As recently noted on Eurasianet, Georgian wines are slowly returning to the Russian market, after a seven-year ban. What this all means for the Georgian wine industry is still unclear and is one of the issues discussed in an interesting recent piece produced by Al Jazeera English, which took a good look at how the Georgian wine has fared over the last seven years. The video can be viewed below:
Eurasianet corespondent Marianna Grigoryan's recent piece about hypermarket chain Carrefour's struggle to break into the Armenian market because of a group of oligarchs' control over the food supply chain, provided a fascinating glimpse into how rotten politics can impact the most mundane daily chores, such as shopping and cooking. Interested in hearing more about this story, I sent Marianna a list of followup questions. Our exchange is below:
1. What made you think about reporting on this subject?
When nearly six months ago it was announced that Carrefour is coming to Yerevan, many people were curious to see if that at least will happen. In Armenia, where in many spheres there is the heavy existence of monopolies, Carrefour’s possible existence became some kind of question of principa. I was excited, as were many others, to have Carrefour in Yerevan as a competitive hypermarket next to Yerevan's existing two or three supermarket networks. But at the other side speculations started as expected and severak months later there is still nothing exact – only Carrefour's “Opening soon.” So I decided to write about the situation in light of a story I had already started about Armenian oligarchs. 2. In general, where do Armenians shop for their food?
In general in Armenia, especially in Yerevan, the biggest network of supermarkets-hypermarkets is 'Yerevan City,' which belongs to the pro-government oligarch Samvel Aleksanyan, a member of parliament who controls sugar, flour and other spheres of food import and dictates the “prices.” For example, officially 99.9 percent of sugar imports and domestic sales belong to his family. There are also two other supermarket networks but they have been mostly empty in recent months. 3. Do you think Armenians are looking for the kind of shopping experience a Carrefour would offer?
In previous posts, this blog has taken a look at the effort some vintners are making to revive Armenia's historic but troubled wine industry. Armenia, of course, is best known for its cognac and the country's latest alcoholic beverages production figures show what an uphill battle Armenian winemakers are fighting. While cognac production grew by 20 percent last year, the amount of wine produced dropped by some seven percent, despite the recent moves to revive the wine industry.
In a recent article, the Hetq.am website took a look at what ails the Armenian wine industry, offering answers that ranged from the technical to the historical. From the article:
Globally, 10 billion bottles of wine are sold every year. Armenia sells around 600,000 bottles per year, some in the Russian market, where 1.2 billion are sold yearly. Russia also consumes 93% of Armenian cognac.
Only 5% of the Armenian cognac sold in Russia is purchased by the wealthy elite. That’s because most of it is sold for 25-300 roubles; the price of Russian wine. There are a few Armenian cognac varieties that go for 1000 roubles.
All these numbers concern Avag Haroutyunyan, President of Armenia’s Wine Growers Union. He says that cognac production and exports have risen 10% over last year and are 30% higher than the record years back in the Soviet era.
“Armenian cognac is fairly well known throughout the world. But Armenian wine is another story,” says Haroutyunyan. He believes that wine growing in Armenia is losing out to cognac because that’s where the investment is being directed. Armenian wines also aren’t well represented on the international market.
[UPDATE: According to Today's Zaman, Turkish Airlines is denying it has changed its policy regarding serving alcoholic beverages on domestic flights.]
It looks like Turkish Airlines (THY) is cutting off one of the main perks of flying the carrier's domestic business class: free booze. As the Hurriyet Daily News reports today, THY planes will no longer be serving alcohol on domestic flights, except when traveling to six apparently boozy destinations (the airline, though, will continue to free alcoholic drinks on most of its international flights). From HDN's article:
After surveying the preferences of passengers over the last year, Turkish Airlines has decided to remove alcoholic drinks from the service menu except during flights to İstanbul, İzmir, Bodrum, Dalaman, Antalya and Ankara.
Alcoholic beverages used to be served to business class passengers aboard domestic flights up until last week. Planes flying domestic routes will now not stock alcoholic beverages on board as part of austerity measures regarding service goods.
Recently, THY aroused public criticism with several passengers having reported that when they asked for alcoholic drinks the cabin crew denied their requests, saying that alcohol had been forgotten to be loaded with the plane’s cargo.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has recently gone into Turks' bedrooms, calling on Turkish families to have at least three children each in order to keep the country's population growing. Now the mercurial PM is going into his citizens' kitchens, kicking off a new campaign aimed at stopping what he described as the problem of bread waste, an issue that few Turks had probably ever given any thought to.
Yesterday, Erdogan helped kick off a new campaign organized by Turkey's Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock, which plans to tackle this newly-discovered problem of bread waste. Reports the Wall Street Journal:
On Thursday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan turned his attention for a brief moment to bread: the backbone of every meal in Turkey, where bakers put out 37 billion loaves a year.
The premier said wasting bread is tantamount to greed, which lies at the root of economic crises and wars. Turkey, he said, can’t afford to squander 2 billion loaves of bread annually while the country needs to encourage savings and millions worldwide suffer from hunger.
That catapulted the puffy white loaves of dough, which are not nutritious but filling and rich in flavor, into the center of political debate. It also brought Mr. Erdogan, who is ever-present in the lives of Turkey’s 75 million people but not known for culinary curiosity, into the kitchen.
Azerbaijan may be surrounded by simmering geopolitical crises, but the country's Ministry of National Security knows what the real challenge facing the country is: Armenian "plagiarism" of Azeri national cuisine. The ministry, which is responsible for Azerbaijan's intelligence and counter-intelligence efforts, recently unveiled "Three Points," a documentary it was involved in making which, as one Azeri website described it, is "about the Armenian plagiarism of the Azerbaijani national cuisine and historical realities." The Trend.Az website reports on the film's recent Baku premiere, held at the ministry's "Cultural Center":
In his speech, Chief of the National Security Ministry's office, Major General Farhad Vakhabov stressed that Armenians not only occupied Azerbaijani lands, destroyed cultural and historical monuments in the occupied territories, but also change the place names, misappropriate Azerbaijani national values - folklore, gastronomy, music, presenting it as their own to the world public.
"The National Security Ministry, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the Copyright Agency and other relevant bodies are fighting this phenomenon hard," he said.
Farhad Vakhabov said that Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and president of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation Mehriban Aliyeva have a special role in promoting and developing the national values.
Head of "Azad Azerbaycan" TV and Radio Company Vugar Garadaghli said that the project aims to inform the world community about the true essence of the Armenian plagiarism regarding Azerbaijani national cuisine and historical realities.
Georgia has a surplus of farmland and not enough farmers to work it. The Indian region of Punjab has too many farmers and not enough affordable land to keep them occupied. It shouldn't be surprising, then, that Punjabi farmers are increasingly being found tilling Georgian soil. As the Guardian's Jason Burke reports, agents in Punjab are starting to do a brisk business in Georgian land deals. From his report:
The sun dips, the cattle low as they are driven back to the farms and a telephone rings with a Bollywood soundtrack tone. Tujinder Singh is calling the sarpanch – the elected head – of Manochahal, his native village 30 miles from India's western border.
The conversation – about crops, prices, weather and mendacious middlemen – is like a million or so similar early-evening calls placed by farmers across south Asia. Except that the land that Singh is now tilling is in Georgia, the small mountain nation in the Caucasus.
Singh, 38, is one of a new wave of farmers pioneering one of the world's more unlikely migrations. During a recent spell as a cook in Düsseldorf, Germany, he heard about thousands of acres of fertile land on former collective farms lying fallow in Georgia for want of manpower.
The contrast with his native Punjab, with its surging population and high land prices, was striking. So two months ago, he and three friends flew from Amritsar to Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, to seal a deal for the lease of 50 hectares. Back for a short break and some tandoori chicken, Singh said he was very happy with the move, even if he remains slightly vague about the geography of his new home.
"We are paying $950 [£580] for each hectare for a 99-year lease. You'd not get much for that in the Punjab. I'm not sure if the farm is in the north or south but it is sort of over by Turkey and Armenia," he said.
As the situation in Syria continues to spiral downward, a growing number of members of the country's historic Armenian community are seeking refuge in Armenia. Reports the New York Times:
The flight of Syrian Armenians — one of many lesser-noticed ripple effects that could reshape countries well beyond Syria’s neighbors — is raising questions about the future of Syria’s diversity. And it is forcing Armenia, which depends on its strong diaspora communities to augment its otherwise scant geopolitical heft, to make delicate calculations about whether to encourage their exodus or slow it.
For now, Armenia is hedging its bets. It is sending aid to Armenians in Syria, helping them stay and survive. But it is also helping them come to Armenia, temporarily or permanently, by fast-tracking visas, residency permits and citizenship.
“Our policy is to help them the way they tell us to help them,” said Vigen Sargsyan, the chief of staff to Armenia’s president, Serzh Sargsyan.
About 6,000 Syrians have sought refuge in Armenia as fighting engulfs Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, where an estimated 80,000 of Syria’s 120,000 Armenians live. More arrive each week even as a few trickle back, unable to afford Yerevan or stay away from houses and businesses they left behind unguarded in Syria.
Meanwhile, as the Armenia Now website reports, some of those refugees -- from the city of Aleppo -- have opened a restaurant in Yerevan, hoping to keep a taste of home while they're away from Syria. From the site's story:
After six years of living with an onerous embargo, will Russian consumers soon be able to again get their fix of Borjomi mineral water and sweet Khvanchkara wine from Georgia? Statements coming out from both Moscow and Tbilisi make it sound like that could be the case.
"Russia and Georgia are ready to solve practically the issue of returning Georgian wine into the Russian market. The supply of Georgian wine into Russia was banned in 2006", Andrey Denisov, Russia's First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, was quoted as saying earlier this week.
“We are talking about the restoring the position of Georgian winemaking in our market. At least the both sides are ready to solve the issue.”
Meanwhile, according to the state-run Voice of Russia website, Georgia's Minister of Agriculture, David Kirvalidze, yesterday said his country is ready to negotiate with Moscow in order to enable Georgian wine and mineral water to return to Russian supermarket shelves.
Reporting on these developments, the Independent suggests that what is likely helping along this wine detente between Moscow and Tbilisi are the results of last month's Georgian Parliamentary elections:
In Georgian parliamentary elections last month, the party of pro-Western President Mikheil Saakashvili was defeated by a coalition led by Bizdina Ivanishvili, a zebra-keeping billionaire who made his fortune in Russia and has promised to improve relations between the two countries. One of the first steps could be the return of the wine trade.
Writing in the International Herald Tribune's Latitude blog, veteran Turkey correspondent Andrew Finkel describes how he recently found out that one of his favorite kebab restaurants recently stopped serving booze. Rather than due to political pressure, it turns out the owner made a business decision: in the part of town where the restaurant was located, many locals will no longer frequent an establishment that serves alcohol.
But Finkel points out that while that restaurant owner's clientele may be shunning booze, a number of well-to-do Turks are investing their time and money in projects that are supporting a small boom in Turkey's wine industry. Writes Finkel:
In all, there some 800 varieties of grape in Turkey, 30 of which are cultivated commercially. The country is the sixth-largest producer of grapes, but most end up eaten as is or as raisins. Only 3 percent are turned into wine. For now.
“Small wineries are transforming the whole industry,” says Isa Bal, the head sommelier of The Fat Duck, the three Michelin star restaurant in Berkshire, who was named Best Sommelier in Europe in 2008. Originally from Adana, a city in southern Turkey known for its pickled red carrot juice, Bal describes a Turkey on the brink of discovering the finer things.
At the moment, for most Turks the good life means owning a house and a car. Bal predicts that in time it will mean “sealing a business deal over lunch with a good wine.”
I, for one, was further reassured over lunch in Urla, about 20 miles from Izmir, at another state-of-the-art winery run by Can Ortabas, who took up growing grapes after he discovered ancient sets of vineyards on his land. Ortabas is not worried that Turkey might turn into Iran.