in Georgia. The oldest artifacts are over 6000 years old. I am particularly fascinated by the qvevri wine vessel, which is 3200 years old. It was collected from fragments, and we revealed an amazing ornament. How much love was contributed into this vessel by the master who created it! Even despite the fact that no one was supposed to see this ornament, because qvevris are buried into the ground. This is an amazing story about harmony, the person’s desire to pass on the love for his work, his skills, to the next generations: both due to the vessel contents, and through the ornament, the harmonious form of qvevri

This sincere Georgian feast is famous all over the world – I mean supra, which is led by a toastmaster like a well-coordinated choir is managed by a conductor. How is this skill taught at the School of Toastmasters, available in Shumi Winery? I simply can’t imagine how one can create a manual on such a subject? Who are the teachers and students, and how long does the course take

The School of Toastmasters is obviously not an educational institution in the conventional sense. This is an introduction into the art of toastmaster in a broad sense, and primarily, through practice)). Since our enogastronomic tourist complex is dedicated to the culture of Georgian hospitality, we cannot help but introduce our guests to the supra, a traditional Georgian feast. Should I mention here that the theoretical part takes minimum hours of the program? We just create a festive atmosphere for the Georgian feast. The school of toastmasters is an integral part of the Georgian tradition, and during the supra feast, we explain (and show in practice!), what toasts, in what sequence and how, are pronounced; what actions should accompany making such toasts (this is a musical accompaniment), and many more various particularities. For example: who should get up when making a toast, who and when has the right to say it, how we are clinking glasses, what toasts we are saying, in whose honor, etc.

Tell us more about the Shumi School of Wine, what and how it teaches. Is there a Faculty of Tourism available at the School? 

The School of Wine is a professional school based on our production facilities and ampelographic collection vineyard. It is the largest private vineyard in the world with over 1,300 grape varieties. We educate everyone who is related to viticulture and winemaking. We are talking about the agrotechnics of grapes, including bio- and biodynamic methods of growing grapes. We teach how to make wines, including theoretical and practical aspects. Both wine lovers and those who consider wine to be their life’s work, show great interest in our school. Before the quarantine restrictions, we had achieved a very good performance. We are currently in the process of restarting. There is a well-established training system, but we want to add online lectures that were introduced during the pandemic. In addition, the market has been updated, and new topics have emerged. We can say that now, we are searching for  new ideas. Incidentally, our school does not have a faculty of wine tourism, but I would like to thank you for this idea – I like it! We have a lot of developments in this regard, interesting cases – and we are ready to share them with those who want to organize tourist activities at their wineries. 

Are there any tours included in your offer? If so, to which regions, to which attractions? For example, due to the visit to Shumi Winery, we once observed the Kindzmarauli microzone for the first time, and were guests at a very simple but unforgettable supra in the vineyard…

Right you are, in addition to the work of the tourist complex, which was presented at the WTA, we also organize feasts and picnics directly in the vineyards, in the same Kindzmarauli microzone: it is renowned for simply amazing nature and unforgettable views. We are open for cooperation with agencies, we can provide a platform, catering or organize a helicopter tour around Kakheti, share our contacts, and give recommendations. If our guests choose a location, they set up a tent on their own, whereas we organize catering, wine, drinks, render assistance in maintaining the concept of such celebration with relevant master classes, and reflect such a concept in our menu, drinks. We resort to an individual approach towards organization of each event. 

We know that the company is not living by tourism alone. In 2020, Shumi Winery was recognized as the best wine producer in Georgia at one of the most prestigious competitions in the world – MUNDUS VINI Grand International Award! What are your company’s particularities that have enabled you to attain such results? 

I can say that a complex of components has led us to the success of Shumi Winery products. First things first, from the very day of foundation, we have been striving to apply the world’s best international experience in wine production practices. 

From the very beginning, we were focused on everything related to classical international business standards – both in terms of safety and quality. Applying the international practices since 2005, we receive all necessary international certificates. We produce biodynamic wines and work to ensure that the technologies we use in production are not harmful to the environment. After all, viticulture and winemaking are inextricably linked with the entire ecosystem.

Since its establishment, the company has been focused on the production of a full cycle: this is also an important component that helps us produce high-quality wines. 

A major role in our achievements is attributable to the unique microzones, in which our vines grow. All of them, like the appellations of France, differ significantly from one another in terms of their soils, conditions in which grapes with different technical characteristics are growing. The unique terroirs of Mukuzani, Tsinandali, Kindzmarauli, Khvanchkara are simply precious lands, where grapes have been grown, and wine produced for thousands of years. In addition, the main part of what we produce includes wines from local autochthonous grape varieties. 

In our ampelographic collection vineyard, a huge number of scientific experiments are being conducted. We are studying the potential of vines and current technologies for working with different grape varieties. It is simply impossible to emulate what we manage to attain. 

What wines and national drinks have recently replenished the range offered by Shumi Winery? Which of them are of the greatest interest to consumers, distributors, and importers?

We have a wide range of products both in the tourist segment and in wine production. We have classics: Saperavi, Mukuzani, Kindzmarauli, Khvanchkara, presented in the Shumi lines and in the premium Iberiuli line, which is distinguished due to a green harvesting method. In addition, we are all passionate about our exclusive line, where ZIGU has a special place. I have not yet met a single specialist at various tastings who would not be surprised by this drink, created out of grapes from our ampelographic collection vineyard and having no analogues in the world. We also have a unique qvevri sparkling wine called Brut Natur “Shobili”, which is produced according to the classic champagne method. And I would certainly like to distinguish the brandy Griffin, which is filled into a porcelain vessel having the shape of “Griffin” – a work of art by the great Georgian sculptor Merab Merabishvili.

In addition, we make exclusive drinks from the grapes of the collection vineyard, and the latter serves as a basis for scientific works. For example, we have revived the Simonaseuli grape variety and produce wine bearing the same name. In the near future, we hope to impress you with other rare Georgian grape varieties.

Goodness me, we didn’t even know this was possible! I really want to visit you again and see with my own eyes how these wonderful drinks are made. 

Well, we do have something to impress even the most sophisticated individuals! I would also like to distinguish Barbale ice wine made from 102 varieties of grapes, which are harvested at sub-zero temperatures from our collection vineyard. In addition, we produce chacha, brandy, and exclusive drinks from Saperavi. This is a super potential grape variety that never ceases to amaze the wine experts. We adhere to strict technologies for the production of wines that can mature, age, and get aged in bottles for a long time. We also have such unique wines as “Genesis”, created from the most ancient vine in Georgia, which is about 300-400 years old. It does not bear fruit every year, so this drink is particularly valuable. I would also like to mention Lazare wine, created from more than 450 grape varieties and presented in hand-painted bottles. At the current stage, we are updating the IBERIULI line: we have done restyling and new labels. It should be pointed out that all these areas are developing simultaneously. 

In addition, we continue to carry out our scientific work, conduct experiments, and create new drinks. Now, we have more than 30 ancient unknown varieties planted in our vineyard, which we have saved and revived, and our ampelographic device has not even established their names yet. We want to evaluate their potential and create wines from these varieties in the future. 

I happened to come across a tasting commented by Andreas Larsson on the Internet, which was related to Salome Premium 2014 wine. I dare to assume that the coincidence of your names is not accidental. Tell us more about this wine and this vintage, please. What was the release, is it possible to buy it today, with a lapse of 8 years, and where? What condition has it acquired?

Right you are – the coincidence is not accidental, but it would be immodest of me to tell this story. Salome wine is the first Georgian bio and biodynamic wine. It has been produced since 2005 using exclusive technology, in limited quantities. Salome is harmoniously developing in the bottle, and can age beautifully for 25 years. 

What channels do you prefer to affect sales: retail, HoReCa, duty free? What percentage of the total volume is attributable to the sales at the winery?

Shumi Winery is a large-scale production, and our products are supplied to the markets of more than 30 countries around the world. According to the business model, we work with HoReCa through distributors available in our country. We are dealing with the duty-free segment directly. However, the main share of income is resulting from retail. There is also a store in the tourist complex, but it represents a disproportionately small sales volume when compared with international distribution. 

Thank you, Salome, for an incredibly interesting conversation. Even for us, who are well aware of Shumi’s advantages, many things were just a revelation! And consequently, even new ideas emerged)). We are confident that having become the winner of the Wine Travel Awards, Shumi Winery, in collaboration with our media group, will be able to surprise the global wine community more than once. You already have everything required for this!

D+ Files 

The Shumi Winery complex is located in the famous region of Georgia – Kakheti, in the village of Tsinandali. These lands once belonged to the Georgian and Kakhetian kings, the family of Prince Alexander Chavchavadze. We can confidently state that all of the most iconic values ​​of Georgian culture are collected here. Shumi Winery includes 38 locations: the world’s largest vineyard with a private ampelographic collection, the first Wine Museum in Georgia, a sculpture park, a marani cellar with a tasting room, an enoteca, an ethnographic pavilion with a bakery, a winery, space for culinary master classes, and much more.

Drinks.ua and winetravelavards.com columnist talked to Salome Lomsadze, Commercial project manager, a representative of the young generation of top management of the unique Shumi Winery complex. Believe us, they had something to talk about! Let’s start with the fact that your winery, located in Georgia, the country where winemaking dates more than 8 thousand years, […]

Maria Athanasopoulou: “I really believe that gastronomy tourism can be the tool that will make any tourist destination more popular and more attractive”

Maria Athanasopoulou, Founder of Respond On Demand, Chairwoman of the Board of Directors of the World Food Travel Association, a Master Culinary Travel Professional as well as the new name of professionals in the wine and wine tourism industry also appeared in the Wine Travel Awards 2022-2023 Jury list shared with us her business and life experience, professional path, the post-pandemic period in the tourism sector, the developing of the Greece tourism etc.


Ms. Maria, when you agreed to join the jury of the Wine Travel Awards, we were sincerely grateful, because we understand how much you are in demand and how many projects you are involved in – founder of the tourism marketing company Respond On Demand, the chairwoman of the Board of Directors of the World Food Travel Association, and also a Master Culinary Travel Professional. You are a member of the International Association of tourism writers and photographers and write many articles on the tourism industry and travel, you are the Ambassador of Greece to the World Food Travel Association and recently elected as the President of its Board of Directors. You are a participant in numerous projects and events every year. In short, the Greek saying “Siga Siga” is not about you, is it? How do you manage to be in time with all the deals? What makes you all successful

I am a woman who loves to work. Work for me is not just a way to earn money. it’s my passion, it’s a piece of my heart. I can even deprive myself of sleep to be consistent to my obligations. I also love to travel, which is part of my job. Although there are never restful trips in my job, they refresh me and I learn and see many interesting new things. I believe that if one is not passionate about his work, he will never be good at it!

Maria Athanasopoulou

But such activity requires not only a high degree of time management, but also the highest level of qualification. And you have such qualifications. For example, you have received a Master’s degree in Culinary Travel. Where did you study? Can you tell us about your professional path (education, career, experience)?

I graduated from law school and worked for several years as a lawyer. I got involved in travel writing and to this day I selectively write articles in various travel media when I think I have something interesting to say. I have also participated in many training seminars on tourism. My training on gastronomy tourism has been through the World Food Travel Association, which I believe is the most credible association in this field.

Which of these areas is the most difficult for you, and which brings you the most pleasure and drive?

I do not find any difficulty in my work, I study everything and try to find time to keep up to date with all the developments in tourism.

Maria Athanasopoulou

Tell us about the Respond on Demand – for how long it has been cooperating, with how many tour operators and travel agencies, from which countries you work? As far as we know, you have collaborated even with such distant destinations as America and Australia. What exactly are the charms of tourist attractions in Greece that interest tourists from such countries?

I founded the tourism marketing company Respond On Demand in 2009. Our specialization is the organization of sales workshops in different countries, where we bring tourism entrepreneurs in contact with travel agents. My company’s database counts a very large number of tour operators & travel agents from all over the world (about 39.000 contacts) We have also great credibility in distant markets such as Australia and USA and we make sure to communicate with them frequently to maintain our good contacts. As to what makes Greece such a popular tourism destination, there are many reasons. In short, Greece as a tourist destination combines beautiful nature, ancient history, good food, very good wine and hospitable people. Who needs more when on holidays?

Maria Athanasopoulou

Considering that the pandemic hit the tourism sector the most, how did the agency survive this period – did you go online? But today, as we observe from the announcements of your events for October in Athens and for March in Thessaloniki, are you returning to live negotiations? What are the pros and cons of each format?

During the lock down all our activities were done online with great success. Today we are back to live evets, I think we all agree that there is no substitute for human contact. We hope to continue this way, without any more unpleasant surprises in the years to come!

Today, observers of the world tourism market record good dynamics of recovery. How can you assess this process – which countries are emerging as leaders in the post-pandemic period?

I think that during the last two years, all countries have done their best to survive and adapt to the new circumstances. In my opinion it does not matter which countries did a little better than the others. What matters is that all countries tried! Of course, the popular destinations have an advantage to the time of tourism recovery.

Maria Athanasopoulou

What areas of tourism, in your opinion, are receiving special development today? In our opinion, food and wine tourism can become an engine for the restoration of tourist flows in many countries – we are sure that you share the same opinion. Which countries, in your opinion, show the most interesting attractions in this area. Please name the loudest events or institutions in those countries that you liked.

I believe that every country, every city, every region, has its own particular gastronomy culture, which deserves and can be highlighted through gastronomy tourism. I cannot name a country, city or region because I really believe that gastronomy tourism can be the tool that will make any tourist destination more popular and more attractive.

Maria Athanasopoulou

Allow us to share our own observation: in our opinion, today the Balkan countries and, in particular, Greece are an underestimated area of ​​gastronomic and wine tourism. We see this with our own eyes, such respected speakers who gave us interviews, such as Jancis Robinson, Andreas Larsson, speak about it. As far as we understand, and you write about this on the website www.toptourism.info: “Did you know that in Barcelona, ​​Rome, etc., there are such and such gastronomic tours? The same could be the case in Greece or Cyprus…” And what exactly, in your opinion, prevented all this from being organized, promoted and offered to the guests of Greece a long time ago? Why is there such a lag (if you agree that there is)? Was it because of excessive taxation, lack of state or local support, conservative society, or something else?

I believe that both Greece and Cyprus have a very bright future in terms of the development of their gastronomy tourism. This is because they have authentic local gastronomy, with roots in antiquity, and offers extremely tasty and healthy recipes. In my opinion, because both countries are very popular for tourism due to the sun and the sea, there was no interest in the past to discover the potential of gastronomy tourism, but in recent years I see an improvement and an effort to develop this sector.

In other countries there may be different reasons why gastronomy tourism is still not fully developed. Each case is different, and research could give results to determine the cause.

Maria Athanasopoulou

Through which tourist attractions are the best ways to offer tourists the tastes of the country: are they festivals, tasting rooms, museums of wine or local products, master classes or visits to wineries and farms? We are not mistaken – you are the orgaisers of Taste Of Loutraki – The Corinthian Food Festival. In your opinion, how is this event developing – is it being implemented as planned, or are there still some points that need to be worked out? If the second option, then what exactly does not satisfy?

All the above are ways of offering gastronomy experiences and if done properly they will be very popular.

In Loutraki (a small seaside town in Greece) we are organizing (Respond On Demand) a three-day food festival with the aim to communicate the local cuisine of the region and to increase the income of the local businesses through the increase of the visitors to the area. The first event was an outstanding success, and we look forward to the second one next year.

Tell us about the three – in your opinion – the most beautiful places in Greece, where you can taste a wine or a specialty that will impress any well-educated tourist.

I believe that there are much more than three places in Greece, wherever you go you will find truly remarkable local gastronomy and excellent wines.

Maria Athanasopoulou

Let’s turn to your participation in the World Food Travel Association. This community brings together a very large number of outstanding chefs, product manufacturers, etc. Tell us about this community in more detail, who exactly makes up its larger share, which professions are the rarest? What are the main tasks of the organization and what exactly is the role of the chairwoman of the Board of Directors, what will you do in the position to which you were recently elected? And which of these activities is the most interesting for you?

The World Food Travel Association, which I have the honor of serving for a second term as chairwoman, is the only international organization that has been exclusively involved in gastronomy tourism for twenty years or so. There is an expertise and a specialization that can assist gastronomy tourism to be developed in any destination. The activities of the World Food Travel Association are also relevant to every tourism professional in my opinion, since gastronomy tourism concerns hotels, tourist agencies, restaurants, cafés, local producers, etc. The Board of Directors of the World Food Travel Association, meets once a month discussing all matters relating to the functioning of the organization. I would like to mention that I am also an Ambassador of the World Food Travel Association and I have been working continuously for the development of gastronomy tourism in Greece and Cyprus for the last few years.

Maria Athanasopoulou

The World Food Travel Association as far as we know operates for many years. How do its goals change over time – or do they remain the same? Which organizations/companies support its development? What are your plans for the next year or two?

The World Food Travel Association monitors the development of gastronomy tourism around the world. And of course, it follows all the changes that occur in this sector, as nothing stays the same and everything evolves. In recent years, the study of culinary cultures and how they can be used to further develop gastronomy tourism around the world, has been a primary objective for us. This study led us to a project called Culinary Capitals.

Maria, you are a member of the Ιnternational Travel Writers Alliance writers and photographers. Tell us about this branch of your creativity. What areas or regions have become the heroes of your latest articles? Where can we get acquainted with them, what do you recommend reading first of all for those interested in gastronomic paths?

First, I would like to point out that most of my articles and photos are about Greece. I have been running a blog for many years, where you can find a lot of photos from many places in Greece. Through this activity, I promote my travels in general, the sights of the areas I visit and very often their local gastronomy. I write articles in many electronic magazines in Greece and other countries.

Maria Athanasopoulou

By the way, are culinary tourism and gastronomic tourism identical or are there differences?

I think that in general terms we are referring to the same thing

What are your own plans for the coming year? Are you planning your dream trip?

I love traveling, I travel a lot for work and in my personal time and I consider every trip I take a dream trip!

Maria Athanasopoulou

Small Blitz

Describe your working day in a few words, starting with the time you wake up.

I wake up every day at seven in the morning at the latest and work until late in the afternoon. On weekends I get up at the same time, and I also work, but fewer hours.

The best food tourism guide is… (continue the sentence – either a guide publication or your own sources of information that you use in your travels).

I don’t use a specific guide, when I arrive somewhere I talk directly to the locals, get the information I want and then explore the information that impressed me.

Name your place of strength – where you like to rest, gain strength and inspiration.

In any coastal area of Greece!

Your most favorite: dish and wine.

I love spanakopita (a Greek pie with spinach and feta cheese) and white wine

If you could turn to all the people of the world, what advice would you give to humanity today?

To respect and understand each other’s different cultures and start systematically protecting the environment

Maria Athanasopoulou, Founder of Respond On Demand, Chairwoman of the Board of Directors of the World Food Travel Association, a Master Culinary Travel Professional as well as the new name of professionals in the wine and wine tourism industry also appeared in the Wine Travel Awards 2022-2023 Jury list shared with us her business and […]

CEO & Technical Director of Chateau Mukhrani Patrick Honnef: “We are very much concentrated because we believe – the wine tourism and event business, it’s a very important part for us and has a big potential. This yeah, this is going to have a very positive outlook”.

Château Mukhrani is a name that is already known throughout the wine world. This is 102 hectares of Georgian and international grapes and practices organic viticulture, concentrating more on endemic and unique grape varieties such as Goruli Mtsvane, Chinuri, Tavkveri, Shavkapito, Château Mukhrani has won 200+ awards on the top international wine competitions. But at the same time, your winery is also a historical landmark and a tourist attraction of the most premium level. This is – XIX century renovated palace. This is a restaurant with a Michelin star, a cellar with a series of lectures and tastings, artistic events of stunning beauty. With CEO & Technical Director of Chateau Mukhrani Patrick Honnef we had the opportunity to discuss by a Zoom meeting the main points of wine and wine tourism business, the main export markets and trade channels as well as a distribution strategy. Mr Patrick Honnef gave us some advice, what the a priori must see, learn, and feel during the visit to Chateau Mukhrani.


We, as the organizers of the WTA award, in which you took part as a nominee this year and received a well-deserved victory in the nomination “The Visiting Card of the Country”, Must Visit category, are interested in how you evaluate these areas – wine production and wine tourism? Are these directions equal to you?

Today we are mainly a wine making company. Producing from 102-hectare vine. Ten years ago we started tourism and event activities from a very low, small level. For sure we have also a cut of two years with the Covid time, but to say in 2019 the tourism activity reached about 12% of our revenue. This is already interesting, but it is one of the objectives to increase it to up to half of our income, as the idea is to do more installation and to have more direct sales in Château Mukhrani. Thus wine tourism becomes significantly more important in our turnover business. So this is today – just an important growing part in our activity where we invest a lot because we are constructing an arena for projects. So if we decide to make a hotel for sure it will become perhaps 50/50 or more.

Nowadays wine is the main business, which plays 70% of the budget. But as we develop more and more wine tourism business and we have many upcoming projects, in future it will be 50/50.

Château Mukhrani

By the way, our award is aimed at both trade marketing and how locations and judging by statistics, for many winemakers wine tourism is becoming the leading direction, income in some estates from tourists prevails over the wines selling. How do you see the future for Château Mukhrani? Especially considering the pandemic that has hit tourism, and the growing competition among wine producers in the export direction.

The future for sure will be with the strong increase of wine, tourism and event activities. I said that to get up to 30 to 40% of our income, minimum by wine, tourism, events and wine festivities in one place. So we are very much concentrated because we believe – the wine tourism and event business, it’s a very important part for us and has a big potential. This yeah, this is going to have a very positive outlook. I think we will be very strong and in Georgia we have talent competitively. Georgia is mostly our first market because we believe that a strong brand needs to be in a strong country. That’s why Georgia is important and it’s about diversification. We also try to spread our exports over more countries quite wide because we are quite high priced and prefer to have lower volumes in a lot of countries and huge volumes in some. And for sure. I mean when we talk about Russia and Ukraine, which are extremely important markets for Georgia, for us as well. See how the situation is and that gives us another need to more diversify to other countries.

Chateau Mukhrani

As for the export of wine. Chateau Mukhrani, as a representative of Georgia, the cradle of winemaking, do you feel such intense competition in the world market? And with which wine regions does Georgian premium wine have to compete?

If you want to hear that we compete with other ex-Soviet, I would not say because here Georgia has the best position. I mean, we don’t have the same problems as Bulgaria and Romania or Moldavia. Armenia is just starting on a very low, low level. Among ex-Soviet, I think Georgia has the number one position. Let’s say Spain, Italy, France, they are on another level. We are very, very far behind. If I would like to compete, I have to say we have to compete with something like South Africa, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, which are already as well developed as we are. But generally, I do not differentiate like this. I think it’s a worldwide wine market and we have to compete with everybody for top positions. We are the top leading countries and then we have a striving country and then we have a top leading old world and we have the established new world. What is Argentina, Chile, California, Australia and South Africa, New Zealand? Then we have abstracting countries where I would say Georgia is the strongest. You mean you tried, but tried us ten times bigger than Georgia. But it’s striving. Let’s say South Africa is coming up again because they had a big crisis and could put us with Syria or other Turkey or Armenia, all the same new coming countries today, which for sure are competing with us. Who comes up faster than the others.

Chateau Mukhrani

Through which sales channels do you prefer selling: retail, HoReCa, duty free?

As we are still a very unknown wine country. We are still a hot drop on a little drop on the plate of the wine world, the volumes, because Georgian wine production is small for sure. We are not known and so trade is extremely important for us because here we have a possibility to explain Georgia. In ex-Soviet we can be very good in off trade because everybody knows about Georgia and has a very high image. But even in these countries that is not typical Georgia, because we are quite high priced and we are mostly dry wines. We have to create a new category of Georgia because we are not known. Georgia has an image about good price quality relation, quite cheap, never as expensive as from Spain, even if it’s high quality and it is very often semi-sweet what we are mostly not to as well on trade to explain, but we can make off trade in new markets like Western world or Asian world. It’s very important for us to be on trade because we need to be explained. We have to. If it is extending mostly in off trade to the market and you have a Spanish line or a French line next to us, people would always choose the Spanish or the French because they have no clue about Georgia and they are not excited about what is happening with them. But it’s on trade for sure, it is very important for us.

Chateau Mukhrani

Searching the Internet, I came across information that in the USA you are represented, if I am not mistaken, by the niche importer Niche Imports Co. Brian Johnson. Is this part of the strategy – to work on such huge markets pointwise?

It’s one of our new key markets that we want to develop very much because the most complicated area for us is Europe, West Europe, because there are quite a high competitive markets, a lot of old world classical wine countries, I mean, France, Italy, Spain. And we cannot consider it as an important wine market for us. It can be an accessory for some specialists, but it is difficult. Scandinavia, it’s the monopole, it’s not easy to enter. And for sure England, Benelux, Germany, Austria, Switzerland are very interesting markets. But Germany is extremely price sensitive and very competitive. Switzerland, Austria, very small. England is extremely competitive. We want to make an interesting presence in England because people are more price ready as in Germany. So also we want to be there. But compared to the efforts that say we can achieve more in the USA because we have a small elite sized company, they have an unlimited marketing budget. So we are growing generically in Europe, in Germany, but we have very good, I think, potential in Poland because it has knowledge. But they are developing more of their wine interest in wine competence, they started with low level low price wines and they became more mature. I think this can be a very important future market for us, Poland, USA because just by the pure size of the country plus I would say the open mindedness of the US consumer to try new wines. But we are planning to sell about 25,000 bottles in this country and I would be happy about this. So we are very much looking for markets like the USA. China for sure is an already established market for us. Japan, Singapore, South Korea we are looking. And to find the right people in Great Britain, it’s very important for us as well.

Chateau Mukhrani

What are your requirements for distributors and can you name your leading partners and top priority markets for the next couple of years?

So I prefer mostly a quality of price and placement over volume, especially in mentioned markets and engagement. The problem we have mostly that for sure especially if you go to reputable, famous distribution companies, we don’t get the attention because Georgia needs a lot of engagement, a lot of explanation to sell. If you are a bigger company with a sales pressure, budget pressure, you can sell two times or four times easier. To conclude, Top priority markets for me for new development – China, USA, Japan, Poland and Ukraine.

Chateau Mukhrani

Let’s imagine that I’m going to visit Chateau Mukhrani. What exactly would you advise – of course, besides wine tasting, this is a priori must – to see, learn, feel during the visit?

First of all, besides the tasting, you have to enjoy the atmosphere and certainly to see our restaurant, the food that it can offer you and the palace and the wineries. Our park. But then the surroundings I mean we have interesting explorations of Roman Villa too so it’s a very tricky question you ask me how to answer this.

As an experienced judge of international competitions, I have tasted 300 samples of wine, but for pleasure and to remember the tasting for a long time, what would you recommend? In Mukhrani, where the Chateau is located, as far as I know, unique varieties grow – which wines should I try, in your opinion, and without which wine can I leave the chateau?

For me as a winemaker, it’s difficult to prioritize one or two of our wines, but as a wine lover/professional who wants to taste something really unique, for sure we can give you the selection of our unique, rare, and endemic grape varieties from our, Kartli region, such as Goruli Mtsvane, Shavkapito, Tavkveri, which isn’t so popular from Georgia, but has all the noble characteristics to create finest wines.

Chateau Mukhrani

Does Chateau Mukhrani have any new plans for tourism events (perhaps international events) for the next year? For example, for those who plan to use our recommendation and visit the WTA Must Visit winner, what should they know?

We have plans for international events. This year it was postponed. So we had interesting events beyond those not organized by us, this international community who wanted to hold events. We have different plans for national events. We are planning to run a wine festival in Georgia, which is a steamy international Italian. We are working, for example, on the Open Air Opera Festival. It could be international as well because the artists can come from other countries as well as the visitors. But before, we are acting more local today.

Chateau Mukhrani

I wanted to remind you that Chateau Mukhrani became a nominee for next year’s edition. Maybe you would like to present exclusive tastings at our events? Maybe you are planning an event? 

For a mid-sized company with a limited budget of marketing, it is bringing people to our place sommeliers, influencers, bloggers, journalists, etc. People who have a reputation in the wine business and credibility towards the client and consumer. This is one of our key directions. I believe very much in smaller shows on smaller activities, because I think in a lot of wine fairs today, we don’t reach the target group because they are too busy, too big, especially Australia and China. Today we participate less because we have our importance. So I’m more interested in going to specific target groups to make masterclasses and more private dinners to support our distributors, importers in the countries and other markets like they are very still looking for more or for better importers for sure. Plus, to invite the right opinion leaders to our places.

Thank you Patrick for answering our questions!

 

Château Mukhrani is a name that is already known throughout the wine world. This is 102 hectares of Georgian and international grapes and practices organic viticulture, concentrating more on endemic and unique grape varieties such as Goruli Mtsvane, Chinuri, Tavkveri, Shavkapito, Château Mukhrani has won 200+ awards on the top international wine competitions. But at the same time, your winery […]

Hannah Tovey: “For many producers London is seen as “the shop window to the world”; it’s where the most exciting emerging regions rub shoulders with the greatest bottles on earth”

Drinks+ had the opportunity to ask Hannah Tovey, head of the London Wine Fair about the achievements of this year’s exhibition, new exhibitors, the development and transformation of the exhibition business and more.


Hannah, let us cite you as saying on the last day of this year’s exhibition that within 15 years of work you saw such forum for the first time. What are the most significant features that distinguish this year – well, apart from the fact that it was anniversary (40th!) release (figuratively speaking) of the London Wine Fair? We would like to take this opportunity to extend our greetings to your team, once again, on the occasion of such anniversary!

“That’s a really good question!  By the end of day three it was clear that the show had had a far greater significance than even we had anticipated.  It represented the “back to normal” that the wine industry had been craving over the last two and a half years and the buzz from our exhibitors and visitors was palpable. Our 40th live event was representative of everything that The Fair is; a platform for the UK and international wine trade to do business, reflecting the trends and the issues that shape our industry.”

Hannah Tovey

Speaking of differences, we would like to ask you: what is the most important particularity of the LWF compared to other professional exhibitions in the wine world?

“The London Wine Fair takes place in the heart of what is the most exciting city in the world when it comes to wine.  For many producers London is seen as “the shop window to the world”; it’s where the most exciting emerging regions rub shoulders with the greatest bottles on earth. The London Wine Fair both serves and delivers for this industry and is always at the forefront of global trends.

“The Fair has always delivered an unrivalled programme of debates, briefings, masterclasses and seminars, reflecting our core values of education and knowledge.”

Hannah Tovey

The UK market has always been considered to be a fashionable podium for the wine trade – and wines were sent here from all over the world for quality tasting. After all, it so happened that Great Britain gave to the world some of the best wine critics, professional media, the most professional buyers and importers, exemplary operators of the wine trade. And, of course, a high-quality exhibition hub, where all these vectors converge. Does Britain maintain this reputation even now, given the lapse of time and changing trends, given, for instance, Brexit?

“There is no doubt that Brexit has caused barriers to the wider trade within the EU across industries and wine is no different. The WSTA (Wine & Spirit Trade Association) and its members have worked tirelessly to lobby for simplified taxation and reduced red tape and we hope this can be achieved.  We have provided a platform for debating the impact of Brexit over the last few years and will continue to do so.”

Hannah Tovey

Over the past two years, all of the world’s expo hubs have experienced lockdowns caused by the pandemic. We know it was not an easy path for all of you. What exactly did the LWF organizers draw from this period of trial? What forms of activities, new expositions and formats have arisen in view of this period in human history?

“The Pandemic represented a huge challenge for event organisers, and we were no exception. Lockdown was announced some two months before the 2020 show, which led to its almost immediate cancellation.  We were in regular contact with our exhibitors from the outset and made the decision to offer them the choice between a full refund, using their credit to pay to participate in our innovative digital event, or rolling over their monies to the following year.  There was no holding our exhibitors to ransom, and we felt this was the right thing to do in what was an unprecedented situation.

“We were the first drinks exhibition of our scale to switch to a digital event, which replaced the live event in 2021.  2,608 visitors attended, 25,000 samples were despatched in advance and the masterclass sessions were streamed over 6,000 times.  It was so successful, we decided to incorporate digital into 2022, to create the first hybrid London Wine Fair.”

Hannah Tovey

Can you kindly assess, which of them are efficient and may in the future become a sign of progress, and which are artificial and were introduced only due to the event of Force Majeure (because, for example, such formats as online tastings lose the atmosphere, at the very minimum, not to mention possible deviations in organoleptics due to bottle logistics or various glass shapes)?

“Digital format is here to stay albeit a format that is continuously evolving at high speeds.  Whilst the influx of tastings and meetings over Zoom and Teams may have left us craving some “in-person” time, the reality is that digital is an incredibly useful tool – as long as it’s done well – especially for those unable to travel.”

Hannah Tovey

Did new exhibitors appear this year – outstanding winemakers, regions, which were unknown before now, new associations?

“Yes, we had a number of first-time exhibitors this year, as well as several who returned after a break of a few years.  Wines of Ukraine was the most notable new exhibitor, and we were very proud to have been able to assist them this year. This was only possible with the help and support of Drinks+. We also welcomed a new-to-market collective of producers from Portugal’s Península de Setúbal for the first time.  ProChile returned, as did Wine Australia, with several wineries from Wine Victoria and South Australia attending.  Bibendum, a major UK agent, returned after a break of a few years.”

Hannah Tovey

On the eve of the pandemic, there was a trend towards globalization and consolidation, especially in wine marketing. What is happening in the world market now: has the trend changed? Perhaps it turned out that it is easier or more interesting for winemakers to advance individually?

“There is always an ebb and flow when it comes to generic bodies as producers may elect to exhibit with the generic whilst they are seeking distribution, but then move to their agent stand once they are more established.  The breadth of exhibitors at this year’s event was very evident, with many emerging regions electing to exhibit as a generic body, such as: Uzbekistan, Greece, and India, to name a few.”

Hannah Tovey

If we are not mistaken, the London Wine Fair has always been about trade marketing. But this year you accepted the offer of the Communication Media Group Drinks+ and became the Exhibition Partner of the Wine Travel Awards (we are grateful for the trust in this new project and such strong support, including yours personally). How, according to your observations, can wine tourism influence the development of winemaking in general? After all, there are some studies that prove their direct dependence. For example, the influence of the size of a winery on the share of income from tourism: the smaller the production, the larger the share is. But we also know examples when museums or restaurants with tasting rooms, with sufficiently powerful productions, bring significant profits, competing with sales through traditional sales channels.

“There is no doubt that wine tourism adds another dimension to wine brands.  That sense of place that we all talk about when marketing and selling wine, is brought to life when consumers are able to actually visit.  Experiencing the romance of a brand first hand creates engagement which translates into valuable long-term brand loyalty.”

Hannah Tovey

Does London, which is prone to such futuristic formats, plan to create a wine museum like the Cité du Vin in Bordeaux or the other one opened in Burgundy?

“In fact, a wine museum – Vinopolis – opened in London back in 1999, and whilst it was largely successful, it closed in 2015.  As far as I know there are no current plans to re-open this type of venue.  Bordeaux and Burgundy may be more logical locations for a wine museum – particularly Bordeaux which is already set up for wine tourism.  I suppose it’s worth considering that London is home to hundreds of museums, and is a much more competitive location in that regard.”

Hannah Tovey

Will the London Wine Fair, as a very convenient platform for such purposes, continue to develop analytical activities to monitor the market trends?

“We have always been a platform for market analysts to present their findings and foresight, and feel that this elements of the show is always incredibly valuable for our audience. The exhibitor list platform that we use, Bottlebooks, also provides us with highly insightful data based on the tens of thousands of searches made by our exhibitors and visitors each year.”

Hannah Tovey

Perhaps you are planning to launch educational programs or events in the near future? If it’s not a secret, what news are you preparing for the next year?

“We have partnered with the W.S.E.T. (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) for several years. They have been successfully supporting our Education Zone at the Fair as headline sponsors, with a programme of seminars and tastings tailored to the different levels of wine knowledge. We also provide a new format for our Discovery Zone each year, with a new headline partner in order to ensure we remain ahead of the curve. It’s all about future-proofing the industry to our best effect.”

Hannah Tovey

At the end of the conversation, we want to extend our gratitude to the London Wine Fair on behalf of the entire wine industry of Ukraine for the unique assistance rendered to our winemakers who are suffering from the Russian aggression: for a free opportunity to present Ukrainian wines for the first time this year at the unified national Wines of Ukraine stand. And not only for the stand itself – incidentally, deployed in a wonderful location in the very centre of the exhibition – but also for the assistance in organizing volunteer sommeliers of the highest professional level, who helped us to present the Ukrainian drinks to numerous guests of the stand. The memory of your support will remain in our hearts forever!

“We were absolutely delighted to be able to help and we were so pleased to see how positively the wines were received by the UK wine trade.  We wish Wines of Ukraine every success in the future – they so deserve this. I also cannot stress enough that it was the support of Drinks+ that created this opportunity and enabled the producers to get their wines here. Thank you to the whole team. We will never forget your hard work and kindness during this important collaboration.”

Drinks+ had the opportunity to ask Hannah Tovey, head of the London Wine Fair about the achievements of this year’s exhibition, new exhibitors, the development and transformation of the exhibition business and more. Hannah, let us cite you as saying on the last day of this year’s exhibition that within 15 years of work you […]

Boris Gasparyan: «Our final goal is to create an archaeological park»

The legendary land of Armenia is hiding numerous mysteries and secrets. Primitive people settled among its valleys and mountains, which means that every pebble here can tell its own story. And archaeologists, who make their discoveries almost each year, help us understand such stories.


Thus, in 2007, excavation began in a cave near the village of Areni, the history of which dates back to 4000 BC. Many artifacts were found there, including a 6,000-year-old winery! Thus, it is not by chance that this Armenian attraction became a Wine Travel Awards’ nominee and the voting winner of The Visiting Card of the Country nomination in the Authentic Location category. To learn more about this unique location, we talked to the head of the expedition, Department Member of the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia, Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, Boris Gasparyan.

Борисом Гаспарян

There are probably many caves in the mountainous area of Armenia. Tell us about this region. Why were archaeologists interested in this particular cave? What does the name “Cave of Birds” come from? And what does the figure “1” in the name of Areni – 1 mean? How many caves of such a kind can be discovered in these places?

The landscape of Armenia is very rich with caves and rock shelters, which are spread all around the country. They have different origins, size and morphology. Karsts are the most interesting among them, like Areni-1 cave, which is formed in in sedimentary marine limestone rock-formations on the left bank of the Arpa River, near the point of its confluence with the tributary Gnishik and at an elevation of 1070 m above the sea level.

Comparing with neighboring Georgia, in Armenia karstic caves were not excavated, this is why our study was focused on test excavating such caves in the northern and southern parts of the country, where they exist. Areni-1 was selected as a cave with interesting location, its size and because of being a dead “karst”, i.e.  ground water activities were finished here thousands of years ago and it was dry inside of the cave. Local people call it “Bird’s Cave” or “Cave of Birds”, because nests of cave swallows and other birds are visible closer to the roofing of the cave. It is also home for 14 types of bats, organizing their lifeways inside of the cave.

Figure “1” in the name of the caves is given based on the legislation of recording archaeological sites in Armenia. “Areni” reflects the community, “1” reflects the number of the archaeological site. So “Areni-1 cave” is how the site is recorded in the official list of the immovable monuments in Vayots Dzor Province, meanwhile “Bird’s cave” is also in use, for keeping the local toponim. There are also Areni-2, Areni-3, Areni-4 etc. caves which are spread in the same area and some of them keep traces of activities, which are similar to the ones characteristic to the Late Chalcolithic inhabitants recorded in Areni-1.

Борис Гаспарян

What initiated the archaeological expedition in Areni, which institutions and from which countries participated and what were their functions and goals? Were those the representatives of specialized wine organizations? And how long did it take to prepare the necessary documents and permits – as we are aware, for example, from the experience of vineyards in the archaeological complex of Pompeii, it can take decades.

The archaeological expedition in Areni was initiated for two reasons. It was an archaeologically poorly studied region as well as our goal was to record traces of early hominin activities in the Arpa River valley. The goals were achieved, meanwhile we discovered the wonderful world of Late Chalcolithic people who exploited this unique ecological niche in very specific ways and which was new for us. Previously it was thought that caves “attracted” people of Paleolithic period and their role in organization of lifeways decreased with the rise of Early Agricultural societies and onwards. Excavations of Areni and numerous other sites in Armenia showed that this is not true. Caves continue to be important cultural spaces even in the Late Medieval period, where different types of human activities (hiding or secret shelters, hunting camps, religious and ritual performances) continued to take place.

The excavations in Areni-1 started at 2007 as a joint Armenian-Irish archaeological project (The Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography of the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia and the School of Archaeology, University College Cork, Ireland), with an aim to study the initial occupation phases of the Arpa River valley. In 2008 Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA (USA), joined the project. Main sponsor of the Areni-1 cave excavations is the Gfoeller Renaissance Foundation (USA). Among the other important sponsors were the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography of the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia, the National Geographic Society, the Steinmetz Family Foundation, the Chitjian Foundation, and the Boochever Foundation. Funds for the site’s preservation (fence, electricity, passages, warehouse) and for the information panels were provided by the U.S. Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation.

All three parties and team members from them were cultural and physical anthropologists. There were no wine specialists and/or archaeologists who were specialized in archaeology or history of wine. They later joined the project. The permits were obtained very quickly as 1/3 of the site was heavily destroyed and covered by concrete, and the excavations conducted here were kind of safeguard excavations for stopping the destruction of the site in the future.

Борис Гаспарян

What was the first artifact you found that impressed you the most?

First artifacts that impressed me the most were reed straws discovered in one of the karases or the earthenware pots that belong to the wine production installation. I said to myself: “God, this has to be related to winemaking, because it reminds me of Xenophon, 5th century Greek historian describing the Armenian wine cellar”. He wrote in his “Anabasis” the following: “There was also wheat, barley, beans, and barleywine in big bowls. The very grains of the barley were in it, floating level with the brim, and there were reeds lying in it, some of which were longer, others shorter, but without joints. When one was thirsty, he had to take one of these to his mouth and suck. It was quite unmixed (and strong), unless one poured in a bit of water, and the drink was quite pleasant for one who had learned to be familiar with it. (Xenophon 2008:138, Book IV, Chapter V)”.

Boris, the fact you rented this cave created an interesting precedent. Please elaborate on conditions and for what period you managed to do that.

The government of Armenia decided to give to some private organizations several cave sites for rent, which could be exploited as a touristic destination and generate some income for the future preservation of such kinds of sites. Areni was the most “suitable” as some steps were always undertaken before the above mentioned project started. The goal of our project which was then accepted by the Government of Armenia was to bring together the three following tasks – the scientific study of the site (excavations, reconstructions, etc.), preservation of the site and the elements uncovered during the excavations as well as turning the site into an interesting touristic destination for the visitors which will not contradict with first two goals. Our consortium (“Areni-1 Cave” Scientific-Research Foundation, Armenia and the “Gfoeller Renaissance Foundation”, USA) was able to undertake the project and rent the cave for 25 years. We deeply believe that excavations, preservation and conservation activities of the site in parallel with organizing attractions for tourists is the best way to preserve the heritage. Meanwhile, our funds secured from the tourism are oriented to excavate, study and preserve other sites located in the vicinity (Areni-2 Cave, Gnishikadzor Archaeological Complex, Gnishikadzor-1 rockshelter, Yelpin rock-cut complex, etc.), and which are related to the history of the inhabitants of Areni-1 Cave. Our final goal is to create an archaeological park and tie together a net of sites and destination, where our tourists and visitors can spend two-three unforgettable days and learn information on history of viticulture, winemaking, the origins of ancient crafts, the rituals and worldviews of ancient people living in Arpa River Valley millennia.

What can you tell us about the life of the people who lived there thousands of years ago? This cave was used as a home, a utility room, a place of worship or all together (as far as we know, there were burial sites in the cave – why were the skulls kept separately? What kind of memorial plaques were installed – what was written on them, in what language)?

Humans started to use the cave in the Lower Paleolithic, around 2-1,5 million years ago, which probably served Homo erectus as a hunting camp or seasonal shelter. Also Neolithic people in late 7th Millennium BC used the rare part of the first gallery for habitation. The most long exploitation of this ecological niche (the Areni-1 cave) was recorded during the Chalcolithic period (5300/5200 Cal BC – 3400/3300 Cal BC), especially during the Late Chalcolithic (4400/4300 Cal BC – 3400/3300 Cal BC). During this period (around 1 thousand years) the inner part of the first gallery of the cave was used as a “temple” where very complex seasonal ritual activities were taking place, probably in autumn, related to the dying and reviving god, fertility and the natural cycles. Also the part at the entrance of the same gallery was used for habitation and organization of production of goods (metal artifacts, leather implements and clothing, mats and basketry, bone tools etc.), which  means that this space was occupied by craftsman, who were guarding the “temple” and in parallel were making goods for the upcoming rituals took place inside of the cave.

Very limited Middle Bronze and Early Iron Age (2200/2100 – 900/800 Cal BC) occupation traces were recorded in different parts of the cave. Next intensive occupation is recorded during the whole Medieval period (4th – 18th centuries AD), when the cave continues to serve as a habitation area, space for economic activities and trade point near the Silk road, secret place for hiding manuscripts and goods and finally short term shelter for refugees after the Russian-Persian, Russian-Turkish wars and the 1915 Genocide, who migrated to the region and start finding villages for further organization of their life.

There is only a single baby or infant burial inside of the cave from Late Chalcolithic Period. The rest of the clay structures are just ritual beans containing some goods (basketry, metal and stone artifacts, seeds and other plant remains) in addition to some human body fragments – skulls without lower jaws, femurs, ribs etc., which bear traces of cut-marks, polishing, fire and traces of being chewed by humans. That means that people were sacrificed inside of the cave during the complex rituals which also were related to the cult of the human body.

Memorial plaques installed at the site are telling general information about the cave and its excavation history. Also each trench (there are six) has a separate plaque explaining the stratigraphy and the meaning of finds discovered in a specific trench. The texts are in three languages: Armenian, English and Russian.

Борис Гаспарян

In 2011, archaeologists discovered the world’s oldest – a 6,000-year-old – winery in Areni Cave. Undoubtedly, we are very interested in the history related to wine. Tell us, please, what signs led you to believe that there was a winery in the cave? What specific tools and dishes were found in the cave to confirm this fact?

The wine making complex or the wine production installation was discovered in 2010, in the rare part of the first gallery together with the ritual bins (they belong to the Late Chalcolithic Horizon II). First idea that this construction is related to winemaking came with the discovery of reed straws inside of one of the earthenware pots for aging the wine, as it was mentioned above. Also the details of the structure and the construction concept (platform with a noticeable angle wrapping the installation tank, series of earthenware pots or karases in Armenian for storing and aging wine), which are the same as the ethnographic period wine making installations in the Armenian houses, in addition to the archaeobotanical finds (remains of pressed and crushed grape skins, seeds, branches, pedicles etc.) on the crushing platform and inside of karases, as well as the results of the archaeo chemical analyses are out of reasonable doubt, that in Areni-1 we have recorded and ancient wine making complex. Some artifacts related to wine consumption are also talking about this. They are presented by drinking straws and especially a cup made from a combination of horn and wood, which is for drinking wine. It is the cup of revival, probably the prototype of the Holy Grail.

Борис Гаспарян

Does this discovery allow us to say that Armenia can claim the status of the cradle of winemaking, just like Georgia? Is it a winery that nevertheless existed during a later period, and two centuries separate the artifacts used as the evidence of this fact?

Neither Armenia, nor Georgia are able to claim a status of being the cradles of winemaking, even based on the existing wonderful discoveries. Both countries which boundaries were established around 30 years ago can’t be a cradle of anything. It is more scientifically correct to talk about the region (Asia Minor, Armenian Highlands, Caucasus, Iranian Plateau) to be one of the ancient cradles of winemaking together with the East Mediterranean, Levant, Europe and the southern parts of the Russian Plain. The archaeology of viticulture and winemaking is a very young branch in archeological study and I am sure many new and interesting discoveries regarding the ancient cradles of winemaking are waiting for us. In any case, in the face of Areni-1 we have the first known wine production facility which is also claiming the initial steps of the wine domestication. Initial stages of wine production are strongly related with the rituals which took place in the cave and the first steps of winemaking belong to the ritual world of our ancestors. It appears only since the Iron Age (1st Millennium BC) that wine making has become an important branch of the economy and getting to everyday life, but still requiring a series of important rituals regarding its production, transportation, storage and consumption.

Борис Гаспарян

Was chemical analysis carried out in order to establish which beverages had been stored in the clay vessels? Is there any information about what kind of wine it was: sweet or dry, strong, red or white?

Chemical or archaeo chemical analyses are not able to tell which beverages had been stored in the clay vessels. Archaeological excavations in the Areni-1 cave revealed installation and artifacts dating to around 4000 Cal BC that are strongly indicative of wine production. Chemical evidence for this hypothesis is presented using a new method to detect the anthocyanin malvidin that gives grapes and pomegranates their red color. Using solid phase extraction (SPE) and alkaline treatment of the potsherd samples, followed by combined liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS), this method was applied to authentic standards. A positive result was observed for two of the samples from the Areni-1 cave, adding evidence supporting the hypothesis that wine was produced in the Armenian Highlands in the Late Chalcolithic Period, found inside one of the large storage jars, produced a positive curve with a small but clearly detectable amount of syringic acid in the 50% organic fraction. The second potsherd from inside the large storage jar in the Areni-1 cave complex also returned a positive curve. Vessels such as those found partly buried inside the central gallery of the Areni-1 cave appear well suited to receive grape juice, or a combination of grape juice and other ingredients (for instance hawthorn or pomegranate juice, or resins), and store it during its fermentation into wine. This obviously does not constitute irrefutable evidence, but chemical data pointing in the same direction can now be added to the archaeological argument.

An information source for the reconstruction of the first and initial wines can serve the results from the experimental archaeology. As of it is clear that in Areni-1 grapes are at the initial stages of domestication, not much different from wild grapes and wild grapes are still growing in the Gnishikadzor canyon, not far from the cave, as well as the limited amount of wine produced inside of the cave (judging from the karases or the earthenware posts this was around 150 liters), our consortium initiated an experimental project of preparation of wine from wild grapes with simple methods, which are visible from the study of the ancient wine-making installations. The result was a red, dry wine, containing around 10.3-10.5% of ethanol based on laboratory analyses.

Are there any artifacts related to the wine culture in those ancient times? Perhaps in the images on the walls of the cave or the chronicles? How popular was this drink in those days?

There are numerous artifacts related to the ancient wine culture discovered during the excavations of the cave as it was mentioned above. Those are drinking reed straws, cups and glasses from horn and clay, in addition to a metal bowl fragment, which can be also related to wine consumption. Such artifacts are also visible from the Medieval layers and contexts of the cave which are distributed with glass and clay drinking bowls, cups and other vessels characteristic for winemaking and wine consumption. Among them one of the most interesting is the iron pruning knife which is dated to the 13th-14th centuries AD. This kind of grape pruning knives are very well known from the illustrations of medieval Armenian manuscripts. In addition drinking straws, drinking vessels and cups are very well known from the images depicted on terracotta, bone, metal artifacts (reliefs, seals, decorated drinking bowls, etc.) known from the Chalcolithic and Bronze-Iron Age monuments of the Ancient Near East.

All these images are showing how important wine production and its consumption were for the Ancient societies as a whole. Two important drinks – wine and beer were at the center of the identity, worldview and philosophy as well as the rituals which guarantee the chains of life supporting cycles, eternity of the tree of life and later on the economy and provisioning of the administrative networks and trade. Wine was the symbol of revival and rebirth. It was deeply believed that wine is connecting two worlds together – the real world or the world on the Earth and the virtual world where the dead people and goods live. So it was believed that everyone drinks wine – alive, Gods and dead living in the next world.

Борис Гаспарян

Tell us about the last expedition together with Czech archaeologists. What new finds and discoveries were made in Areni-1 Cave?

We excavated with our colleagues from the Czech Republic not the Areni-1 cave, but some new sites in the vicinity. Meanwhile, our Czech colleagues helped us to create a 3D reconstruction of the cave and some important artifacts discovered there. Among the most intriguing and attractive work was the reconstruction of the faces of three skulls, which were recorded around the winemaking installation. Now we have three individuals looking at us from the monitor of the computer, the representatives of the Chalcolithic complex society which was creating the ancient wine and domesticating the grapes, learning the skills of irrigation, establishing metalwork and making shoes and beautiful mats, modeling the universe and putting the sun into its center, interpreting the nature with their own intellectual tools (water, dragon, sun energy and sun hero, thunder sword, etc.) based on repetitive observations of the natural cycles (for example the circulation of water in the nature).

Currently, the contemporary Armenian winemakers are restoring the world’s oldest winemaking culture. Are there any special tours to the cave organized for wine specialists? What information do you think might be of interest to wine connoisseurs and wine lovers?

The contemporary Armenian winemakers are trying to claim that they are reviving the ancient traditions of Armenian winemaking culture. And there is some truth in it, because much of ancient knowledge is being used in the industrial production of wine, related with traditional varieties of  grapes, their production on a big scale, as well as stories told by their grandfathers and grandmothers. But there are still lots of things which need to be discovered, studied and explained. This is where our consortium is being very actively helpful, by means of study results on the history of ancient wines that we produce and innovate each year.

Each year we are organizing special tours for specialists who are interested in past viticultural landscapes, in the history of production of first and initial winemaking, ritual ceremonies related with wine, depending on individual and group requests. We think that different aspects of the origin of vine domestication, the meaning of different traditional operations existing in the Armenian viticulture, as well as the archaeological and historical phases which can be seen behind the archaeological study of winemaking in Armenia can be selected among the most interesting for the visitors. In addition the philosophical meaning of wine, its relation to the rituals of the past and religion in general are also not less interesting and attractive. And finally we are planning to organize wine tasting tours for people who really are lovers of wine to provide them with lectures about wine and ancient ways of wine drinking in parallel with a chance to test wine from wild grapes, after which they will see the cave as an archaeological site.

Борис Гаспарян

Every October, Armenian winemakers and tens of thousands of visitors gather at the Areni Wine Festival. Tell us, please, about this holiday.

The Areni Wine Festival appeared as a result of the discoveries made in Areni-1 cave by the archaeologists. The earliest leather shoe of Eurasia and the oldest wine making complex made the site world famous very quickly and the amount of local and foreign visitors to the cave started growing noticeably. I was personally in the organizing committee of the festival at its initial stages. The goals of the festival were to promote Armenian ancient viticulture and winemaking culture, to make visitors be closer to the place where ancient wine production of Armenia was recorded, to push the local community to touch their own history and to be part of it, as well as to create and event which will give a chance to sell local food and drinks and get some income. Each festival people visit our cave during the days it is running. The peak of visiting the cave during the year is related to the festival, where the chain of the visitors is endless from the morning until the sunset.

Борис Гаспарян

Are there any plans to turn Areni-1 Cave into a museum with modern attractions, operating winery, and ampelographic collection of vineyards?

Areni-1 cave as a touristic destination is in the initial stage of its development. Our vision for the widening of the touristic infrastructure of the site is to open a museum inside of the third gallery covered by concrete in the past, where people can see some of the most interesting finds discovered from the excavations. In addition we are planning to create a wine tasting hole as it was mentioned above, where people can take an experience of ancient ways of wine drinking and taste the wines from wild and wildgrowing grapes. Souvenir and gift shop is also in progress where we are planning to sell and spread some knowledge to the visitors represented by local fossils, minerals (the area is very rich with such), replicas of finds from the cave, also products created by local craftsman, books, posters, t-shirts and others things which are usual for each archaeological site in the world providing touristic service. Among our important plans is to create a 3D attraction using the animation techniques, where people can “talk” to the ancient winemakers living in the cave and use the facade reconstructions done with our Czech and Brazilian colleagues.

Among our goals is also to connect the visits to Areni-1 cave with Gnishikadzor Archaeological Complex, which is less than 5 minutes’ drive from the cave. The site is practically an ancient vineyard, which was excavated by our projects during the year and prepared for the visitors who can learn a lot about the history and methods of ancient viticulture. We are planning to revive the ancient gardens around the site and establish the functioning of old irrigation canals, supporting the growth and preservation of local grape varieties still visible in the area of these gardens. Growing wines which have around 50 cm of diameter of the trunk still exist in the area. In parallel, together with our Armenian and German colleagues we established the DNA study of the grapes, which is adding not less interesting information regarding the roots of vine domestication.

We deeply believe that after realization of the above mentioned scope of activities Areni-1 cave and the Gnishikadzor canyon will be presented not only as one of the important points of initial winemaking, but also one of the cradle points of vine cultivation and domestication.

We wish you strength and aspiration for the realization of this unique, globally significant project!

The legendary land of Armenia is hiding numerous mysteries and secrets. Primitive people settled among its valleys and mountains, which means that every pebble here can tell its own story. And archaeologists, who make their discoveries almost each year, help us understand such stories. Thus, in 2007, excavation began in a cave near the village […]

Iryna Bystrytska: «The national brand “Wines of Ukraine” must belong to the state or industry»

The columnist D+ asked Iryna Bystrytska, international consultant of European donors projects aimed to support the wine industry in Ukraine, former Deputy Director of the National Office of Vine and Wine (ONVV) in 2018-2021, about the process of formation of Wines of Ukraine and the prospects of the Ukrainian industry, which is suffering from Russian aggression.


Iryna, your mission is very serious, so it is probably worth starting the conversation by what areas of your activity are addressed to the wine industry of Ukraine. 

In May 2021, we started to work with Ukrainian small businesses in the fields of viticulture and winemaking, as this industry has experienced a significant economic decline in recent years.

We provide technical assistance to small winemakers of Ukraine in the development of an integrated approach to the development of the industry. As part of our activities, multiple trainings are held. They are dedicated to the technological features of the production of natural grape wines in accordance with international quality and safety requirements. We organize events to raise winemakers’ awareness of sustainable development, provide consulting assistance in planning a development strategy, in particular, we have developed a Roadmap for Ukrainian winemaking sector.

Please provide more details about the Roadmap.

I was lucky enough to work with international expert Marco Tiggelman (Netherlands) on its development. And finally, exactly one month before the start of the war in Ukraine, on January 25, 2022, we presented the Roadmap for the development of winemaking in Ukraine to the industry representatives. The Roadmap includes the strategy for the development of Ukrainian viticulture and winemaking, and also outlines the difficulties faced by industry enterprises. The document includes the analysis of the current market situation, consumption and export statistics, the results of research into the state of the industry in Ukraine and other countries, the structure of the main players, as well as a number of recommendations and the action plan for the period until 2030. But, of course, the events in Ukraine made adjustments to our plans.

Can you share the most important domestic consumption and export figures – both positive and negative – from this document?

Let me show you the dynamics: if in 1996 the area under vineyards was 144,000 hectares, then in 2017, only 43,000 hectares remained. Production in 2020 amounted to 5.6 million dL. At the same time, in the same year, consumption in the domestic market reached 9.5 million dL. The share of imports reached about 43% of the total consumption, i.e. – 4.1 million dL. Instead, exports amounted to 244,000 dL, which corresponds to only 4% (according to Your Total Market). That is, local production satisfies only 50% of the market’s consumer demand, moreover, it has a tendency to decrease, primarily due to the annual decrease in the area of ​​vineyards. So, Ukraine, in principle, has a significant potential for the growth of the wine industry only at the expense of the domestic market. Even without considering export opportunities. But, of course, under the conditions of a stable increase in the quality of the produced wine – both for local consumption and for international markets. 

Is it possible to compare Ukraine with any other country that has followed a similar path?

Probably, it is worth comparing with Moldova, Georgia and Armenia – countries with a similar recent history and similar needs to transition from the mass production of the Soviet period and to reorganize the industry with a focus on quality and export. At the same time, there is a key difference between Ukraine and these countries – a capacious domestic market, while the wineries of Moldova, Georgia and Armenia are extremely dependent on exports. According to the ratio of exports and domestic consumption, it is probably more appropriate to compare Ukraine with Romania, a traditional wine-producing country, where exports do not exceed 10% of production.

What are the most important recommendations you make in the Roadmap?

I would like to start by saying that the Roadmap identifies four main strategic opportunities, each of which is a separate and significant area of ​​effort:

  1. The growth of consumption in the local market should be considered as the main opportunity for the Ukrainian wine industry.
  2. Another favourable factor for the Ukrainian wine industry may be the growth of exports and the diversification of export markets.
  3. The consequences of climate change should also be considered as a long-term perspective for the Ukrainian wine industry.
  4. The country’s wine tourism potential is another powerful prospect. 

As for the recommendations, there are more than 20 of them in the Roadmap, they are laid out in five main sections: “Viticulture”, “Production”, “Quality and compliance with standards”, “Structure of the industry”, “Promotion and communication”. Of course, from the point of view of the management of the industry, it is difficult not to notice a rather strong lag behind neighbouring countries, outdated and confusing legislation, the lack of a clear quality control system, primarily of imported products, and most importantly, the lack of a structure directly responsible for the industry and its development. An urgent recommendation is the integration of Ukraine into the world wine market, adaptation to international standards in production and legislation, membership entry into the international wine organization OIV, creation of the national Register of Vineyards and the Wine Office responsible for the promotion and health of the industry.

Let’s proceed to Wines of Ukraine. The situation around this concept seems strange to us and we are not sure that other countries experienced the same. After all, in our country there are several associations of producers who, independently of each other, promote and use this name in their activities. There are even a couple of sites whose domain names include this concept. Please comment on the situation and give your vision: how things should really be if we are talking about a civilized wine-making community guided by the rule of law.

Yes, indeed, the number of different associations, most of which are nominal, surprised us. Many of them compete with each other and do not make any contribution to the development of the industry, but rather create incomprehensible obstacles and additional difficulties in cases where they have been rejected around the world. For example, there are no longer legally prescribed recipes for wine anywhere, but in Ukraine they exist and associations deal with their coordination with the ministry, instead of seeking their cancellation. I had to communicate with wine associations of various countries, both state and public (For example, Australian Winemakers operate without state participation). However, everyone mentioned how difficult it was at the very beginning to unite producers and even difficult to simply sit down at a common negotiating table. But, as they say, the path will be overcome by the one who walks it. And the experience of different countries will help us in this.

What measures and who should implement them so that the concept of Wines of Ukraine finally becomes a reality?

Currently, we are working on the possible structure in Ukraine that should represent this brand. Of course, it cannot belong to a single association or individual. There are many possible options, we consider the formats of offices in different countries, prescribe the functionality of this structure, which we will later discuss with the industry. God willing, we will come up with the format that will suit Ukraine. If we talk about the financing of this structure, then in the first years it can also be international donor projects. In fact, Wines of Ukraine, like the rest of Wines of …. or identical brands of countries – rather needed for promotion in foreign markets and better for countries – new players in the wine world. For example, have you heard a lot about Wines of France? But you probably know the associations of the regions of France and specific wine brands that are not interested in acting under the umbrella brand of the country, they are world famous or too strong for it. The same logic works in the domestic market, where the consumer buys a specific brand, not Wines of Ukraine. To begin with, I would advise you to brainstorm and carefully understand what the umbrella state brand is for and how it works, and then take on the ambition of owning it.

Then maybe let’s talk, at least briefly, about the principles of the state brand Wines of…? During your work in the management of the National Vine and Wine Office of Moldova, you dealt with this concept, because it has been working successfully in Moldova for a long time. What are the mandate and objectives of Wines of…? As far as we understand it, the brand relates to the scope of issues of the National Office. In general, can it belong to a state institution? What could it look like in Ukraine?

A national brand, any, in this case in the field of winemaking, must belong to the state or the industry. That is, the right holder of the brand can be the state or a structure that represents the state and the industry. For example, in Moldova, the right holder of the Wine of Moldova brand is the National Vine and Wine Office of Moldova – the structure based on private-state partnership and acting under the auspices of the Ministry of Agriculture. It is an umbrella brand under which all wineries participate in exhibitions and various events. At the same time, according to the law, all wineries pay mandatory contributions to the vine and wine fund, depending on the volume of their sales. To the funds collected from the private sector – 50%, the state adds another 50% of its own. The resulting annual budget is spent on supporting and promoting Wines of Moldova both on foreign and domestic markets, for example, on the organization of the National Wine Day. Wine of Moldova was launched 7-8 years ago, not so long ago, and the National Vine and Wine Office was founded in 2013. What it should or can be in Ukraine  should be decided by the industry itself, in any case, Wines of Ukraine should represent the interests of all producers, and first of all the big ones, which will be the country’s visiting card and have a significant export volume.

How important do you think it is for emerging wine markets to have national, or if the country is lucky, international level media that would carry information to export markets about the country’s businesses and tourist destinations? Today, the world is watching what influence the mass media can have if they are supported at the state level. Are there any support programs for existing industry media?

I believe that a wine-producing country must have both professional journalists with education in the wine industry and a specialized press. This is one of the indicators of the level of wine culture in the state. For example, there are dozens of such editions in Great Britain or France, they organize international competitions and are doing well. Ukraine definitely needs media specialized in alcoholic beverages and the industry in general. Of course, today it is difficult to talk about any support from the state, but in the future, of course, industry support for the specialized media should be considered. Your editorial group has gone beyond the borders of Ukraine a long time ago, you can rather be called a regional or even international media, taking into account your long-standing presentations of Ukrainian winemakers at international expo hubs or the new Wine Travel Awards project, etc. I am expressing my sincere respect and admiration for the resilience of your team in these difficult times.

Thank you very much. Iryna, listening to you, a natural question arises: this complex field of industry management with integration into state institutions, even in the context of different countries, requires special experience, perhaps certain education or skills and knowledge. What path did you take to become an international expert of this level?

My career developed and grew in parallel with the economic development of the markets of Ukraine and Moldova. I started as a manager in large international companies, where I was responsible for a group of brands, then I worked as the head of the export development department in a company that was the leading alcohol producer in Ukraine, at that time we were the #2 vodka in the world and exported drinks to 82 countries. I was invited to work at the National Vine and Wine Office of Moldova by the project under the auspices of USAID. At first as a consultant on a number of projects, then I was offered to become a Deputy Director and, in addition to administrative activities, to directly deal with the international development of the industry and the national brand of Wine of Moldova. Hence, I got my experience and knowledge. That way turned out to be the best university.

Allow me to note that Moldova, as a wine-producing country, has really done a miracle over the years: it is not only united, not only performs brilliantly on the international arena, it (everyone understands that this is the achievement of the National Office and the people who worked on it!) managed to break the stereotype regarding the quality of Moldovan wine. So, for Ukraine, this is an example that nothing is impossible. We are sure that soon Ukraine will win and free its wine-growing regions from the invaders. What prospects await them, outlined by the Roadmap you have developed?

Despite the war and all the difficulties, we are focused on the future and are already conducting a number of programs and trainings for Ukrainian producers aimed at improving the quality of wines. These programs touch on important issues of production and sustainable development. Active consultation is currently underway with the sector and the Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food  regarding the recommendations of the Roadmap and the creation of the Wine Office, we are discussing important issues of the industry’s vitality in military and occupation conditions, as well as relationships with retail chains and how to maintain focus on national producers. We are working on the expansion of assistance to the wine industry and the involvement of various donor organizations for its support. I would not like to announce everything planned now, because we live in unstable times. But we look at the prospects of Ukrainian winemaking with great optimism, efforts are being made, so I will be happy to tell you more during our next meeting.

In view of the war that is being waged in Ukraine, what are the immediate plans of action?

For winemakers, in addition to trainings, we are planning study visits to Georgia and Armenia at the end of 2022 to exchange experience with associations of producers in different countries and to facilitate cooperation with leading scientific institutes

Thank you, Iryna, both for your work for the good of Ukraine and for the meaningful conversation!

The columnist D+ asked Iryna Bystrytska, international consultant of European donors projects aimed to support the wine industry in Ukraine, former Deputy Director of the National Office of Vine and Wine (ONVV) in 2018-2021, about the process of formation of Wines of Ukraine and the prospects of the Ukrainian industry, which is suffering from Russian […]

Stephane Tillement: «The importance of customer service has always been part of the DNA of my own companies»

Stephane Tillement, CEO of Wine Paths, shared with Oleksandra Hryhorieva, WTA Project Lead, some peculiarities of his business approach and behind-the-scenes of his tour operator’s work. As the winner of the Wine Travel Awards 2021-2022 in the category Ambassador of the Year, Stephane and his team were awarded during the WTA presentation and tasting organized at La Cité du Vin in Bordeaux where he briefly talked about the concept of Wine Paths. We thought it might be interesting to share Stephane’s experience in the wine tourism business with Drinks+ readers. So, let’s get started.


Before talking about the concept of Wine Paths, let’s talk about its founder. I believe that our life and professional experiences lead us to the place where we are now. Stephane, please tell us a bit about your professional background.

I first started my career in the airline business at British Airways where I worked for 15 years. This experience brought me interesting insights on how a big company works and how it manages customer service. Now the importance of customer service has always been part of the DNA of my own companies. Then, after 9/11 the CEO proposed me as a senior manager to leave with my share. And I bought my first company in Bordeaux called Mauriac Voyages. This is a luxury travel agency for French people traveling abroad. The clients of this company are mostly French hired in the wine industry. So, I make them travel for their business, leisure or in groups. For example, two weeks ago, we organized a road trip for the Union des Grands Crus, 80 chateaux in Bordeaux, to the USA. They were able to present their wines and do tastings for the American market in Houston, Miami, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles.

Later, I created a local travel agency called Bordeaux Excellence to promote Bordeaux, Cognac and the Basque Country. This is a destination management company (DMC). So far, this is the biggest company in Bordeaux, partially with a virtual network. I made this company grow by buying other companies. I also own some equivalents of this company in Champagne and Provence. 

Then I came up with the idea of a company called Wine Tour in France. The focus was on wine and spirits tours in France offered to travel agencies in the US. This company worked well, and I started getting more and more requests either from direct customers or travel agencies asking for some help from Italy, Portugal, Napa Valley, etc. So, it became a global company that provides such services on high market brands. However, it did not last long.

How did you come up with the idea of Wine Paths which is a worldwide digital tour operator featuring luxury wine, spirits and gourmet travel experiences?

My experience with the Wine Tour in France brought me to the idea of creating Wine Paths. We operate in 15 countries now. The company provides services either to direct customers who can contact us via the website or travel agencies around the world which need our expertise on wine and spirits for their customers. 

How have Wine Paths developed over its 6 years of existence? What has changed?

In the beginning, I thought I would target more direct customers, but now I can see that direct customers and travel agencies are the same in terms of turnover. So, we are receiving more and more requests from travel agencies that need our help.

Visiting the winepaths.com website gives you the impression that it is a truly large and global project that includes various aspects of wine tourism experiences. Talking about the basics, if one wants to book a wine trip, it can be done either via a local expert or via direct contact. You cover many different destinations such as Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, Italy, USA, Portugal, Scotland, Spain, South Africa and more – this is impressive – how do you find those local experts (I imagine it is lots of work)? Are there certain requirements for them to start working with Wine Paths? 

My concept was to give as much freedom as possible to our customers. And freedom is also about the possibility to choose. A customer can book an accommodation, a tour to a winery or a distillery, but we do not do direct sales. Between 5 to 10 requests per day come to our office, we verify their quality and then send them to our partner. So, the partner receives only a pre-paid verified booking. If it is a more complex itinerary with a driver, boutique hotel or something else, then this request goes to our DMCs and they prepare a real package. It is always a personalized offer. We follow a customer-focused approach.

Regarding local experts, I have been dealing with so many companies and business contacts in different areas that now they all are part of my professional network. So, I always know where to find a good expert. 

How did you form your base of unique places to visit? Does it work the other way around when wineries, accommodations, distilleries contact Wine Paths for work and cooperation? Do you accept any places, or is it always about luxury? Has it ever happened that a not-too-luxurious direction was taken into your portfolio, preferring a special experience or even extreme? If so, please tell me more.

We receive a lot of suppliers or contacts who are asking to join Wine Paths. Our team conducts its own selection based on word-of-mouth, notes on wines and feedback from our local agencies. Then, a supplier has a chance to join our community by paying an annual fee. 

It is not only about luxury, but this is also about an experience which is a keyword here. I always communicate to wineries and chateaux that if they have cooking experiences, a nice garden, paintings, etc., they should put them on board, so that the customers who like those kinds of things could make their selection. On the other hand, extreme is not for my target audience.

Wouldn’t it be interesting for you to visit Ukrainian vineyards someday? Of course, when a peaceful sky reigns over them.

Sure. I have a list of countries and directions that we would like to open such as Israel, Hungary, Brazil. And obviously when Ukraine wins and we are back to the normal situation, we will be glad to contribute to Ukraine’s recovery by opening it to our customers.

How did you adapt to the pandemic situation? Were all tours cancelled? I saw your team initiated virtual tours and tastings. Was it successful? What are your insights from this experience? Do you keep practicing virtual experiences now and is there still a demand?

Exactly, we started practicing virtual tastings during the pandemic. In order for our brand to keep getting recognition on the market, even though people were still travelling, we made 50 Facebook lives available to all kinds of public and we reached around 50 thousand people around the world. At the same time, there were corporate clients requesting private tastings. And now virtual sessions are in demand mostly among private corporations. We select and contact wineries and we ship their wines to all the participants of a virtual tour. On D-day, the winery holds the presentation and tasting. Soon, we are having a virtual tasting at the St. Supéry winery owned by Chanel. I must say that one quarter of our profit comes from this concept. It works well because it is quite cheap for corporations and for us it is a powerful tool.

The recent news is about our cooperation with Amazon. Now we provide similar virtual experiences for Amazon customers via the Amazon Explore platform. The first winery which went live was Château Pape Clément. Moreover, this tool will help us to strengthen our SEO because we are linked with Amazon now. 

Wine Paths also benefits from the expertise of shareholders specialized in the digital sector and the wine business such as Michel Rolland. Give us some other names please. What is their role and main task?

I have two advisors in the company. One of them is a very serious and knowledgeable entrepreneur in the B2B sector Christophe Poupinel. Now he is a partner in ISAI (a French Tech Entrepreneurs’ investment fund that finances high potential digital companies). And I also work with winemaker Michel Rolland who helped me to build the portfolio of wineries due to his expertise.

As a content bonus, the website features inspiring travel articles about luxury wine, food & spirits. Who are your authors? Are they local experts or journalists? Do you accept media partnerships to support other wine travel media projects?

They are all journalists. I cooperate with the media when they need my comment or expertise on something for articles. Besides, when the media send their journalist on a wine trip, we are asked for support. And in return, they mention Wine Paths in their materials. 

Wine Paths has recently won the title of the Ambassador of the Year in the Wine Travel Awards 2021-2022. We understand that you have already gained a high reputation and maybe new recognitions are not so important for your clients. But the victory was given to you by the professional jury, and it can be used decently for PR. In general, through which channels do you spread the word about your tours?

To be honest, I almost do not use any advertising tools. I prefer putting money only in SEO. We have a lot of activities on the website, so my only concern is the investment in this channel. To give you an example, we are working on adding quality videos on the website now. We are going to embed 50 videos from Facebook live to entertain our audience even more.

Thank you, Stephane, for such an insightful and interesting conversation. Now our readers can better imagine how Wine Paths functions and what kind of a leader you are. Our sincerest congratulations one more time on your victory at the Wine Travel Awards 2021-2022!

Thank you too, Oleksandra! It was my pleasure to answer your questions.

Stephane Tillement, CEO of Wine Paths, shared with Oleksandra Hryhorieva, WTA Project Lead, some peculiarities of his business approach and behind-the-scenes of his tour operator’s work. As the winner of the Wine Travel Awards 2021-2022 in the category Ambassador of the Year, Stephane and his team were awarded during the WTA presentation and tasting organized […]

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