Paul Goble is a fascinating analyst who runs a geek-tastic blog called Window On Eurasia. If you have been wondering, for example, what the 17,000 Muslims in Chelyabinsk have been up to, his blog is a MUST READ. Lately, his byline says he's writing from Baku -- sorry about that.
Normally, I'm not one to openly challenge experts, but his post the other day on a report (in Russian, alas) by Ismail Agakishiyev, a Moscow State University specialist who believes that the Azeri wine industry is well-positioned to burst on the international scene, provoked me.
Among other things, I consider myself an expert on Azeri wines. The very idea that a Russian analyst believes that Azerbaijan's wines will be drunk by people who have taste buds suggests that the analyst has never actually tried Azeri wine. Alternatively, the guy could be breaking the news gently to Russians that, due to geopolitical awkwardness, they will never get another bottle of Georgian Saparavi, ever. To me, the "delightfully upbeat" message to Russian wine drinkers in that report is "embrace the suck."
Sure the history of wine production in Azerbaijan is interesting and it's tragic that the Azerbaijanis ripped out all the vines in the 80's during Gorbachev's anti-alcohol campaign (boy, that worked out about as well as that whole "glasnost" thing, didn't it?), but it doesn't change the fact that Armenians still manage to make a decent cognac or two and Georgian wine is the best, uh, in the greater the Black Sea region.
The report also talks mentions that many farmers and peasants were left with no livelihood when the vineyards were destroyed and how efforts to replant may draw people back to to the land. If I was a urban emigre considering a return to to agriculture, I'm not sure I'd sell the Zhiguli to finance my dreams of starting up winery tourism in, say, Masalli.
Finally, this line really killed me.
"After a brief bout of problems with fraudulent production in the 1990s, Baku has reestablished effective quality control and its wines have won 27 prizes at international competitions since 1991."
The 27 prizes at international competitions? Was that at the Wine Special Olympics in Almaty in 1993? "After a brief bout of problems with fraudulent production?" Was better wine made and sold under the name Yeddi Gozelli (Seven Beauties) but someone concluded that might damage the brand and put a stop to it?
A word of advice, Paul, if you value your social standing in Baku: never, ever bring a bottle of Karavansary to a dinner party. Recent arrivals who don't know better probably never notice that their hostess smiles politely and puts it in the "it's 3am and the shops are closed" box. Anyone in Baku more than a few weeks who brings a bottle would be subject to merciless mockery and may, ultimately, notice a drop-off in invites. Skunk, garden party and all that.
Since I don't want to sound like I am discouraging Azerbaijan from diversifying its economy, I suggest winemakers take an incremental approach: strive to make better wine than the Turks. I'm sure the Turks have won at least 30 prizes at the Wine Special Olympics, but not as many as the Moldovans.