EPI Trip Reports: Wine Opinion-Shapers Visit to Georgia

In September 2011, USAID funded a visit to Georgia by eight of the top wine experts in the United States (U.S.). A group of wine experts and journalists were recruited and briefed by the 2020 Development Company LLC team who has been involved with Georgian wine since 2006, shortly after the Russian embargo. This group included four Masters of Wine (MW), a wine maker and three of the top journalists, bloggers, and wine twitter experts in the U.S. The first appendix of this report provides a summary of the observations and recommendations for Georgian wine and tourism industries that were discussed by the group prior to their return to their home or summarized from the reports that each Opinion shaper (OS) provided. The remaining appendices comprise the remainder of the individual reports. The final appendix is a report provided by EPI’s staff member.

Globally, there are about 300 individuals who have achieved the distinction of MW from the UK-based Master of Wine Institute. This designation is known around the world as the most distinguished degree available to wine industry experts. There are currently 30 MWs in the U.S. According to the Masters of Wine website, the objectives of the MW program are to ―promote professional excellence and knowledge of the art, science and business of wine‖. The MW program requires the MWs to pass three parts of the examination (Theory, Practical, and Dissertation). These individuals are experts in all aspects of the wine industry from grape production to winemaking, distribution, and marketing. On the OS trip to Georgia, there were four MWs from the U.S. The exposure of Georgian wine to these leading wine experts will leverage their experience and exposure not only to the U.S. wine industry, but the extended network of the global Masters of Wine network.

The trip also included three top U.S.-based wine journalists; one traditional journalist who is also the founder of the Dallas Wine Competition and two bloggers and wine tweeters with significant following. Both of these bloggers are experts in wine tourism. Luiz Alberto owns a wine tourism agency in Italy and Diane Letulle is often a speaker at wine tourism conferences, including one in Brescia, Italy in October 2011. As an added bonus, Luiz Alberto, one of the wine bloggers has a web-based portal to sell consumer wines direct through the Internet and specifically through terminals his company has established in Italian wineries. This concept can be duplicated in Georgia and this option will be explored further in this report.

The OS are the experts on wine and their views and suggestions are going to be specific in their recommendations on wines and to wineries. The recommendations of this document can be utilized as a blueprint for future efforts in support of the Georgian wine and wine tourism industries.