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Italian Wines and Russia – The State of Imports to the Former Soviet Union

Many of you reading this may not even be old enough to remember the time of the Soviet Union. This territory, which included Russia and many smaller countries that were part of what you could consider a communist union, existed from the end of World War II right up until the end of 1991.

In the near-30 years since the fall of the Soviet Union, or perhaps what we could more accurately call its dissolution, much has changed in terms of the make-up of Europe. The countries that were part of the union mostly gained their independence. Smaller wars have been fought between various territories and we’ve even seen new countries arise from the ashes of the former union.

But perhaps the biggest change lay in difference in how Russia approached the rest of the world. During the era of the Soviet Union, communism reigned supreme in the country, with external business interests barely being a consideration. For example, the import of Italian wine was practically non-existent, as was the import of many other luxury (or otherwise) goods from around the world.

Today, Russia is very different.

And in this article, we’re going to take a look at what this has meant for the Italian wine industry and it’s imports into the former Soviet territory.

The Challenges of Getting Into Russia

As mentioned, the Soviet Union was a decades-long union of countries, meaning it had plenty of time to influence the lives and tastes of the people who were a part of the union. Ostensibly, this means that Italian winemakers had very little influence on those drinking alcohol in these territories during this time.

The result?

Upon the collapse of the union, there was very little taste for Italian wine, or wine from other territories, in Russia. This isn’t to say that trade was non-existent. But it was certainly not anywhere near the level that you would expect it to be with a country of this side.

So, what we had here was a cultural barrier. Not only were the people of Russia essentially reintegrating into the world, but they had their own ways of doing things and their own preferences that didn’t necessarily gel with the rest of Europe.

This is the situation the Italian wine industry needed to overcome when figuring out ways to gain a foothold in Russia. With trade more open than it had been for decades, the 90s offered an opportunity to breach a territory that was still fairly new to Italian wine industry. As such, the industry needed to break new ground, find ways to introduce new people to its products, and work out the tastes of an entirely new audience.

Much of the 90s was spent doing this work. Learning about the Russian market and building inroads into it. Slowly but surely, the Italian wine industry started to position itself as the leading importer of wines into the territory. This is a position that it began to consolidate in the 2000s, holding off stiff competition from the French and Spanish territories in the process. And this brings us to the modern era…

Italian Wine in Russia Today

Since 2010, Italy has been the leading importer of wine into Russia. Typically, the industry has accounted for 30% of all wines sold in the territory, barring the occasional dip. Interestingly, we’ve seen more variance amongst the other major wine territories during this time.

France has managed to stay in second place, though this position was challenged fairly extensively leading up to 2016, when Spain practically levelled France’s market share. In the years since, France has managed to more firmly establish itself in second place, with Spain staying in third.

Yet it is the fourth-placed country that is perhaps most interesting:

Georgia.

Those who know their history will know Georgia as a former member of the Soviet Union. And wine lovers will be quick to tell you that the country hasn’t really had a wine industry to speak of, at least none one that had any impact outside of Georgia itself. And for the early parts of the 2010s, that seemed to hold true in terms of Georgia’s wines in Russia. The country account for less than 3% of all imports in 2010, and 0% in 2011.

But then things changed.

In the years between 2012 and 2018, Georgia has established itself as Russia’s fourth largest wine importer. Today, it accounts for 11% of all wines sold kin the country, which is remarkable given the comparative size of the Georgian wine industry compared to the big three that make up the rest of the list.

So, what do we see here?

Perhaps Russians see Georgian wines as something akin to “native” wines, With Russia itself not having a particularly large wine industry, perhaps many see the wines produced in this former Soviet territory as “Russian” wines. And this patriotic approach may mean that Georgia becomes an even more powerful winemaking force in the Russian territory in the years to come.

The Future of Italian Wine in Russia

What does all of this mean for the Italian wine industry in Russia?

At the moment, there appears to be little cause for concern. Ignoring the movements of other wine industries, Italy has enjoyed 343% growth in the country over the last 10 years. It is still strongly entrenched as the leading importer of wines into Russia and it’s clear that the Italian wine industry takes this territory very seriously.

Vinitaly and its “Made in Italy” campaign has helped Italian wine to make major inroads in Russia, with wines bearing this label accounting for 7% of all alcohol consumption in Russia. Assuming that Vinitaly continues this aggressive approaching to spreading awareness of the brand, and Italian products in general, throughout Russia, we see further growth for Italian wines in the territory in the future.

As for the competition…

We’re very interested to see what happens with Georgia in the coming years. Now firmly established in Russia, we wonder if it will soon be able to overtake Spain and France as wine importers into the territory. And if that occurs, the Italian industry will face competition from a new rival!

HIGHLIGHT

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