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On 26 September 2014, representatives of the government and the opposition took part in the Georgian Public Broadcaster’s Pirveli Studia

TV programme. During the on air debates, MP Giga Bukia stated: “In the last two years, the grape harvest has finally become a celebration. Before, people were cutting down their vines through their tears. The United National Movement was paying GEL 1,000 to cut down the grape vines.”

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took interest in the statement and verified its accuracy.

We contacted the MP and asked him to verify the statement. Giga Bukia explained that the funds were allocated from the budget for offsetting farmers who agreed to cut down their grape vines although he could not specify the years in which this took place.

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analysed the Resolution of the Government of Georgia, dated 5 December 2007, according to which the Samtrest Grape and Wine Department was allocated GEL 100,000 to carry out the necessary work for reducing the Vakirula grape variety as a part of the Vine Update Promotion Event.

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addressed the Ministry of Agriculture with an official letter and requested information regarding the abovementioned Event. The Ministry forwarded our letter to the National Wine Agency.

According to the answer received from the National Wine Agency, the Hybrid Vine Variety Substitution Programme was in place in 2007-2010 according to which farmers were receiving GEL 2,000 as compensation for cutting down a hectare of grape vines in the period 2007-2008. In 2009-2010, the amount was reduced to GEL 1,000. A total of GEL 1,559,048 was spent from the budget for implementing this Programme resulting in 924.04 hectares of vineyards being cut down.

In order to study the topic more thoroughly, FactCheck

decided to find out more about the meaning of hybrid grape varieties and addressed Levan Ujmajuridze, a Doctor of Agricultural Sciences and the Head of the National Centre for Producing Planting Materials for Vine and Fruit Trees. According to Dr Ujmajuridze:  “The hybrid grape variety is derived from inter-variety grafting. There are two types of hybrids by origin, those originating spontaneously after an accidental natural grafting and those created artificially after a deliberate grafting. The hybrid has quite a big influence upon Georgian winemaking and viticulture. The hybrid varieties include Vakirula, widespread in Kakheti; Dirbula, which is common in Kartli; Prangula (Odesa), common for Western Georgia, and others. The economic value of the hybrid varieties in winemaking is very low, the hybrids are characterised with an unpleasant taste and they do not have value for quality winemaking. The main advantage of the hybrid variety is its resistance towards diseases and this is why it became common both in Europe and in Georgia. The solution is to gradually reduce the amount of hybrid variety vines or to use the hybrid grape variety only in branded spirits and, generally, only when extremely necessary.”

The letter received from the National Wine Agency indicates the following about hybrid grape varieties:  “Different varieties of productive hybrids became common in the viticulture zones of the Kakheti region (Utsamli, Vakirula, etc.). This is due to the hybrid varieties being highly productive and easy to take care of. The wine received from these varieties is poorer in quality, however, and causes the accumulation of carcinogenic substances in the organism and has harmful effects on the health of the consumer. Therefore, their industrial processing is prohibited by Georgian law which makes this category of grapes unusable and creates serious problems for anyone looking to use it for winemaking.”

As for the Hybrid Vine Variety Substitution Programme implemented by Samtrest (currently, the National Wine Agency), we tried to find out from the National Wine Agency more about the Programme’s idea and what it included. FactCheck

contacted Petre Meskhidze, Main Specialist of the National Wine Agency, who led the Programme. According to Meskhidze: “The Programme was being implemented in 2007-2010 and its goal was to extirpate the hybrid vine variety and also the degraded and outdated vines in the villages of the Dedoplistskaro (Samtatskaro and Pirosmani) and Kvareli (Gavazi) municipalities. The necessity for implementing this Programme became especially clear after the embargo imposed by Russia. Wine was no longer being imported into Russia and so wine factories became oriented on producing a more quality wine and stopped accepting the hybrid grape varieties. According to the Law on Vines and Wine (Article 17, Paragraphs 4, 5 and 6), using hybrid vine variety grapes for winemaking is prohibited. The lists of the farmers who wanted to extirpate their hybrid vines were being composed in the municipalities. The compensation amount was GEL 2,000 at the initial stage of the Programme but there were so many farmers interested in the Programme that the amount was reduced to GEL 1,000 in the following years. This amount was designated for only extirpating the vine and the farmers were able to decide upon the future use and purpose of their newly cleared field.”

Meskhidze continued: “As for the Kvareli and Dedoplistskaro municipalities, the extirpation of outdated and degraded vines took place following the request from the locals as well. Dedoplistskaro is not considered to be a traditional vine growing region because they began cultivating grapes here only in the 1970s. As the demand for grapes decreased, the population was reluctant to take care of the vines and so the quality worsened. In addition, there were many other varieties mixed in with the vines of the Saperavi grape variety. As for the village of Gavazi, it is generally accepted that a lesser quality wine is produced from Gavazi grapes as compared to the grapes from other villages. These were the main reasons for cutting down the vines in these municipalities. The Hybrid Vine Variety Substitution Programme was a necessary and timely programme but society interpreted it in the wrong way. It was perceived as extirpating grape vines but nobody was asking for the reason or the result. The Programme was stopped in 2010.”

Conclusion

The Hybrid Vine Variety Substitution Programme was being implemented in 2007-2010 with a goal of extirpating the hybrid grape variety in the Kakheti region as well as the degraded and outdated grape vines in the Dedoplistskaro and Kvareli municipalities. The extirpation of the grape vines was carried out upon the request of the farmers themselves who then decided upon the future use and purpose of their newly cleared field. The farmers were paid GEL 2,000 in 2007-2008 and GEL 1,000 in 2009-2010.

The wine made from hybrid varieties is of a low quality and is harmful for the health of the consumer and so using these varieties of grapes represents a serious problem for the manufacturer. Georgian law prohibits using hybrid grape varieties in winemaking.

Considering the abovementioned context, and based upon the information obtained through research and from the specialists consulted, we conclude that Giga Bukia’s statement: “The United National Movement was paying GEL 1,000 [to farmers] to cut down the grape vines,” is FALSE.

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