2023 October-November Analysis Featured

8000 Vintages brings a taste of Georgia to Berlin’s wine scene

Berlin’s Kreuzberg district was once the center of an artistic counterculture movement. Today, it is a hip, young area which is home to some of the best nightclubs, restaurants, art galleries, and now – Georgian wine. Retailer 8000 Vintages, known for its unique and vast offerings of Georgian vino, recently moved into the neighborhood, bringing with it its trademark towering shelves, iconic red ladders, and the best of what Georgian wine has to offer.

Seven years after it first opened its doors on Tsintsadze street in Tbilisi’s Saburtalo district, Georgian wine retailer 8000 Vintages made its entrance into the international market in July, welcoming guests to its inaugural shop and bar in Berlin.

It is the first move abroad for the wine retailer, which grew from just one location in 2016 to six, in as many years. The retailer, which currently has four locations in Tbilisi and one in Batumi, has sold over 1930 different labels of wine, offering one of the largest curated collections in the country.

Co-founder and CEO Irakli Chkhaidze says that inspiration for 8000 Vintages came from what he saw as a lack of designated spaces for enthusiasts to enjoy the best of Georgian wine. With a background in the pharmaceutical industry, it was during his MBA studies at the University of Bologna that he realized he wanted to be in the wine business.

“Italy has such an amazing culture around wine,” says Chkhaidze. “And Georgia, of course, has this long history of wine drinking but also very sophisticated wine production,” he says, nodding to the company’s moniker that denotes the country’s role as the ‘cradle of wine’ spanning back eight millennia. “But a lot of that culture was lost during the Soviet Union, and we’ve really only seen a resurgence since around the time of the Russian wine embargo of 2006.”

He opened the first location in 2016 in Tbilisi’s Saburtalo district: a move, he says, that was intended to offer local audiences a unique space to experience the best of Georgian wine’s renaissance. “When we started the business, we intentionally chose a location out of the tourist areas in Tbilisi because we wanted a place that was accessible for locals.” Each location offers a bar/shop combo with a light selection of cheese and fruit spreads but no kitchen because, as Chkhaidze explains, “we are in the wine business, not the restaurant business.”

Beyond accessibility, great care has been put into which wines are on offer. 8000 Vintages employs monthly tastings, bringing on independent testers to blind sample “as many as 100-120 different wines at a time.” This has yielded a selection of nearly 2000 labels from more than 450 wineries – the majority of which Chkhaidze says are “are family-owned, small wineries from all over Georgia.”

The move abroad

The company welcomed its first customers in Berlin in July 2023, bringing with it more than 180 different Georgian wine labels. With plans to expand abroad to several countries, Chkhaidze says the choice to start with Germany was obvious, given its love for wine. “Germany comes in fourth globally for per capita wine consumption and is the number one importer of wine. Georgia has a free trade agreement with the EU, which makes exporting there considerably easier, and the capital is a very international and diverse city – all of these factors made Berlin the clear choice.”

And while early, he says the move seems to be paying off. “The reception has been overwhelmingly positive,” says Chkhaidze. “I’m surprised by how many of our customers know about or have been to Georgia. We still have to educate them on the particulars of Georgian wine, but there has been an unexpectedly high level of demand for qveri wines, which really signals to us that we’re in a market where people are looking for something new that they haven’t tried before.”

After a positive initial reception, 8000 Vintages plans to continue expanding its offerings at the Berlin location, aiming to have over 500 labels by year’s end. This, says Chkhaidze, is no small feat. “Each wine that we export must meet quality standards and pass lab testing to be imported into the EU.”

To help many of the company’s small producing partners who lack expertise in exporting to EU markets, 8000 Vintages has taken on the bulk of the process. “We only ask that they pay for the lab testing – after that, we handle all of the administrative work and walk them through the process to get the proper customs clearances,” he says, helping them to comply with labeling requirements, for example.

By doing so, he hopes to help generate income from abroad and show these producers that accessing new export markets is possible. “Georgia is still very dependent on Russia for wine exports. We want more winemakers to see that there are other markets out there that love the qvevri wines and other great high-quality wines they want to produce,” he says. “I’ve already had the pleasure of reaching out to our producers and sharing with them the transactions we’ve had in Berlin – telling them, ‘This money that you’ve just made came from Europe.’ It was a great feeling.”

Moving forward, the company plans to continue growing in Germany, entering other major German cities before expanding additionally abroad. As Chkhaidze notes, “I’m in the business of making people fall in love with Georgian wine. As long as we have great producers making that wine, our mission will continue to be finding new markets and sharing it.”