Qvevri PGI

There has been a Georgian PGI for qvevri since 21st May 2021. Most web pages announcing the event seemed to be little more than rehashed versions of the same press release. So here, somewhat belatedly, I try to explain a bit of the background, and discuss some of the issues around the Qvevri PGI as I see them.

Originally, the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) was introduced as an EU category that could be used interchangeably with country-specific terms such as Vin de Pays for wines from France, Vino de la Tierra for Spain, or Indicazione Geografica Tipica for Italy, etc. Key differences were that under the new system, the same name for the category was to be used in all countries, albeit possibly translated into a local language, and also that the same PGI category applied across a range of agricultural products and foodstuffs, such as wine, cheese and olive oil. In a similar fashion, the EU Protected Denomination of Origin (PDO) was introduced as an alternative to the old Appellation d’Origine Controllée, Denominación de Origen, Denominazione di Origine Controllata, etc.

Following EU terminology, Georgia also introduced its own list of PGI and PDO goods. Previously it used the term Appellation of Origin, and while you still see that term used on the official website, which is a little confusing, all recent documents refer to the newer terms PGI and PDO.

Georgia’s list is independent of the EU’s, and is primarily only of relevance in Georgia, in the same way that the EU list applies primarily within the EU. However, both the EU and Georgia have entered into treaties with trading partners to gain recognition of their protected names in other countries too. Thus, for example, the USA recognises most EU PGIs and PDOs, though it has negotiated a small number of exceptions. Recognition of Georgian PGIs and PDOs outside of Georgia is however quite a lot more limited. You might like to note for reference that the official list of Georgian protected names is on the Sakpatenti website here, and the names protected by treaty in other countries are linked to from this page. If you are primarily interested in the Georgian wine PDOs, I recommend you take a look at this article first: Georgian Wine PDOs.

You can find the text of the Qvevri PGI document on the Sakpatenti website, which opens as a pop-up from the list of PGIs, but for your convenience I have created a PDF version of its text. The first thing worthy of note, is that the PGI applies to the qvevri itself, not the wine that is made in the vessel. So in that respect it breaks with EU usage, where PGIs and PDOs apply only to agricultural produce and foodstuffs. Also, as far as the geographical element of the PGI is concerned, the only requirement is that the raw materials should come from Georgia and that the qvevri be made in Georgia. I believe this is also inconsistent with EU usage, where PGIs and PDOs typically, if not always, refer to regions within countries.

In the PGI document, there is a lot of historical and cultural detail, but as far as I can see the only documented requirements of the PGI for qvevri seem to be that:

1) The raw materials should come from Georgia, and the qvevri is made in Georgia,

2) The qvevri maker is a member of the Organization of PGI Qvevri Producers/Makers, or other authorised body, and

3) The authorised body needs to certify that the vessel is indeed a qvevri, and make a permanent official mark of the organization on it, to allow traceablity.

The details of what is required to gain certification are not specified in the PGI document, and seem to be totally the responsibility of the certifying body.

I think it is commendable that steps are being taken to protect usage of the term Qvevri, but I am struggling to understand what precisely this PGI achieves. If I understand it correctly the PGI would stop someone in Georgia claiming to sell or own a qvevri if that vessel does not have appropriate marking and associated documentation. It might also prevent a wine producer claiming Qvevri as a trademark, as happened in Armenia with Karas, the Armenian equivalent of the qvevri. However, the PGI seems to exclude any qvevri made before the authorised bodies came into existence. And the chances of any other country recognising the Georgian Qvevri PGI will be pretty slim, as it applies to a clay vessel, rather than an agricultural product or foodstuff.

To me, the important thing is how the qvevri is used in winemaking. If the wine barely touches the insides of the qvevri, why should I care about whether it conforms to the new PGI? I was rather hoping for something on wine labels that would provide a guarantee that the wine was fermented, and aged for a specified period of time, in a qvevri vessel that conforms to a specific definition. To me, the obvious way to achieve this would be to append “Qvevri” to existing PDO names for such wines. And to be totally unambiguous about the claim, the text “PDO” should always be used on the label where it applies, e.g. “Kakheti Qvevri PDO”.

Within Georgia, I guess reputable qvevri winemakers are well known, and in some cases friends or relatives. But those of us that buy exported Georgian wines need a bit more reassurance – a reassurance that Qvevri PGI sadly does not provide.

Author: Steve Slatcher

Wine enthusiast

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