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Gastronomy and Wine Portal

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 […]

Robert Joseph: «We have this idea that wine tourism is the answer to everything»

Veronika Busel, Wine Marketing Manager, Wine Writer and Managing Partner at the Wine Travel Awards (WTA), has recently had a chance to interview Robert Joseph, WTA judge, consultant, co-owner le Grand Noir wines, public speaker, co-presenter of the Real Business of Wine and Thirst Fursday winecasts, Co-Strategist at 5forests.

Wine tourism overview

I did a book on wine tourism about 15 years ago and I have 3 Ferraris on the basis of the money I made writing that book… No. It is a lie (smiling). That book did not sell very well. Maybe my book was not very good, also no… but the truth is that there are not many books on wine tourism that became very successful. So I try to look at things in a very simple way. I pay attention to how many books are in the shops, and what are their subjects. That suggests me that if something is interesting for people they will buy a book about it. People still buy books obviously.

So when I was in New York, a long time ago, I remember being in a book store where there were more books on etiquette then on wine. Now many wine people will find it strange, but actually, to a lot of people in America knowing how to hold your fork and knife, how to talk to the queen or a judge or someone else is more important than knowing about cabernet sauvignon or whatever grape.

So to me everything is about content. For us in the wine industry, wine tourism is really important, for most people outside of it – it is not. If you actually look at it, most of the people do not do wine tourism in the way how they do golf tourism or garden tourism, sailing tourism, fishing, hunting, etc. You go there with one or a couple of your friends, and they make some plan like “firstly we will go to this or that garden, then golf, etc.”. That is what quite a number of people do.

Robert Joseph

Wine for most people is one of the things in which they are interested to a vary extent. To me, when we think about wine tourism, the way how we should look to it is as we are competing with a cathedral, with a museum, with a beach, etc. So I wake up in the morning, I am on holiday or travelling on business, I have half a day free, what should I do with that time? I will ask at the desk of the hotel what is happening around here. And if I am at Sydney, Australia, they may suggest me to visit the vineyards, also beach or mountains. But I will do the vineyards. And then, maybe, I will do it again if I enjoy the experience.

The picture I just draw – there is me as an adult, maybe not interested in wine. People come with their families. Will my 12-year-old child be interested to visit vineyards with me? Some wineries might be not very welcoming to the child. Or if travel with my partner. Does my partner want to go to the winery? Maybe my partner will choose to go shopping, I don’t know. We have this idea that wine tourism is the answer to everything.

I was in a conference in Australia and one of the other speakers organized wine tours to the Hunter Valley, which is a lovely region with very good wines. And he said that the average wine tourist wants to visit one and a half wineries. This is an average, obviously. So it is between one and two. He told that, very often, people want to visit wineries with him. If the second experience is very different to the first one, they want to see it too, if the second winery is like the first one and have very similar experiences, actually, they might not want to visit it. Most people visit one cathedral, and if they are not particularly interested in cathedrals the are fine to visit just one. Same thing about wine tourism. Wine tourism is tourism where the wine is part of the experience. We are in the entertainment business territory. We have to think of ways to entertain everybody, not only the person that is interested and has knowledge in wines. We need to think of the audience, will they go with their partners or children, who will drive the car after the tasting and so on. We need to make this experience as a very attractive way to go help them with their decision to check it, and even better if they want to visit it again. So there is not just wine there, there are other things.

Le Grand Noir

But also in terms of the wine, because wine is obviously very important for the experience, having the same wine at the winery as you have everywhere else it does not give a particularly special experience. You need to make your wine offer unique. To have these recommendations afterwards, to go to that particularly winery to taste some particular wines. Maybe special vintages, maybe special cuvee, make it interesting to people who are particularly interested in wines. Create this special experience for them. And not all wineries do that unfortunately. It is extremely important to make it possible to buy your wine at the estate. This, by the way, helps with the problem of competing with re-sellers.

Second thing. Are you capturing the names and the information about people who visit your winery? Not everyone does that. Do you then follow them up with good communications? Not everybody does that. And lastly, and very important, is to use wine tourism to do something that the wine industry doesn’t do enough, which is research. The wine industry historically does not do much research.

F.e., I make a wine, like my father did. I did a label, and it was designed by someone from family, I put my wine on the table during visits, people come taste it and they buy it if they like it, if they don’t like they will not buy. So what if I will use this opportunity to experiment. What if I make a special blend, with a couple of barrels. More oaky, less oaky, maybe to put some bubbles just to 1000 bottles, maybe I will try to play with different labels, and maybe I will put different prices, maybe these prices will be different for selected days. And then I look and research, is it more interesting? Maybe people enjoy some special label or cuvee that I just created to build this experience. And you know what, this will cost nothing. But if you go to a research agency they will charge you thousands of dollars to put 8 to 12 people in a room to research how they perceive your wines or experience. And then you will have to make big business decisions just based on one of such groups, when in your winery, potentially, you may see one hundred people a week, so at the end you will much more precisely know what people are more genuinely interested in visiting your winery.

New tools and advance communications in wine tourism

We are so fortunate today. God in the form of his representative on Earth, Mr. Mark Zuckerberg, gave us Instagram. Instagram is a gift to any business, YouTube is another gift by the way. If you create and have an interesting experience to offer now you can easily show it to the public. Not only you can show your offer to people but you can encourage people to help your experience, to share and promote it within their friends or audience that might be interested in your experience. If the experience is interesting, none of this is impossible.

Wine tourism

So, if you have a boring winery with some barrels and some bottles, if you are trying to sell just 5000 to 10 000 bottles of wine per year, it may be enough to have just these stable customers of yours, but when you sell or wish to sell more, hundreds, thousands or a million, your communication needs a more sophisticated strategy, it must have good content.

F.e. I saw in China how good they are with their wine tourism. They like to put some interesting sculptures in their vineyards, something you need to explore, to photograph, so just use their experience and make something interesting, it could be your thing, but make it different, worth exploring. Give people something, amaze them.

Second, another thing that we have been given is virtual reality. Now people can experience a lot of what you are doing without being physically present at your estate. So again, it worth thinking of it, to implement this technology to create your experience. And by the way it is not always expensive, you can make it almost cheap, buy some camera for 300 dollars which will allow you to do this type of experience.

One thing that I am thinking right now for my wine/winery is to do 3D visits in the vineyards, and to be able to show these experiences at the shops where my wine is. You can find my wines in the shops in Moscow, so my idea is to give customers the opportunity to visit the vineyards while standing in the shop. Honestly, I know that not all people will be interested to check it. Most people go to the shop, buy wine quickly, while their cars are just outside or maybe their child is waiting or whatever. But some people will love it. And one person having this experience, buys my wine, takes it home, and will tell about the experience or what he knew over a friends’ dinner. The important here is to have something special to remember, like “You know, I saw these vineyards, and there was a fox!” (I will tell you about the wine fox later).

But here, even more importantly, that manager of the shop will check this 3D experience. And then he will have better arguments and more understanding to sell my wine.

Third. Learn from other people. Of course, you can pay consultants, people like me, but also you can learn without big investment. Just travel, read good books, look around and notice what other people are doing.

And now I will tell you about the wine fox. I was in Switzerland last year and one winery that I visited simply put a 360-degree camera exposing their vineyards. So for 24/7 you can see what happens in the vineyards. It is very boring! Ohhh, what?! There is a fox, wine fox! “Oh, I have just saw this fox in the vineyards again!” Vineyards are a bit boring, but the fox is cute, will she return tomorrow? Then you can continuously post on Instagram telling something like “Oh, just look who is back to our vineyards!” Could be a wonderful sunrise, or sunset, but you need to have something. Maybe you do special beautiful decorated lunches there, at the vineyards, make it interesting, make people want to come back.  And use these new tools of communication and some creativity. It is actually not hard, it is easy and this is something you can do. The problem is – maybe you do not have a fox. So simply find it or make up something else! (Smiling).

Robert Joseph

Spread of informational in a new era

I did a book last year. It was not a cookery book, but it has recipes in it. This was a championship in Bordeaux. We wanted to express that these 2 young families running a business there through their gastronomical preferences, what they do in different times of the year. We did this book, printed 8 000 paper copies that we sell in the shop, and then we made 10 000 e-books, it cost money to create a book of course, but every time anyone wants an e-book it cost nothing.

So we can do 100 000 of e-books, we can do it in Chinese, we can do it in German, Tai and so on! Next project I am working on is combining e-books with videos, so I can actually go and visit all these places mentioned in book through videos, then I am working on a next project, and it will be about 3D experiences in the e-book! And you know what, this is not science fiction, this is not millions of dollars. What is great is that all of this is available to wineries as a tool as well. What is fascinating to me, all these small wineries who do a small amount of wine with limited budget today, they can compete with the biggest wineries in the world doing this type of things.

Lastly what I want to add, we have a problem in wine tourism: wine tourism by itself is questionable. I travel a lot in my life, I visit different countries giving my presentation. Could I do it simply using Zoom? I believe it won’t be the same. Oh, maybe I can do it with my hologram? We have already seen this. It is already possible. At the moment, it is very expensive, at the moment it is not really practical, but I believe it is coming. I believe in 5 years or early it will be normal. You know what, we need to start thinking of that kind of things.

wine tourism

On bloggers, wine writers and journalists, Tripadvisor, Vivino and the WTA

There are sommeliers and there are bloggers. These are two different things. They are different animals. Lions and tigers look like similar creatures, but they are not. Even though they are doing similar types of things, if you like, they are not the same. So what is the difference between a blogger, a wine journalist and a sommelier? Bloggers are passionate about wine; they want to communicate this passion to whoever. Journalists may or not be so passionate about wines, they do pretty similar things and they are paid for it. They are sometimes slightly competing with each other and maybe they will argue on twitter. But they do not so much follow each other. For example, English wine writers probably won´t follow Danish wine writers. They can only pay attention to each other when some scandal in the industry is happening.

Sommeliers are different. They are swimming in different waters. Most sommeliers are thinking about the next job. And a beautiful thing about being a sommelier is that they are owning a wonderful and very portable skill. Today I am working in Copenhagen and I am applying for a job in Beijing. I will go to Beijing and then I will go somewhere else. And if I am lucky, I become a group sommelier.  How do I apply for this job? How will I build my career as a sommelier? I need to go to competitions. What do I do to enter this competition and make sure that I can win this competition? I read what other cool sommeliers are saying, where these sommeliers are going, what are they following, what are they saying online. So at the end it is about job application, personal career and opportunities. Every time a recognized sommelier puts something on their Instagram or blog it is like demonstrating their skills, it is a job application. Every time a sommelier puts something on Instagram they are sending a message to share with some other sommeliers working in different parts of the world: “Oh, this guy knows something about Albanian wine in his restaurant in Copenhagen!”, “Oh, this guy knows everything about natural wines. Maybe we should pay attention to him!”

There is already a community of sommeliers. If there are sommeliers, let’s say, in Eastern Europe who are not communicating with sommeliers outside of Eastern Europe, they are just not playing the game. We can encourage them, and the WTA model can be a very good way to encourage them.

And about bloggers? Yes, they might be important for the industry development. But don’t forget we have Tripadvisor, we have Vivino. There is no reason why Vivino will not shortly become involved in wine tourism. If there is money in it, they will be there.

Summing up, I think this word-of-mouth spread will come from different places, not only because of influencers, sommeliers, journalists, bloggers. But bloggers, and I am very positive about it, definitely have potential. But I do not think that we can fly to the moon in one day.

French wines

High hopes and what have happened in the wine tourism in the last 15 years

Wine tourism is becoming a big business today. Before, 15 years ago, when I was doing my book, the wine tourism, in particularly in west Europe, was rudimentary. Bordeaux had very little to offer, for example, no hotels, no restaurants, in the middle. Yes, of course 15 years it is a long time and anyone in wine production and who still does not think about wine tourism or maybe decided not to do it, for their reasons, have some doubt on was that a good choice. But in the same time, there are a lot of people who are doing it really badly, in Europe in particular.

America was the first who did wine tourism. Now in the rest of Europe everybody is following it, but actually America in this rivalry come too far, f.e. in Napa Valley now there are too many places with developed wine tourism, they are all competing with each other. The wineries are confused, what else they could do, because just having a good wine tourism offer in a wine road full of other places doing quality wine tourism it is like having another pizza restaurant when there are 15 more in a small area.

We need to learn from Americans, we have a long way to go, before every winery in, let’s say, Bordeaux will provide a with really good tourism experience. So yes, wine tourism has evolved, I have expected some places to develop faster, but they have not. But yes, looking to the big picture wine tourism has developed enormously.

And let’s be fair, my book… my brilliant book (smiling) has not been re-printed. There are also not many other books on wine tourism that became particularly popular. People rather go online; they will try to find something there.

Yesterday I did a meeting with people from Gambero Rosso, they are doing a guide to restaurants´ wine lists with Italian wines. It is a kind of a wine tourism thing as well. But there is no such thing as Gambero Rosso doing a wine tourism guide.

It is not as big as a sector, as maybe I thought, and a lot of people thought earlier. It is like a newspaper and the sports pages in newspaper. Some newspapers are having more sport pages, others less. But my newspaper still exists apart from the sport pages.

Languedoc Les Reserves red

On rising stars in wine tourism in last 15 years

I sometimes feel old, I mean not physically old, but more like an old wise man when I am thinking on how far we have come in a short time. I have been around for a long time. The world has changed dramatically.

It is not so much regions, as wineries. F.e. talking about East Europe: in Moldova Purcari offered a really good experience a long time ago, Castel Mimi is a wonderful place to visit, it is really beautiful – the hotels rooms, their restaurant offering. I think of individual places, happening around the world. In Bordeaux is really interesting the Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte, they started their restaurant 25 years ago, it was a revolution what they did, and nobody followed! If it would be California everyone immediately would start to be curious: “What they are doing, how we can implement something similar if it works…”. But it did not happen in France!

We did not see an explosion; it is happening quite slowly. I think the wine tourism revolution outside of the New World did not necessarily happened, I think generally it has been individual businesses that do, individual producers, rather than entire destinations or regions.

South Africa has done a lot. Argentina, New Zealand, Chile, all of them have just followed what California did.

Local vs global

Talking about recommendations to Eastern European companies interested to grow their wine business. Act locally, think globally. I think if you are in Moldova you need to try to sell their wines to neighbors first.  Don’t forget your local map. Do that well, do that better. Spending a lot of money in New Yok maybe it is very appealing, but maybe there are more opportunities for you when you spend more money in your local communities. F.e., I am now selling more wines in Russia then in America, which is crazy, how did that happen?! Because these countries are also getting richer, they learn to more appreciate wines. So there is wine a market within themselves. And for wine tourism it is also very relevant, because many people are not tending to travel very far. Use that as your point of strength going to other places. Choose your other places strategically. Georgian wine is doing brilliant in Brooklyn and in New York, and it is not doing very well in Denver and Huston. Choose where you are going, analyze your results. And because of the God representative on Earth, Mark Zuckerberg, now we have the digital marketing tools, such as targeting, we can easily say: “I want to communicate to this type of people in this type of places!”

Wine Tourism

About “elite” wineries

It is simple. If we use elite in an expression, whether it is elite restaurants, elite wineries, there are places where you go and have a burger or salad, other times you go to what we call a white table clothes restaurant, you know that you have to dress a little bit better, and you are going to spend not 10 eur but 100 eur on a meal. Talking about wine places, basically it is about places where the quality of wines and image of the wine is on another level, maybe you will have more Champagne, all Champagne probably considers itself as elite, the wine list will be a bit more sophisticated. When we go to Burgundy or Barolo, we see more smart wineries, the owners may not be aiming to offer a luxury product, they just produce really outstanding wines, but actually they are producing a luxury product. If you pay more than 50 dollars or euros for a bottle of wine, it is already a luxury.

On a practical side, what is the core of wine tourism

Essentially what wine tourism should be about is direct selling. It is about making relationships with consumers. We, as wine producers, are more interested to sell directly. We are moving to times of subscriptions, when my favorite wineries will simply will send to my doors their wines every couple of months, it is already happening in America. This is a relationship and this is what wine tourism is good for and should be largely about it is about selling wines to people who found a reason to buy from you rather then to go to the store or buy from someone else. I think this is the thing that not everyone in the industry fully understood yet.

Le Grand Noir

On emotional side, what is the wine tourism for Robert Joseph

There is no logic to buy a bottle of wine for 50 or 100 eur. It takes a maximum of 90 minutes for two people to finish the bottle of wine. And your 100 euro or more is just gone. There is no logic. There is no logic to buying a ticket to watch my football team play with Chelsea. But would I pay 50 or 100 if my team is in a final? Of course! Will I go to the opera, will I go to the theater…? How long is a play? 90 minutes. It is an experience.

So to me the best experience of wine tourism is these minutes, like when you are going to a very bumpy road on a jeep, or horses or when I was in a Switzerland last week on the steepest vineyard you can imagine, and you are standing and looking down feeling amazed and fear in the same time. Of course you remember that! Being with a girlfriend at the top of the Hermitage, Rhone, in a picnic. It is something that is locked into me. But everything I have just said is relative, probably it would be different to someone else.

It is not about being in a winery where everything is organized, with some museum, where I am supposed to buy some wines and cheese and supposed to feel happy. No, it is about something else. Anything, where people have to put some certain type of method – it is not that. It is more about me doing something, seeing something, experiencing something, challenging myself with something. It is personal and it is unique, and this happens in this particular moment.

There is a very good story illustrating what I have just said. I completely love it and it is something that everyone could do it regardless of the budget and resources! It happened to me in South Africa. A very clever winemaker came with this idea: when you have a visit with your children, you call a child and ask him if would he like to make a plant. They take the children away while the parents are tasting their wines having their experience. And the children could choose what plant they would like, it could be tomato, cherry tree, whatever depending on the time of the year. Then they do it, children get back to the parents, and then you ask if the parents can share the email and we will send you some pictures showing how these plants are growing. Maybe we can make some posts.  Oh my God, I love this idea!

The emotional component of your child is doing something, which is involved in planting, in agriculture. Also you take children away to give their parents more space to enjoy the tasting. It is so smart. And it turns that the child remembering what he did in the winery and remembering it asking parents to return back and to check how is his plant doing. I love it. I love this thinking; you need to have a vision to do something like that.

Robert Joseph

Plans to re-publish the Wine Travel Guide to World*

I would like someone else do it (smiling). It took a lo-o-ot of work. It was when my second child was born. And that was my last book, I have not done books in 15 years, I did many other things. I am actually working on book at the moment, a very different kind of book. It will be on what is wine and the future of it.

* Wine Travel Guide to World by Robert Joseph (Author)

Footprint’s Wine Travel Guide to the World takes you around the globe to over 650 of the best vineyards, wineries, museums, restaurants and bar: from the grandest estates of Bordeaux to the high-altitude vineyards of Argentina; from Beijing wine bars to the tomb of a wine-loving pharaoh. Extensive color photography and mapping throughout adds to the enjoyment of the tour.  Renowned wine author and journalist, Robert Joseph, has compiled this remarkable list of the world’s great wine experiences as well as providing the history of each region, tasting tips, wine and food recommendations, soil and grape information and practical travel details.

Photo: Philippe Labeguerie

Veronika Busel, Wine Marketing Manager, Wine Writer and Managing Partner at the Wine Travel Awards (WTA), has recently had a chance to interview Robert Joseph, WTA judge, consultant, co-owner le Grand Noir wines, public speaker, co-presenter of the Real Business of Wine and Thirst Fursday winecasts, Co-Strategist at 5forests.

Marina Revkova: “I have my own ritual dances!”

The Ukrainian Marina Revkova is a sommelier of the Kyiv restaurant Vino e Cucina. This year, Ristorante/Enoteca represented the country at the prestigious international competition for the title of the Best Sommelier in Europe and Africa, organized by ASI. D+ editor asked the  Best  Ukrainian Sommelier  of 2020 to comment on the events which took place in Limassol: how difficult the fight turned out to be, and what conclusions Marina made.

As concerns qualifying stage, how, generally, was it? What did you remember?

The qualifying stage is the toughest stage, when you need to check people as much as possible, to understand who is who. In principle, everything is expected. As concerns the tasks: standard test implied theory – 100 questions for 90 minutes. Then, a blind tasting of one wine: this task consisted in describing it in writing for 5 minutes. It usually takes more time for a full description, for example, recently at Vootcamp ASI in Warsaw, we talked about the optimal timing of 15 minutes to complete such task properly and correctly, in compliance with the requirements of the ASI system. I would like to reiterate that 5 minutes for completing such task is not enough. It should be emphasized that all candidates had many questions: how exactly it had to be done and what exactly the jury wanted from us.

This was followed by a tasting of three drinks for one minute each. It was important to just guess the drink without a detailed description. Then, the practice of presenting wine. Usually, this task does not surprise anyone, it is included into all sommeliers’ competitions. But what surprised me this time was the task when six people come to you as a sommelier for dinner. They want a magnum of a certain wine, and it needs to be decanted. A colleague has prepared the replacement accessories for you; glasses, magnum, and everything you need to serve guests is already on the table. You have only two minutes to assess the situation and comment on how well prepared you are, and then, you should be ready to act. I understood the task, checked, whether these 6 glasses were clean. It is understood that when you work in a restaurant, you need not 6, but 12 glasses, because of “We do not like it! What about changing these? Give us something else”, which represents a classic, standard situation. But here, we were taking part in a competition, which is stressful, and you only have two minutes. At the same time, you are to comment on everything you see. Other participants said that it was important not only to find mistakes, but also to point out what was done well and correctly. Decanters turned out to be of irregular shape, just iron wine jugs. From the point of view of decantation, an iron jug is the wrong choice, because metal can negatively affect wine. And the jars were of different volumes: not enough to decant a full bottle of magnum. That meant that the bottle had to be divided into two decanters.

I emphasized that the magnum was standing upright. But, as a rule, decantation implies the possible presence of sediment, that is to say, decanting the wine standing upright is also incorrect. Another remark of mine, which I would like to share: wine should not be available on the table, it is correct to store it before serving in the refrigerator. This is because even red wine has a certain serving temperature, it should not be stored at a room temperature… And here, the time was up! And that’s all I managed to say!))

To cut a long story short, I do not know, how correct that was and how I should have acted. There were no explanations. Everything was designed deliberately to complicate the task, leave some room for interpretations and thus test your knowledge, to the greatest extent possible.

If we talk about general results and the participants, on whom the observers betted: well, there were participants among us, who were preparing for years – for five or seven years. For example, the participant from Poland was training for two years, but in the end, he did not pass. Just imagine: he was dancing ritual dances, while we all were waiting for our entering the qualifying round, when we would be called over by the numbers assigned to the participants. We posted parts of this performance on Instagram! It certainly was funny, but I should admit that each sommelier has his or her own unique approach to the competition.

Marina Revkova

Marina, tell us about your “ritual dances”.

Oh, yes, I do have some peculiar knacks, my own “ritual dances”, too. For example, I am on a special diet. This time, I refrained from eating dairy products, eggs, meat, for a month and a half: I practiced ordinary veganism. And two weeks before the event, on November 1, I started to consume exclusively raw fruits and vegetables – I ate nothing else.

Why did you do that? Is there a certain philosophy behind that?

It is simple: to cleanse the body, bring receptors to the most sensitive condition, so that all my senses could subtilize. For example, during the entire period of preparation for the competition, I continued to work in the restaurant, in the usual way, performing all my duties. And after a while I caught myself standing – I was choosing a wine – and behind me a waitress brought the ordered dish; then, without even turning around, only due to the flinging  aroma, I knew, what exactly dish was ordered, what its components were, including even herbs and spices. You notice all little details, because your perception maximizes. However, I don’t know, whether it works with other people. Everything is individual. I just happen to be interested in nutrition, I am constantly studying nutrition, vegetarianism, reading various studies on this topic, watching documentaries, because it is interesting to me.

You have elaborated such system for yourself or it just came into your life as a recommendation?

At first, I was experimenting. I remember my first Ukrainian competition when I was just started to take part [in the competitions]. This nutrition system complied with my personal values; as a matter of principle, I believe that it is necessary to take care of animals, I try not to eat animal food, and to keep myself within certain limits. And before the first competition, I went even further and switched to veganism. Except for meat, I did not eat dairy foods, eggs. There was no raw food in my life at the time… On the eve of the competition, I realized how much sensitivity of my receptors enhanced, how sensitive I became: I determined all details about the wine blindfolded: country, region, method, including even vintage. When I realized that the reason for that implied the diet I had developed, I began to use it as a tool before the ASI certification, before this competition, before the Ukrainian sommeliers’ competition, where I determined absolutely everything blindfold … During the semifinals, finals, I easily guessed the information about grapes, vintages, states, alcoholic content, aging times, and other parameters. In fact, this approach works for me. But I do not want my system to be perceived as a universal tool, you need to try everything by yourself, you should start experimenting, and figure out, what is right for you.

This does not mean that due to my diet, I can accomplish any task and determine everything blindfold. No, without proper training, it is unlikely to work. You need to taste a lot of wines. Certainly, it is easier for me, because I work in the best wine restaurant in Ukraine. I have more than 200 by-glass positions, and if I taste every day, it is clear that I can distinguish Riesling from Sauvignon, Pinot Grigio, etc. I can often afford tasting good wines blindfolded. I understand that not everyone has this opportunity. But training is a must. Only a diet does not win. However, I am confident that on the day of the championship, you need to eat well, still adhering to a certain diet. It is important to prepare the body for D-day.

Given your most sensitive receptors and enhanced senses, what did you feel? How did you perceive the competition? What made you emotional about it?

My blind tasting was exactly what I had always been confident in. At the same time, it should be understood that, in fact, I have been working for only three years, I have not gained as much experience as many other people I competed with. Some of them have 10-15 years of experience behind them. Corinne from Portugal has been working with wine for 20 years. 20 years ago, I was a first-grader… I understand that I have no experience with different wines, I am an expert in Italian wines: I work for the Italian restaurant, and there are 1.5 thousand wines on the wine list. I can easily identify primitivo, allianico or negroamaro during blind tasting. Easily! But when it comes to Gruner or Chardonnay from California, I lack the tasting experience. Yes, I do tastings, but that’s not it! That is when you have worked, for instance, in three different places, with different themes and concepts for 10 years – then, everything will be perceived more comprehensively, more broadly.

Back to the emotions … During a blind tasting, I tasted the wine and assumed it was a gruner. I remember this wine and the emotions that it evoked so clearly! But I don’t know, whether I gave the correct answer. We do not know the results, they will all be announced, probably, later. Nobody ever says anything at the competition stage. Mysteries are abundant. I hope that later, we will be allowed to find out, what kind of wine that was.

You did not make it into the semi-final. How do you assess your performance?

I understood perfectly, with whom I would have to compete, what level of professionalism the candidates, who came to the competition, possessed. There were Master Sommeliers, people who have passed a million of the most difficult exams, completed prestigious international certifications, and participated in international competitions. For example, Roman Sosnovsky from Russia has been teaching wine science for 10 years. And I, having worked for three years in a restaurant, had to compete with such pros. Though, I even managed to demonstrate the result. It’s great, but I think that my experience is still insufficient. Undoubtedly, I can study and read a lot of books about appellations, varieties, regions, but this is not the same as my own practical experience. And this is not enough to win a competition of such level. “Kill and drill” is not enough, you need practice, you need to go through different situations with guests and much more.

Marina Revkova

What about your major interest: wine and services? Are you also interested in the wine-related business?

In addition to working in the restaurant, I work with Swiss company AVU wines, and the British system Liv-ex.

Accordingly, I know how much and what costs, I can trace interest in different products, the dynamics, I get analytics on a daily basis, I follow the wine business, generally speaking. I get the overhaul picture: what pricing is, what vintages are popular, what ratings are and so on. I’m interested in it because I work in a wine restaurant, and I need a broad vision. After all, I deal with the people who have money and who happen to know a lot about wine themselves. With those who have their own cellars and their own collections of fine wines, which they constantly replenish. Accordingly, when Lafite on our wine list costs 80,000 hryvnias per bottle, I have to explain to my clients, why this money is worth paying for it. That is why I study both analytics and pricing, and for these purposes, I am using Wine-searcher, Vivino, and Liv-ex. I think a sommelier should understand the order of prices and their components, find arguments for selling wines, know the product and be able to convey its value to a client. I also run our restaurant’s Telegram channel: write texts, and make posts. I am convinced that such posts should be written by a professional, not just an smm-specialist; thus, attracting new clients is a task set for marketing professionals, whereas promoting, and working with wines is definitely my task.

Marina, what can you say about judges and points awarded by them?

For the most part, we were judged by the world’s best sommeliers of different years. (Incidentally, I can’t help sharing my observation, which stunned me: after the competition, they helped clean the glasses together with the staff who were directly responsible for it. There was no arrogance on their part – continuous professionalism and teamwork. :)) I am not aware of the criteria, nor do I know, how it was all assessed – no one knows, except for the judges. I think my result in this competition is absolutely fair. I did not expect to make it into the final, because so far, I have gained little experience. It should be pointed out that experienced, well-known coaches were working with many of the contestants for five years. As for me, I had only two months to prepare for the competition, because I learned that I would take part in this competition only after I had won the competition “The Best Sommelier of Ukraine”.

Who was preparing you for the competition?

There is a person who helps me – the Frenchman Henri Chapon, who has been awarded the title of the best sommelier in Great Britain several times. We met in Reims. He saw me interpreting for my colleagues during a master class, decided that I had a potential, and offered cooperation. He helped me very seriously with the preparation. He commented on my technique, gave advices, and directions. He is my mentor. :))

May I wonder – are you on friendly or, rather, on working terms?

I hired him as a mentor. A paid mentor. In such a case, no one would spend his or her time for free. This is a normal practice. But at the same time, I was really lucky. People like Henri Chapon do not teach all and sundry. He is a busy man and works on various projects, including as a mentor. But he works only with the people who, as he believes, have the potential worthy of his efforts.

D+ Files

BBC journalists who were covering the competition arrived in Cyprus on a special mission. Here, they filmed an episode for a new docuseries about a sommelier, which they plan to sell to Netflix. Marina Revkova became one of four sommeliers who were the main characters of the story. Follow our news.


Marina Revkova, a sommelier of the Kyiv restaurant Vino e Cucina, represented Ukraine at the prestigious international competition for the title of the Best Sommelier in Europe and Africa, organized by ASI. D+ editor asked the Best Ukrainian Sommelier of 2020 to comment on the events which took place in Limassol.

Dr. Ricardo F. Nunez: a year or two?

On the eve of the new year of 2022, third year of the pandemic, Dr. Ricardo F. Nunez, founder and owner of the Vinos de La Luz group of companies, analyzes its impact on our lives and consciousness, and the special way of Ukraine in this historical context.

Some research recently published in scientific journals show that the pandemic, announced in 2020, affected everyone, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, distorting perceptions of time and events that took place during this period. In other words, we remember many situations we had, but we do not dare to say, “at what point in 2020/2021 they happened.” And the more events take place, the more difficult it is to associate them with a certain time of their holding.

We notice a tendency in our memory to merge the past two years. In one monolithic period and except for events that are important in everyone’s personal life, such as a change of job or family drama – great happiness or deep sorrow, as well as some situations, witnesses or protagonists of which we were – our memory gives the impression that everything else, less important to us personally, could have happened at any time during 2020-2021. The world of wine is also susceptible to this phenomenon because wine is associated with people’s daily lives.

Dr. Ricardo F. Nunez

To overcome this blurring of time, some scientists suggest using “duplication” as a system of analysis. Systems that record which annual (pre-pandemic) events have actually taken place twice in the last two years, and which have been held once or canceled altogether. This is not an easy exercise, because with its help we will try to overcome the lack of perception of “when”, which is almost a pathological consequence of the pandemic. For example, let’s ask ourselves, how many times has ProWein – the world’s largest annual wine show – been held during these years? All manufacturers, distributors, importers and many enthusiastic consumers will immediately give a quick answer: in these two years the exhibition has not been held once, and the next one is scheduled for March 2022, i.e., it will take place three years after the last one in 2019!! (As a comment, ProWein 2022’s security measures are difficult because increasing the distance between exhibitors reduces the amount of available space and increases the price per square meter, which is now 80% higher than in 2019).

And now let’s ask the question of what happened in Ukraine. How many competitions “Ukrainian Sommelier” and “Best Cavist of Ukraine”, organized by the School of Sommelier “Master Class”, were held in Ukraine during these two years (2020 and 2021), or how many exhibitions Wine & Spirits Ukraine were held in Kiev, or when the first events of Odessa Wine Week and Be Wine International Wine Show took place, or how many wine competitions were held for producers and organized by the smallest winemakers, or how many issues were published by Drinks+ magazine in those two years, or how many new influencers appeared and acquired authority and weight in the wine community (as an example I would like to give nataliiawines.com.ua)?

I repeat, if we address all these questions to ourselves, we will be very surprised by the answer and we will not need to turn to the election memory: all these events and many others were held regularly every year. Drinks+ was delivered to us on a monthly basis according to the traditional schedule, without breaks. At the same time, sites of influencers were opened, which are of great importance for the future of Ukraine. And if we talk about local and foreign producers of wine and distribution networks, we will also be surprised by the reality: on the one hand, Ukrainian winemakers over the past two years have made a giant step in development, on the other – new distribution companies were created and they managed to open their own stores for service and direct communication with their customers (as in the case of the Wine Gallery network).

Dr. Ricardo F. Nunez

It seems that Ukraine was protected from all these strict restrictions. From those lockdowns and bans that have pursued the world for the past two years. In fact, this is certainly not the case. Some restaurants and distribution companies had to close, but in general the system of production, import and distribution was not affected. And globally, the wine industry – from vineyards to distribution – is ready to look to the future and fight to achieve the goal they seek. You breathe this in Ukraine.

Personally, I am confident that Ukraine will find its way. It is now searching for it, 2020-2021 was a period of self-identification and growth. And it will create its story under any circumstances – with or without a pandemic. Ukraine is experiencing “tribal battles” of great birth. Every birth gives birth to a new essence as the protagonist, and in our country this newborn protagonist is the wine of the so-called “New Old World”, i.e., wine from Ukraine. Building the future means that more and more enthusiastic large and small producers (there are still no medium-sized producers) are pouring Ukrainian wine into Ukrainian glasses, which is the first step out of a comfort zone, crossing national borders, into the big world. But the emergence of this “essence” we are talking about is accompanied by the natural pains of birth and growth.

Undoubtedly, Ukrainian wine was born as “autonomous”. I tasted good and not very good – Cabernet, Syrah, Merlot and many other wines from Ukrainian producers. But I also tried many extraordinary single-varietal red wines from Odessa Black, single-varietal white wines from Telti Kuruk, which were incredibly good. I strengthen, they are very good! And they are now in the process of appearing in the highest quality. There are prominent people in Ukraine who are committed to the development of the wine industry with passion and business acumen. And every day they are more united in the search for the future. The land and climate of this country are a great support to the industry. The moment the world is going through is a great opportunity that manufacturers need to see clearly, and the word “unity” is a big key to the door to the world. Wines of indigenous varieties will open these doors in order their brothers, international varieties can also be exported and thus step by step establish the country as a producer of high-quality wines.

I hope that in 2022 Ukraine will take some steps. These are actions that Ukrainians can take on the international front line and which for me, as a fan of everything Ukrainian, are as follows: to adapt legal norms to the realities of the wine industry; to create as an official organization of Ukrainian winemaking WOFU – Wines of Ukraine, which will be the driving force to represent all the wines of the country in the international arena; to choose the varieties that will represent Ukraine and to choose on which day of the year the day of each variety of Ukraine will be celebrated all over the world; to unite all the main characters in a large association of Ukrainian wine producers and finally become a member of the OIV – International Organization of Vine and Wine, so that Ukraine takes its place alongside France, Spain, Italy, Australia and other major wine-producing countries where the investment will come from to work with local producers and conquer the world together.

The state must accompany this new history. Those who manage the country’s official finances must understand that in other countries, wine accounts for more than 3% of the gross domestic product, while opening the door to other products of the same origin.

Ukraine is the future, and Ukrainian wine is part of that future. My best wishes and best wines to you all!

On the eve of the new year of 2022, third year of the pandemic, Dr. Ricardo F. Nunez, founder and owner of the Vinos de La Luz group of companies, analyzes its impact on our lives and consciousness, and the special way of Ukraine in this historical context.