Thanks to EU support today we produce twenty times more wine than before, says Gogita Makaridze, the leader of the Cooperative Terjola Wine
Gogita Makaridze and other winemakers in his village had a challenging time in the wine business before they decided to join forces and achieved a breakthrough they could not even dream of before. Thanks to the support from EU cooperative development programme, they established themselves as a modern cooperative. As a result, their annual production jumped from 500 liters to 8-9 tons of high-quality wine. Today, the Terjola Wine is a brand that is widely distributed in Georgia and has growing international success, as you can now find their products in USA, Japan, Russia, Denmark and Australia markets.
Winemaking cooperatives are a growing success story in Georgia with members pooling resources in both winemaking and marketing to achieve what small growers could never do alone.
Gogita Makaridze, the leader of the cooperative Terjola Wine, is a very active and motivated young man. Winemaking is a long tradition in his family.
“My father and grandfather were successful winemakers and I grew up in the winery with them. I harvested and crushed grapes at a young age. I really wanted to be a winemaker and was fortunate to be able to follow in the family footsteps of winemaking and I am proud to be the fifth generation of my family to go into winemaking,” says Gogita.
Gogita’s family was successful in wine business during the Soviet era. Wine export was the main income source for their family.
“During the Soviet time, my father was producing and exporting some of the best Georgian wines to the Soviet republics. Our business was prospering. We were not wealthy but the winemaking business created a good, steady income that supported the family.”
However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Georgia experienced during the 1990s political and economic turmoil that caused wine exports to decline dramatically. Gogita’s family was forced to reduce wine production as the market demand decreased significantly.
Unlike Gogita’s father, many Georgian farmers totally abandoned their vineyards, as the future seemed uncertain.
In 2012, with his father semi-retired, Gogita took over the responsibility for the family vineyards.
Gogita is an ambitious young man. He assumed leadership responsibilities of his family’s business without much capital but with a big dream. His goal was to establish not just a locally competitive brand but a brand that would be recognized internationally. One that would introduce unique Georgian wines – Otskanuri Sapere, Tsitska, Tsolikauri, Aladasturi and Krakhuna, which have specific aromas and a fresh harmonious taste peculiar to wines from Imereti region – to the world. There was a long way to go, though.
“When I was starting, I faced a lot of problems. I realized that to have an international brand, I would need to produce large quantities to EU quality standards. In order to do that, I needed modern equipment. Therefore, the biggest obstacle was the lack of financial resources needed to purchase modern winemaking equipment. I am not the kind of person who raises the white flag in front of every obstacle, but the situation was not easy. I looked for a solution in bank commercial loans but I was put off by excessively high-interest rates and I kept looking for other more affordable solutions,” says Gogita.
New Impulse from EU to Revive Traditional Georgian Winemaking
In 2014, under the EU-funded ENPARD (European Neighbourhood Programme for Agriculture and Rural Development) programme the Czech NGO People in Need announced a grant competition for groups of small farmers to help jointly tackle their problems in production and marketing.
“I was looking for a solution for more than one year. In 2014, my neighbors told me that a Czech organization People in Need was offering people the opportunity to start developing agricultural cooperatives. At first, I did not believe it. However, I attended the information meeting in Terjola, and this meeting appeared to be the starting point that laid the foundation for our success.”
Gogita, along with his fellow villagers who were also involved in small-scale wine businesses decided to establish a cooperative. Soon, they took part in the grant contest and were among the first cooperatives in Imereti to receive a grant. ENPARD grant provided them with modern winemaking equipment they needed to create a first class winery and a wide range of trainings to improve the quality of production and their work as a cooperative.
Since then, awards have flowed freely. In 2015, the Terjola Wine received the highest award on annual wine festival in Tbilisi for producing the best Tsitska and Otskhanuri Sapere in Georgia. Soon, international recognition followed: in 2016, People in Need sponsored their participation in renowned Salima Trade Fair in the Czech Republic, where they received a special prize in the nomination “Best Red Wine”. The same year Terjola Wine honored with a highest award golden cup (Золотой Кубок) in the international “Code de Vino”awards.
Thanks to its high-quality product the cooperative easily established itself in the local market and started selling its products in the largest cities of Georgia. In 2016, the cooperative found its deserved place under the sun in the world market and unique wines of the cooperative can be found on the store shelves in the USA, Australia, Japan, Russia and Denmark.
Today in Terjola the word “success” is associated with “Terjola Wine”. The cooperative’s vineyard has 5 hectares and produces 8-9 tons of wine, which is 20 times more than cooperative members were producing individually.
Future plans of Terjola Wine include adding more members and purchasing 4 more hectares of land to reach 15 tons of production next year. Though, that’s not the whole story. As Gogita Makaridze told us, they intend to try their luck in agritourism. For this reason, they are building a hotel, which will be ready to welcome foreign and local guests already starting from the summer 2017.
Success brings social responsibility
Gogita and his friends in the cooperative have a great desire to support the revitalization of the centuries-old wine tradition in Terjola. For this reason, the cooperative plans to establish a nursery and provide free seedlings to all small-scale winemakers in the municipality.
“We believe that with success comes responsibility. We are ready and committed to supporting Terjola winemakers who are having the same kind of problems that we experienced in the past years. I believe that 10 years from now, Terjola will have a number of successful cooperatives and will be one of the best-known winemaking spots in the world!”
The co-operative’s 10 members have a combined 5 hectares of grapes. The projected 2016 harvest will produce around 8-9 thousand liters of quality Otskhanuri and Tsitska wine. Not a bad start for two years of effort.