Peer-reviewed articles Wine in the Soviet food regime experiences from Armenia and Georgia

Wine constitutes a corner-stone in the past and present of Armenian and Georgian societies. During the Soviet era, the production, distribution and consumtion of agro-food products, including wine, became elements in the geopolitical organization of food and agri-cultural relations of the USSR and of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance Reconstruction (after 1965). The Armenian wine industry was restructured and its main focus became the production of sherry, while the Georgian wine industry focused on wine production, most of which was exported to Russia. The wine sector became re-structured, vineyards were collectivized and their management was centralized and a far reaching division of labour was implemented at industry level. This article offers a glimpse of the economic history of wine in Armenia and Georgia between the 1920’s and 1991.

Published in the printed edition of Baltic Worlds BW 2021:3, pp 14-26
Published on on October 25, 2021

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Wine constitutes a corner-stone in the past and present of Armenian and Georgian societies. During the Soviet era, the production, distribution and consumtion of agro-food products, including wine, became elements in the geopolitical organization of food and agri-cultural relations of the USSR and of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance Reconstruction (after 1965). The Armenian wine industry was restructured and its main focus became the production of sherry, while the Georgian wine industry focused on wine production, most of which was exported to Russia. The wine sector became re-structured, vineyards were collectivized and their management was centralized and a far reaching division of labour was implemented at industry level. This article offers a glimpse of the economic history of wine in Armenia and Georgia between the 1920’s and 1991.

Keywords: Wine history, Soviet food regime, Armenia, Georgia.


The history of wine in Armenia and Georgia dates to 6 000—8 000 years ago and includes the domestication of vines, the invention of wine and development of production and consumption practices. Wine has been a key element in peasant agriculture as well as in the construction of national identities both in Armenia and Georgia. Wine has been used in religious ceremonies and to connect the region to Christianization in the 4th century AD. Many centuries ago, a peasantry-based system evolved in which mountain pastoralism was combined with orchard cultivation, wine making, and production of grains. Moreover, the region has in different periods been occupied by foreign powers. During these occupations, the production and consumption of wines has filled an important role maintaining local identities.
This was also the case when Armenia and Georgia were incorporated into the Soviet Union. For the wine industries in Armenia and Georgia, this meant a shift from private ownership, to central planning, collectivization of vineyards and wineries, establishment basic institutional infrastructure (hygiene regulations, production protocols, etc), territorial organization of production (i.e. wine regions) and the creation of an intra-regional sourcing system in which wine was one of many other products.

Wine constitutes a corner-stone in the past and present of Armenian and Georgian societies. But, while the ancient history of wine has been well studied, the last 100 years have been less studied. The aim of this article is to shed light on the impact of the Soviet Union on the wine industries in Armenia and Georgia. Although it is impossible to offer a complete overview of the subject, the purpose of this article is to open a new window to the economic history of Armenia and Georgia during the Soviet Union. The following question will be addressed: How did the organization of food and agricultural relations during the Soviet era influence, develop and constraint the wine industries in Armenia and Georgia?

Methods and sources

This study started out using an inductive approach. Initial interviews and initial reading was done departing from the author’s previous knowledge about the economic history of wine, but without a specific knowledge of the cases. A few exploratory interviews were conducted in both countries. The analysis of the initial interviews were used to outline the rest of the study and formulate a hypothesis on the history of the wine industry during the Soviet food regime (SFR). Fieldwork was conducted in 2017, 2018 and 2019 in Georgia, and during a longer period in 2019 in Armenia. The main approach in this study is triangulation, although phenomenography and text analysis were used as complementary methods to analyze collected data.
14 in-depth interviews were conducted in Georgia, four with winery owners and eight with winery managers and one winemaker, most of which were conducted in the wineries. In Armenia 14 interviews were conducted in total, seven of which were conducted with winery owners and three with winery managers. The interviews included questions regarding company history, investors, market conditions, company strategy, past and current target markets, products, grapes and other issues associated with production including information about oenologists, technology, domestic and foreign influences and general information about the industry in each country. Interviews were also conducted with key stakeholders at respective ministries, the Georgian Wine and Grape Growers Association, FAO Armenian division, EVN (Jerevan Wine Academy), wine historians and local scholars with connection to two scholars (one in Armenia and one in Georgia) who are also involved in the industry. Interviews were anonymized and codified. Additional informal interviews and discussions about the wine industry, its history and the quality of statistical data were also conducted with statistical experts at the national statistical services in both countries, local historians and university scholars.
Interviews were processed and analyzed departing from a phenomenographic approach, an inductive method used in the search of differences and variations in human interpretation, perceptions and views of a specific phenomenon or issue. Phenomenography uses specific protocols to differentiate perceptions of different informants. Perceptions, opinions, and statements are contrasted, codified, and grouped into comprehensive categories. Identified categories thereafter are linked to theoretical concepts, official descriptions, or generalized ideas identified as being the framework of the study. In this case, food regime theory and generalized perceptions of the Soviet Union found in previous research have been used (See table 1). Categorization in this article is based on interview results and information material provided by companies that recount their respective histories. As historical sources are scarce and existing archives were not possible to access, other sources, for example previous research, have been used.

The phenomenographic analysis also helped to identify a suitable time division of the studied period (see figure 1) between around 1923 to 1991. After 1991 the wine industry experienced a period of transition that landed in a totally new orientation and industrial structure.
Written sources, especially website content was used to trace the story of different companies, or of the ancestors of current owners during the Soviet period. Superlatives and other information that is used to convince consumers to buy a product have been omitted from the analysis, while very specific information such as name of a deported ancestor, or confiscation of the company has been included. Some of the topics identified are: De-kulakization, technological development, land expansion and upstarts during the SFR. Although it is necessary to have a critical approach to stories told in retrospect by people who did not experience the events themselves, these stories can still be considered as valuable and varied testimonies of events that influenced the industry during the Soviet regime. Triangulation offers a good help to avoid statements that are not backed by known historical facts. In total 17 of the 40 home pages of Armenian wineries and 78 of the 180 wineries in Georgia were analysed using qualitative text analysis. The text analysis disclosed the same periodization and categorization of the analysis of interviews, but it also offered information about national and international cooperation and main business orientation in previous periods.
A clear challenge in the available sources is that the quality of historical statistics is uncertain. According to the Armenian and Georgian statistical services, data on production is unreliable, therefore it was not possible to elaborate times series with production or trade data within the USSR. However, data on number of hectares under vine was found and discussed with local experts who claim that the number of hectares under vine for industrial production is accurate, but that figures do not include the numerous family farms that produced wine for domestic consumption. Production in family farms was however marginal compared to industrial production. Area under vine provides no information about how much wine was produced, because it says nothing about the type of grapes and output per hectare, but it can help us understand larger trends and changes.

Food regimes – a conceptual discussion

The history of the wine sector is closely associated with issues of local and global power, culture, religion, geography, trade, and resources/capital. Therefore, a fruitful way to study the wine sector during any historical period is to focus on the geopolitical organization of food and agricultural relations, e.g. a food regime. This approach enables a holistic understanding that includes endogenous and exogenous sources of influence during a period and include the underlying geopolitical structures and institutional and structural sources of power within a system. The food regime approach poses questions about where and by whom food is produced and consumed and connects food with its socioeconomic and environmental consequences, but it also links food to international relations far beyond the local, the regional and the national context. It also studies food and agricultural relations through a systemic lens. Friedmann (1989) and McMichael (2009) argue that food regimes exist during limited periods of time and include an institutional and structural power base, a mode of regulation and the impact of endogenous and/or exogenous forces. The mode of regulation in a food regime conditions the economic space of all economic agents and this is especially true for the wine industry because wine has throughout its history been an important international trade item.
The food regime approach is flexible and visualizes interplay between changing societal structures, rules, regulations, market conditions and responses of businesses and industries within a system. Moreover, previous research argues that food regimes appear during a limited period in time, therefore a strict timeline was developed and used to label the previously known food regimes. In addition, while previous research has an Anglo-centric focus by placing the UK (during the late 19th century and early 20th century) and the US (1950’s—1970’s and 1980’s until today) as hubs around which geopolitical food and agricultural relations evolve, a supporting argument in this article is that the USSR constituted an additional axis around which a different type of food regime evolved.

From previous research we only have glimpses of the SFR. One such glimpse is what became labelled as “the great grain robbery”, when the Soviet Union after having a severe crop failure in 1972 managed to purchase vast amounts of cheap grains from the US at a sub-price. Some researchers consider that the consequences of the “the great grain robbery” were that while famine was avoided in the USSR, poor countries that were dependent on imports of cheap (subsidized) grains from the US experienced a severe famine in 1972—1973 instead. After this event the UN World Food Program was created. However, this is only a moment’s picture of the SFR, therefore more research is needed.
In this article it will not be possible to thoroughly study all aspects of the SFR. Instead, in order to keep focus on the issue at stake, the following concepts will be used in the analysis: The structural and institutional basis of the SFR; Endogenous and exogenous forces influencing the wine industry; The outcomes and consequences of the SFR for the wine industries in Armenia and Georgia. As the SFR was not static, but evolved and changed over time, a chronology that will help us understand the changing contexts of the SFR was developed.
During the initial period a new structural and institutional form was implemented and a new mode of regulation was adopted. The entire agro-food sector was collectivized and a process of de-kulakization, integration and re-organization was set in motion. One of the most distinct organizational features of the wine industry was establish already at the start of the SFR. Grape production and elaboration of wine became organized and run by cooperatives. Although it is not possible to get deeper into firm structures in this article, a distinct feature that emerges after summing up results from previous literature, interviews and field studies is that wine elaboration seems to a large extent have been disconnected from grape production. In the long run, wine quality was negatively impacted because winemakers lacked control over the raw material and vineyard managers only needed to meet productivity targets. Thus, there were no longer incentives to work for higher product quality.

During the second period the agro-food industries in respective countries were restructured and/or modernized and investments in more advanced technologies for large scale production were developed and introduced. In 1949 the economic collaboration within the USSR was deepened and started to expand and include new partners mainly in Eastern Europe, after the creation of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance Reconstruction (CMEA). From 1965 and onwards, the SFR expanded as new countries were added to the CMEA (for example Cuba in 1972, Vietnam in 1978, Finland in 1973, Irak and Mexico in 1975, Nicaragua in 1984 and Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Angola, Moçambique, Laos and South Yemen in 1986). Some of the main characteristics of the third period were the development of food aid to Latin American and African countries and technical assistance to potentially “new” CMEA members, which was driven as one of the strategies of the USSR during the cold war. At least at beginning of the period there were also some investments and technical development. The decline of the SFR actually started before 1987 and was characterised by lack of investments and technical obsolesce.

A historical background to Armenian and Georgian wines

The ancient history of wine in Armenia and Georgia became established after archaeologists discovered traces of wine pottery in the Gadachrili Gora village settlement which proved to be 8,000-years-old. The settlement is located close to the current border between Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. During this early period wine was one of several elements that contributed to the foundation of peasant agriculture in the area. The same type of artefacts, practices and methods were discovered in the excavation of the Areni-1 cave in Armenia, dated to 6,100 years ago. The Areni-1 site shows a large wine production facility with several historical layers. Findings from both sites bind the present to the past through practices and artefacts that were historically reproduced in the peasantry-based system that evolved over history and that to some extent still features the present-day wine industry. And especially of wine made for home consumption. Because of this ancient history, many winemakers, especially in Georgia market their wineries as “the cradle of wine”.
The first wave of modernization, especially in Georgia, took place during the 19th Century after both countries were annexed to the Russian Empire. Thereafter, the economic integration with Russia, as well as the development of new transport alternatives (such as the railways) allowed for a higher economic exchange between Southern Caucasus and Russia. In Armenia, the lack of an organized market in the early 19th century in combination with surplus production created incentives to distill the surplus. Distillation made it possible to store the product (Armenian brandy). However, in the late 19th century, wine production had become an organized trade and in the 1870’s there were two distinct products, namely fortified wines/distilled products and wine (both dry and semi-sweet). In addition, wine regions started to emerge. Production was quite limited as the total area under vine was just under 20 thousand hectares and the majority of the population was poor. At that time there were 1150 wine presses only in the Yerevan Governorate, but wine was not only produced from grapes, pomegranate was also quite important as input to wine production.
Wines, brandy and vodka were exported from Armenia to St. Petersburg, Moscow, Odessa, Warsaw during the first years of 20th century. In fact, it was the increasing export revenues from brandy exports that allowed the wine industry to invest in modernization programs. It is also during this period in which the large brandy company led by Nikolay Shustov, Ararat was established.

In Georgia this period was quite different from the corresponding period in Armenia. After 1820 a number of estates were founded inspired by French chateaux. Some of these are Dadiani Estate (in Zugdidi), Tsinandali Estate (in Tsinandali Village), Chăteaux Mukhrani (in Natakhtari-Tsilkani-Mukhrani), Vazisubani Estate (in Vazisubani) and many others. These estates introduced state-of-the-art European technologies and European grapes were used with the intention of replacing native grapes with foreign varieties. Investments during the 19th century were considerable, but this concerned only a few wineries and a dual industrial structure emerged, with a small but modern wine industry that focused on exports, while a large artisan sector with strong connection to peasant agriculture using ancient technologies and that focused on local markets remained. The high-profile, high-quality wines were exported and in spite of the intention of replacing local varieties with French grapes, the local varieties prevailed. Wines were exported mainly to Russia, but managed to find their way also to some international wine competitions, such as the Brussels Exhibition (international wine competition) in 1888 and 1907.


Wine in the Soviet food regime (SFR)

Based on the chronology established above and using the main theoretical concepts in the food regime theory, it is possible to identify the main phases and features of the SFR and how it influenced the wine industry between 1922—1991.
The content in table 1 (above) is the result of the interview based phenomenographic analysis and of the text analysis conducted on written company information and webpage content and previous research. As can be seen above, the wine industry was affected by processes and changes that influenced all production, distribution, and consumption of food. During the formation of the SFR (1922—1940) private ownership was eradicated and the institutional and organizational foundations of the SFR were established. Wineries were especially affected by de-kulakization since elaboration and storage of wines requires a certain degree of capitalization. The new orientation that followed on the articulation of the SFR, is according to experts, likely to have caused the loss of substantial amount of endemic vitis vinifera vines and of knowledge, know-how and cultural heritage.
In the subsequent period the structure of the SFR seems to have become more mature and a new institutional infrastructure concerning hygiene regulations, production protocols, etc. was developed, in addition the idea of wine regions were created and found their place in the process of market integration and production coordination that became realized after WWII.

An important issue is the post war expansion of the Soviet sphere when Bulgaria, Hungary Czechoslovakia, Romania, became members of the CMEA. This is especially important because the mentioned countries are all wine producers. Especially after 1965 when CMEA countries needed to export goods to western countries in exchange for foreign currencies (mainly USD) to pay for imports of oil, machinery and other things that were not possible to produce within the Soviet sphere. Wine was one of the commodities exported and especially Hungary and Bulgaria played an important role in the exports of wine to Western countries, while Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova and Azerbaijan were more important as suppliers within the CMEA. According to analysis made by Cochrane (1989) production of grapes shows no positive or negative trend for the CMEA countries except for the USSR where production of grapes seems to have almost doubled. Although the figures were analysed by the USDA before publication, they need to be interpreted with caution, but an increase is consistent with the analysis of area under vine (see graphs 1—2). From 1985 Gorbachev’s “dry laws” (partial prohibition campaign) were implemented, which negatively impacted wine production . During the 1980’s the SFR started to decline and it came to an abrupt end with the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991.


Just before 1922, Armenia lost part of the province of Ararat as a consequence of the Turkish-Armenian war. The Ararat province was and still is important as a production area with soils and climatic conditions that are optimal for wine production. Thus, the Armenian wine industry suffered a considerable territorial lost just before the establishment of the SFR. The war had also led to a widespread impoverishment amongst Armenians. Thus, the economic pre-conditions to support the growth of an industry were limited and wine production was characterized by its low quality. The nationalization of companies and factories was initiated in the early 1920’s when one of the largest factories, the Shustov factory was nationalized in 1920, thereafter several other companies were nationalized. In 1923 the state-owned Ararat Trust was established to organize production and exports of wines and spirits and in 1927, the wholesale cooperative Hayginkoop was established. Ararat Trust and Hayginkoop coordinated their activities from 1930 and in 1937 the Ararat Trust became the state alcohol monopoly.
The production and food sourcing goals of the USSR were rapidly adopted. Armenia became a net importer of food, hence wine production might have been regarded as unnecessary luxury. During the implementation of Lenin’s New Economic Policy (NEP), until 1927, winery owners became arrested, some even assassinated and plenty of accounts are found in interviews, webpages and literature about incarcerations and how ancestors were labelled as insurgents. Here, a representative example of such stories:

The vineyard was founded by our great grandfather. He moved back to Armenia from Boston in the 1920’s and bought the vineyard. He was shot and his property was confiscated by the Bolsheviks.

Another important aspect for the industry at the start of the SFR is the creation of the Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Region in 1924, an enclave within Azerbaijan where 94 per cent of the population at the time were Armenians. This is of importance for the wine industry, as one of the unique features of Armenian wines is that the oak used in barrels originates from Nagorno Karabach. This particular oak adds a distinct cherry tone to the palate, which today is claimed to be an important and distinctive element in Armenian wine. Once wine production became organized under the SFR, the main orientation of the industry was to produce sherry that was used as an input in brandy production.

Armenian wine was considered as marginal within the USSR and is for example not mentioned in the overall statistics of the USSR. In addition to brandy, a limited production of table wines and sparkling wines took place. Although records are not complete, 19 of currently existing wine and alcohol producing companies were established between 1877 and 1980, most of which were established during the SFR. 16 of the 19 focused on production of sherry-based brandy, remaining three focused on wine and fruit wine.
The displacement of wine production also caused a decline in wine consumption as many consumers preferred less expensive Russian Vodka. It is reasonable to conclude that the decision to focus on brandy production in Armenia instead of wine is motivated by the low purchasing power of the population and that quality of wine was poor at the start of the SFR. In addition, Armenian brandy production and exports were well established by the late 19th century and the specific terroir element in brandy production using local grape varieties and the sensory quality provided by the Nagorno Karabakh oak, made Armenian brandy an excellent candidate for exports. Several informants stated that Armenian brandy was exported to other parts of the USSR, but was also well-known internationally. A reasonable hypothesis is that Armenian brandy helped the USSR to acquire foreign currencies, which was an important contribution of the SFR to the economy of CMEA countries.
The number of hectares under vine decreased after 1970 and Gorbachev’s attempt to reduce alcoholism in the USSR through the ‘dry-laws’ led to the destruction of thousands of hectares of vines in the 1980’s. Consequently, the number of hectares under vine dropped from just over 32 thousand hectares to just above 25 thousand hectares. However, in some cases such as Bulgaria, production started to decline already in the 1970’s. After 1991 widespread poverty affected Armenia and wine consumption fell even more. Today, there are around 40 wineries in Armenia and a long-term effect is that Armenians lost knowledge and know-how of how to produce wine.


Georgia became incorporated to Soviet rule, first through the Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic (1922—1936) and thereafter into the USSR until 1991. Georgian economy benefited from the New Economic Policy (NEP) during the initial years. Although all land became confiscated, peasants were initially allowed to keep the land that was granted to them during the 19th century. Lenin’s policy of Central planning in agriculture was established with the first central plan for agriculture in 1928 however, economic planning structure was fully developed in 1934.
The NEP promoted modernization and a rapid increase in production of inexpensive industrial food. However, food production was insufficient to meet the needs created by the accelerated rate of urbanization caused by the shift in economic structure. Food prices were set by central authorities, but agriculture could not meet the increase in demand. Agriculture was inefficient and production rates fell to levels below the 1917 harvests. Consequently, diversified agricultural production was replaced with monoculture and a higher degree of specialization. For example, land previously used to produce wheat became replanted with tea and grapes, both of which were labor intensive. Some new crops, such as tea, tobacco and citrus were also established in reclaimed lands in Western Georgia, where large areas were drained. Moreover, small plots of land were leased to peasant families. In the drained areas agricultural output rose rapidly.

In the 1930’s a campaign was launched to promote farm collectivization. In 1931 the “War against Kulaks” was initiated as the First Secretary of the Central Committee declared that “the Kulaks as a class must be destroyed”. This followed a decision of the communist party from 1930 in which it was stipulated that Kulaks were to be removed from their land, that agricultural land, vineyards, wine cellars and agricultural equipment must be confiscated and should be handed over to the kolkhozes; that livestock should be confiscated; Kulaks activities became restricted and they were forced to do compulsory “public labour”. Thus, the wine industry and large farms in Georgia were especially targeted by the “de-kulakization” campaign. Persecution had severe consequences for private ownership. One vineyard owner describes the events to which their family was exposed to through the following statement on their webpage:

In 1939, Piruza and his brother were turned into ‘Kulaks’ by the Soviet regime as they refused to join the ‘collective’ group. Their homes, lands, cellar and all the items of the house were deprived. Fortunately, qvevris were not brought out of the land. Joseph found the shelter in Tusheti and only later returned to the village in the 1960s, he had no son in his descendants. Piruza was arrested, judged and sent to Russia in distant Siberia. He never returned.

The process of confiscation and collectivization was by no means a peaceful process and violent clashes took place between state representatives and opponents to collectivization. Results from conducted interviews confirm that private property was confiscated and that the equipment and buildings which were left in the former estate wineries deteriorated and/or was destroyed. For example, in Chateaux Mukhrani all qvevri (large clay vessels) were used to store fuel and the wine cellar was demolished, while other wineries were abandoned.
While large farms, especially in the Kakheti region became collectivized, in the western parts of the country, large areas of wetlands were drained, which increased the amount of arable land. Parts of the new land was leased to poor rural families and composed a new family farm structure. During some periods, the small-scale family farms were more efficient than state-owned cooperatives. Family farms contributed to satisfy family needs, but also to the domestic market by selling all surplus. An important part of the commercialized surplus consisted of wine. According to all informants, domestic consumers preferred the artisanal wine produced from small-scale farms partly because of its distinct sensory quality, but also because drinking traditional wine represented a form of protest against the USSR. Informants describe traditional wine consumption as “an act of patriotism”. The new, industrially produced wine was exported to other parts of the USSR and local consumers were wary of its quality.
After 1924, wine production was organized and coordinated by the “Trust of Popular Estates” (Samtrest), the primary coordination department/institution for viticulture and winemaking in Soviet Georgia. Samtrest coordinated production and administered confiscated estates, such as Mukhrani. Samtrest continued to use some of the pre-soviet brands and wine names. One example is “Khvanchkara”, one of the most exclusive wines of the period. The internal USSR market was large enough to absorb Georgian wines and the lion’s share of the industrially elaborated wine was exported under the USSR’s sourcing strategy.
After 1934, new large-scale processing and storage facilities were built and high yielding vines replaced less productive ones. As can be seen in diagram 1 below, the area under vine increased from +/-50 thousand hectares in 1914 to +/-112 thousand hectares in 1985. But some wine factories were established during in the 1970’s. Wine Industry Number 3 is one example. This factory located in the outskirts of Tbilisi specialized in the bottling of wine, while other factories specialized on pressing, fermenting and storing wine.
In some areas of the USSR general agricultural productivity rose as a result of modernization and investments between 1950 and 1970. It is difficult to establish if this was generally the case in Georgia, however, as can be seen from diagram 2, the area under vine increased steadily between 1955 and 1980.
During its peak period, vines were collected and pressed in more than 100 primary processing plants and thereafter wine was matured and bottled in the bottling plants. Around 40 different wines were produced. Moreover, after 1936 a large-scale investment in producing sparkling wines under the coordination of “Shampankombinat”. Production of sparkling wines took place in five factories and the Mukhrani Estate.

During the 1970’s some investments in new wineries and a new brandy factory were done. Two examples are the Achinebuli winery, established in 1972 (the facility is today used by Georgian Wines & Spirits Company Ltd) and Wine Factory No. 3, also established in 1972 (today the facility is owned by Tblivino).
Diagram 2 above shows that the number of hectares under vine increased rapidly and especially after 1955, this is consistent with the analysis made by Cochrane (1989) who argues that total production of grapes increased in the entire USSR, this says however nothing about the amount of grapes produced. All informants and previous studies state that quantity was at the expense of quality and that wine quality declined. After 1985, the area planted with vines decreased following a central decision to drastically limit alcohol consumption and address the social and economic problems caused by alcoholism. In Georgia this meant that a large number of vines were destroyed, but a challenge that has not previously been highlighted is that the dismantling of production structures in the USSR started to take place in the late 1980’s. Two of the informants stated that their respective production facilities deteriorated due to the Gorbachev campaign and eventually one of the facilities was abandoned and the other had been used as headquarter for an oppositional group. They also argue that this was a widespread problem that affected state owned vineyards, wineries, but also other branches of the food industry. Thus, in the final years of the USSR the SFR fell apart.
A specific aspect of the wine sector during the entire SFR period is that while formal industrial production became a part of the organized geopolitical organization of food and agricultural relations, domestic production for self-consumption continued to exist. This was largely hidden activity, but traditions and to a large extent also parts of the endemic varieties of vitis vinifera grapes were preserved in people’s gardens. When asked about the informal market all informants stated that informal production “kept the tradition alive during the soviet period” and that it was part of the resistance of locals against the Soviets to refuse consuming industrially produced wine. The distrust of industrially produced wines is according to informants something that even today affects consumption patterns in Georgia.

Concluding remarks

The development of the wine industry followed the same patterns as the rest of the food industry and agriculture throughout the Soviet sphere. The wine industry became a target of the SFR during the initial years of the USSR as vineyards and wineries were a symbol a social class and a group that the Soviets wanted to eradicate. In a comparative perspective, in Georgia a dual pattern of production emerged which included small-scale artisanal production in small family run farms, and industrially produced wine in large scale facilities. The latter became a component in the internal exchange of goods and division of labor within the SFR. In Armenia, wine production declined, and a shift took place as wine, especially sherry styled wines became the main product, destined to become an input in the production of brandy. Brandy on the other hand became one of Armenia’s most important commodities in the internal sourcing strategy of the SFR, but it also played a role in the economic relations between the “east and the west” by becoming a global export commodity.
Food regimes are responsible for the geopolitical organisation of food and agricultural relations. In the context of this article, it is clear that the orientation of wine production and wine consumption was subordinated the organization of agro-food relations and a new internal sourcing strategy of the USSR. When the SFR was being formed, the wine industry was dismantled in both countries as a result of de-kulakization. Thereafter, the industry in Armenia took a new turn when brandy production was favoured over wine production in Armenia, while wine production in Georgia concentrated on the Russian market. At least from current sources, it is possible to get a glimpse of a reorientation that included investments and the establishment of new production facilities after the war.. Armenian and Georgian wines do not seem to have been at the forefront of the global expansion. Data on other CMEA countries, such as Hungary indicate that wine was used in exchange for foreign Western currencies, however, a thorough investigation with archive data from central trade authorities is needed. It is also clear that during the fourth and final period, production restrictions, but also what seems to a general deterioration led to a downturn in the industry in both countries. (Fig 2.)

The reflections put forward in this study provide important information that can allow for a more thorough and holistic study of the wine industry during the SFR. On the one hand, digging deeper into the periodization suggested above, some important new insights can be achieved on the differences between each period. Moreover, including other countries like Bulgaria, Hungary and Moldova can provide a total overview of the history of the wine industry during the SFR. The analysis of trade flows is particularly interesting in this respect. This might be possible by digging into the archives of the former USSR. Several countries were engaged in trade with the USSR, two of these countries are Sweden and the USA. Future projects could benefit from a thorough study using available primary sources in the mentioned countries.
In addition, especially after 1950, a reasonable question to formulate in a future study is the extent to which wine production and exports contributed to strategic issues, such as the supply of western currencies and the role played by various agro-food products in the economic and geopolitical relations between the socialist block and the rest of the world, as well as clarify important elements of the internal sourcing strategy of the SFR. Conducting further studies of the wine industry can also offer a deeper insight into how different countries and regions, for example Armenia, Bulgaria, Georgia and Hungary were used in the geopolitical agricultural and food relations during the SFR. ≈


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Crops”, (Washington GPO: Library of
Congress. 1994); G. E. Curtis, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, Country
Studies, Federal Research division, (Washington: Library of Congress,
4 Curtis, “Georgia…”, 41—56, 190—205.
5 R. K. Yin, Case Study Research Design and Methods, (Thousand Oaks, CA:
Sage, 2009).
6 Armenian Experts: AE1—4. Director of Jerevan Wine Academy; Director
of Armenian Vine and Wine Foundation, Ministry of Agriculture;
Armenian expert scholar who made an inventory of all wineries and
established Jerevan Wine Academy; Head of FAO project making
inventory of biological heritage of Armenian grapes. Armenian wineries.
2 large wineries (A1—2), 4 medium sized wineries (A3—6). All involved
in production, exports and wine tourism. 3 small wineries involved in
production, domestic sales and tourism (A7—9). One small winery with
only production and domestic sales (A10). Georgian Experts: GE1—3.
Director of Georgian Wine Association, Ministry of Agriculture; Marketing
manager of Georgian wine growers Association; Georgian Historian.
Georgian Wineries: 6 large wineries with production, domestic sales and
exports. Four of which also with tourism facilities. 5 small wineries with
production, domestic sales and tourism. One of which is a start-up.
7 G. Åkerlind, G. Variation and commonality in phenomenographic
research methods. Higher Education Research & Development, (2012) 31:1,
8 D. F. Feldon and C. Tofel-Grehl C. Phenomenography as a Foundation
for Mixed Models Research. American Behavioral Scientist. (2018) 62; 7,
887—899. doi:10.1177/0002764218772640 F. Marton. Phenomenography—A
Research Approach to Investigating Different Understandings of Reality,
Journal of Thought, Vol. 21, No. 3 (Fall 1986), 28—49.
9 S. Nelgen and K. Anderson, Global Wine Markets, 1961 to 2009: A
statistical compendium, (Adelaide: University of Adelaide Press, 2009).
10 H. Bernstein, Agrarian political economy and modern world capitalism:
the contributions of food regime analysis, The Journal of Peasant Studies,
(2016) 43:3, 611—647; H. Campbell, H. “Breaking new ground in food
regime theory: corporate environmentalism, ecological feedbacks and
the ‘food from somewhere’ regime?” Agriculture and Human Values
(2009), 26, 309—319; H. Friedmann, “Distance and durability: Shaky
foundations of the world food economy”, Third World Quarterly, (1992),
13:2, 371—383; P. McMichael, “A food regime genealogy”, Journal of
Peasant Studies. 36 (1): 139–169.
11 Bernstein, 611—647.
12 Friedmann (1989) and McMichael (2009).
13 H. Friedmann, The Political Economy of Food: The Rise and Fall of the
Post-war International Food Order, American Sociological Review, (1982),
88 annual supplement: 248—286; McMichael,139—169.
14 J. Traeger J, The Great Grain Robbery. (New York: Ballantine Books, 1974)
15 C. Nordin van Gansberghe, I. Gerremo, A. Bergqvist, T. Sjöberg,
P. Ivarsson, P. Alfer, and M. Arnesson-Ciotti, Rom — globala
naturresursfrågor och italienskt lantbruk, Lantbruket i diplomatins
korridorer En skrift om Sveriges lantbruksråd, KSLAT (2018), 3:157, 47—62.
16 Curtis, “Georgia”,; Curtis, “Armenia,
Azerbaijan and Georgia”, 41—56, 190—205; M. Ellman, M. “Did the
Agricultural Surplus Provide the Resources for the Increase in Investment
in the USSR During the First Five Year Plan?”, The Economic Journal ,
(1975), 85: 340, 844—863; Hovhannisyan, Yesayan, Bobokhyan, Dallakyan,
Hobosyan, and Gasparyan, “Armenian vine and wines”, 150—202.
17 Nancy Scanell, Judy Newton and Rubina Ohanian, Viticulture,
Wine Production, And Agriculture In Armenia:Economic Sectors
In Transition, The Journal of Applied Business Research, Vol 18, No.
4. (2002), 13—24; Curtis, “Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia”, 41—56,
190—205; Hovhannisyan, Yesayan, Bobokhyan, Dallakyan, Hobosyan,
and Gasparyan, “Armenian vine and wines”, 150—202. Interviews A1—10;
G1—11; AE1—4; GE1—3.
18 Curtis, “Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia”, 41—56, 190—205;
Hovhannisyan, Yesayan, Bobokhyan, Dallakyan, Hobosyan, and
Gasparyan, “Armenian vine and wines”, 150—202.
19 D. A. Dyker, Soviet Agriculture Since Khrushchev — Decentralisation and
Dirigisme, IDS Bulletin (1982) f3:4. 29—35; I. E. Zelenin, N.S. Khrushchev’s
Agrarian Policy and Agriculture in the USSR, Russian Studies in History,
(2011) 50:3, 44—70.
20 Curtis, “Georgia…”,; Curtis, “Armenia,
Azerbaijan and Georgia”, 41—56, 190—205; M. Hartvigsen, “Land reform
and land fragmentation in Central and Eastern Europe, Land Use Policy”,
(2014), 36, 330—341; Hovhannisyan, Yesayan, Bobokhyan, Dallakyan,
Hobosyan, and Gasparyan, “Armenian vine and wines”, 150—202; R. B.
Koopman, “Efficiency and Growth in Agriculture A Comparative Study of
the Soviet Union, United States, Canada, and Finland”, Waite Memorial
Book Collection, (Washington: Department of Agriculture and Applied
Economics, USDA, 1989),; C. Scott Leonard,
and J. Szyrmer, “Agrarian Transition in the Former Soviet Union”, Bulletin
de la Société géographique de Liège, (1997), 33, 31—36; M. de Wit, M. Londo,
A. Faaij, Productivity developments in European agriculture: Relations
to and opportunities for biomass production, Renewable and Sustainable
Energy Reviews, (2011), 5:5, 2397—2412; K. E. Wädekin, Attempts and
Problems of Reforming a Socialised Agriculture Case of USSR, Economic
and Political Weekly, (1989) 24:42, 2385—2389 and 2391— 2394.
21 Hovhannisyan, Yesayan, Bobokhyan, Dallakyan, Hobosyan and Gasparyan,
“Armenian vine and wines” 150—202; Saladze, “Untamed”, 100—190.
22 McGovern, Jalabadze, Batiuk, Callahan, Smith, Hall, Kvavadze,
Maghradze, Rusishvili,N., Bouby, Failla, Cola, Mariani, Boaretto, Bacilieri,
This, Wales and D. Lordkipanidze, “Early Neolithic 25…”, 10309—10318;
23 (Areshian, et al., 2012; Barnard, Dooley, Areshian, Gasparyan, and Faull.
“Chemical evidence”, 977—984.
24 Akhalkatsi, et al., 2012; de Waal, 2019). M. Akhalkatsi, J. Ekhvaia and
Z. Asanidze, “Diversity and genetic erosion of ancient crops and wild
relatives of agricultural cultivars of food: implications for nature
conservation in Georgia”, in Tiefenbacher (ed) Perspectives on Nature
Conservation: Patterns, Pressures and Prospects, Rijeka: InTech
Open, (2012), 51—92; Hovhannisyan, Yesayan, Bobokhyan, Dallakyan,
Hobosyan and Gasparyan, “Armenian vine and wines” 150—202; Saladze,
“Untamed”, 100—190.
25 Hovhannisyan, Yesayan, Bobokhyan, Dallakyan, Hobosyan and
Gasparyan, “Armenian vine and wines”, 121.
26 Rytkönen, Borg and Vigerland, Tales of Georgian Wine; I. Ghaplanyan, and
V. Keushguerian, Carving out a new market niche: historic world of wines,
BIO Web of Conferences, Economy and Law, (2015), 5 (03002), 1—4, DOI; Interview AE2; Webpages of
wineries in Armenia and Georgia.
27 Hovhannisyan, Yesayan, Bobokhyan, Dallakyan, Hobosyan and
Gasparyan, “Armenian vine and wines”,150—208 and 350—361.
28 Hovhannisyan, Yesayan, Bobokhyan, Dallakyan, Hobosyan and
Gasparyan, “Armenian vine and wines”, 205.
29 Saladze, “Untamed”,97.
30 T. Glonti, “Traditional technologies and history of Georgian wine”, Le
Bulletin de l”Organisation internationale de la vigne et du vin, (2010), 83,
953—955; Saladze, “Untamed”, 100—190.
31 N. J. Cochrane, Agricultural Statistics of Eastern Europe and the Soviet
Union, 1965—1985, Statistical Bulletin No 778, USDA, (1989), 1—129. Curtis,
“Georgia…”,; Curtis, “Armenia,
Azerbaijan and Georgia”, 41—56; Hovhannisyan, Yesayan, Bobokhyan,
Dallakyan, Hobosyan and Gasparyan, “Armenian vine and wines”, 150—
202; R, Paarlberg, Food as an Instrument of Foreign Policy. Proceedings of
the Academy of Political Science, (1982), 34:3, 25—39; Saladze, “Untamed”,
100.190; D. Tarschys, The Success of a Failure: Gorbachev’s Alcohol
Policy, 1985—88. Europe-Asia Studies, (1993), 45: 1, 7—25. J. P. Zoeter,
Soviet Economy in the 1980’s: Problems and Prospects, Part Two, Joint
Economic Committee, Congress of the United States, (1982); Interview
GE1 and AE2.
32 Curtis, “Georgia…”,; Curtis, “Armenia,
Azerbaijan and Georgia”, 41—56, 190—205; Hovhannisyan, Yesayan,
Bobokhyan, Dallakyan, Hobosyan and Gasparyan, “Armenian vine and
wines”, 150—202; Saladze, “Untamed”, 100—190.
33 Interviews AE4 and GE1.
34 Curtis, “Georgia…”,; Curtis, 1995, 41—56,
190—205; Hovhannisyan, Yesayan, Bobokhyan, Dallakyan, Hobosyan and
Gasparyan, “Armenian vine and wines”,150—202; Saladze, 100—190.
35 Interview GE1.
36 Paarlberg, “Food as an Instrument…”, 25—39; J. P. Zoeter, Soviet Economy
in the 1980’s: Problems and Prospects, Part Two, Joint Economic
Committee, Congress of the United States, (1982).
37 Cochrane, “Agricultural Statistics…”, 99.
38 D. Tarschys, The Success of a Failure: Gorbachev’s Alcohol Policy, 1985—
88. Europe-Asia Studies, (1993), 45: 1, 7—25.
39 Curtis, “Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia”, 47—56
40 Hovhannisyan, Yesayan, Bobokhyan, Dallakyan, Hobosyan and
Gasparyan, “Armenian vine and wines”, 202—208.
41 Curtis, “Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia”, 47—56.
42 O. Velikanova, “The First Stalin Mass Operation (1927)”, The Soviet and
Post-Soviet Review (2013), 40, 64–89.
43 Interview A9 and webpages of the same company. Similar claims are
found in other winery webpages and told by other informants.
44 Curtis, “Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia”, Preface xxxvi.
45 Interviews, wineries 1—14,
46 Hovhannisyan, Yesayan, Bobokhyan, Dallakyan, Hobosyan and
Gasparyan, “Armenian vine and wines”, 208.
47 See for example Cochrane, “Agricultural Statistics…”, 1—129.
48 Interviews AE1—3.
49 Hovhannisyan, Yesayan, Bobokhyan, Dallakyan, Hobosyan and
Gasparyan, “Armenian vine and wines”, 202—208
50 N. Scanell, J. Newton and R. Ohanian, “Viticulture, Wine Production, And
Agriculture in Armenia: Economic Sectors in Transition”, The Journal of
Applied Business Research, (2011), 12:4, 13—24; J. Shend, J., “Agricultural
Statistics in the Former USSR Republics and Baltic States”, United
States Department of Agriculture, Statistical Bulletin (1994), 863; OIV,
Vitivinicultural Statistics 2013—2014 (2015),
51 IScanell, Newton and Ohanian, “Viticulture, Wine Production”, 13—24.
52 Cochrane, “Agricultural Statistics…”, 1—129.
53 Interview AE2.
54 Bennett, “Food and Agriculture…”, 185—198
55 Curtis, “Georgia”,
56 G. M. Lang, “The Georgians”, (New York: Pregaer, 1966), 245—247.
57 Curtis, “Georgia…”,
58 Lang, “The Georgians”, 247.
59 Lang, “The Georgians”, 248.
60 Lang, “The Georgians”248.
61 Twins Wine Cellar, Our History, retrieved September 2019
62 Lang, “The Georgians”, 249.
63 Interviews GE1; G1—11.
64 Interview G1.
65 Interview G6.
66 Curtis, “Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia”, 41—56, 190—205; Lang, 1966,
pp 245—249.
67 Curtis, “Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia”, 41—56, 190—205; Lang,”The
Georgians”, 245—247.
68 Georgian Wine Association, 2011.
69 Mikheil Kobaladze, Interviewed November 2019.
70 Johnson, “Agriculture in the Centrally Planned Economies”, 845—853;
71 Interview, G1 and G6.
72 Khundadze and Avaliani, 2018 T. Khundadze and Avaliani, “The
Catalogue: History of Georgian Industry”, https://www.academia.
Accessed 2019—10—27.
73 Curtis, “Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia”, 41—56, 190—205; G1—11, 2019.
75 Interview G6, 2019.
76 Georgian Wine Association, (2011); OIV, Statistical Database. http:/www., Accessed 2019—11—18.
77 Tarschys, “The Success of a Failure”, 7—25.
78 Anastasiya Shtaltovna and Hart N. Feuer, “Modern Resilience of Georgian
wines, Geographical indications and international exposure”, in
Alessandro Bonanno, Kae Sekine and Hart N. Feuer (eds) Geographical
Indication and Global Agri-Food Development and Democratization,
Routledge (2020), 134—153.
79 Interviews G1—11.


  • by Paulina Rytkönen

    Associated Professor in Economic History and Senior Lecturer in Business Studies at Södertörn University. Her research focuses on a wide variety of historical and contemporary topics concerning global, national, and local food systems, rural entrepreneurship, innovations, self-employment and economic growth in rural areas.

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