Alcohol Consumption in Georgia More Like Italy than Eastern Europe
According to a report by the World Advertising Center on World Drink Trends compiled in 2005, drinking-age people are consuming alcohol in Georgia drastically less than in Poland, Estonia, Hungary, or Russia–to name a few.
Furthermore, a study by the World Health Organization provides statistical results on men and women above the age of 15 in 200 countries, showing that the average person consumes the largest amount of alcohol in Belarus (17.5 liters a year). The second highest rate is found in Moldova at 16.8 liters, while Lithuania takes third place at 15.4 liters, and Russia is fourth at 15.1. Lastly, Romania is fifth, consuming on average 14.1 liters per person. These numbers also take into account homemade alcohol.
Despite the cultural significance of wine and its origination in the country, Georgia ranks 67th.
Alcohol has a deep political history along with its cultural history in Georgia. In 1985, Communist Party leader Mikhail Gorbachev introduced reforms to the laws governing the distribution and production of alcohol in the Soviet Union. Gorbachev uprooted vineyards throughout the nation due to lowering birth rates, increased mortality and levels of alcoholism. Georgia lost an estimated 75% of its total vineyard area. Additionally, the Soviet era meddled with Georgia’s age-old tradition of winemaking by separating the estates of vineyards and reorganizing the production of wine into collective farms.
Research suggests that alcohol consumption in eastern Europe decreased by 7% in the first decade after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Another blow to the Georgian wine market was suffered in March of 2006 when Russian officials announced an immediate ban on all Georgian wine imports. Over 80 percent of Georgia’s explort market was reduced, with up to 90 percent typically imported by Russia.
Mikhail Saakavshivili, Georgia’s president at the time, considered Russia’s ban on Georgian wine to be economic blackmail: “Russia is trying to strangle our economy,” Saakashvili countered.
The drinking patterns vary throughout eastern or central Europe; while Russia’s national drink is vodka, the drinking culture of Georgia resembles that of Italy, with wine as the favored drink.
The threatening nature of the trade embargo was seen largely as an opportunity in Georgia to advance a competitive market and reduce dependency on Russia. Georgia has now expanded the export of wine to new, more lucrative markets; during 2016, a record number of Georgian wine was exported to the U.K, and exports to the U.S. rose drastically by 43%.
By Emily Sullivan
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