The Importance of Wine in the Soviet Union’s Food Regime (SFR)

Wine has played a significant role in the history and culture of both Armenia and Georgia, as they were the only SFR regions to produce wine at the time. It is fair to say that agricultural and culinary products like wine were complicated to produce, distribute, and consume during the Soviet era. It became a part of the geopolitical framework of the Soviet Union’s food and agricultural ties and the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance and Reconstruction (after 1965)[1].

Soviet Union

Figure 1. The Soviet Union Map with Armenia and Georgia Shown

The Armenian wine industry was restructured, with a significant focus shifting to sherry production. On the other hand, the wine business in Georgia focused primarily on the production of wine, most of which was sent to Russia. As part of the wine industry’s ongoing restructuring, vineyards were collectively owned, a centralized management structure was established, and labor was divided, all of which had far-reaching effects on the sector. This article, which spans 1920–1991, sheds light on Armenian and Georgian economic history by examining wine’s role[2].

A Brief Historical Background to Armenian and Georgian Wines

They established Armenia and Georgia’s early history of wine thanks to the discovery of wine pottery in the Gadachrili Gora village community, which is 8,000 years old. Georgia is often thought to have been the birthplace of wine. Currently, the village is near Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan borders. Many things contributed to the early development of peasant agriculture in this area, but wine was one of them. In addition, the raising of cattle and the production of grapes were variables to consider[3].

Georgia started modernizing after joining the Russian Empire in the nineteenth century. This was not an uncommon occurrence. A more robust railway network and increased commercial ties with Russia made it possible for the Southern Caucasus and Russia to conduct greater commerce. In the early 19th century, Armenia had an excess output but no outlet for it. As a result, the amount of excess distillation product increased. Storage was made possible through distillation (Armenian brandy)[4].

Fortified wines and other distilled commodities were also on the market in the late 19th century when winemaking became an organized business (both dry and semi-sweet). Wine areas were also established as a result of this growth. To put it another way, output was severely limited due to many people living in poverty and a small area of land covered with vines (under 20,000 ha). Even though the Yerevan Governorate had 1,150 wine presses at the time, pomegranates were an essential ingredient in the production of wine at the time. Inputs such as the pomegranate were crucial[5].

Wine in the Soviet Food Regime (SFR)

Between 1922 and 1940, the SFR’s institutional and organizational foundations were built, and private ownership was eliminated. De-polarization had a particularly damaging effect on the vineyard business since it needed a certain degree of capitalization to produce and store wine. Many indigenous Viti’s vinifera vines, skills, know-how, and cultural heritage are said to have been lost due to the SFR’s new course[6].

The SFR seems to have matured throughout the years, with a new institutional architecture for hygiene norms, production methods, and other concerns. To put it another way, the notion of wine regions was developed in the post-World War II process of market integration and production coordination[7].

The post-war expansion of Soviet spheres of influence must be examined, including the CMEA membership of Bulgaria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Romania. The countries mentioned above produce wine, making this development more noteworthy. To pay for imports of oil, equipment, and other items that could not be produced on Soviet territory, CMEA countries were pressed in 1965 into exporting commodities to the West in return for foreign currency (mainly USD). Because CMEA nations could not make certain items locally, this was required[8].

Hungary and Bulgaria had a significant role in wine exports to Western countries as one of their most important exports. As suppliers to the CMEA, Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, and Azerbaijan have become increasingly significant. Other than in the Soviet Union, where grape output seems to have almost doubled, the CMEA countries show a slight trend in grape production[9].

There has been a significant impact on wine production since Gorbachev’s “dry laws,” which pushed for partial prohibition, began in 1985. Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991 brought a sudden end to the SFR’s existence, which began in the 1980s[10].

Soviet Union

Figure 2. Number of Hectares Planted with Vineyards (Armenia) between 1970 and 2018

The Economic Impact of Wine on the SFR

The rise of the wine industry in the Soviet Union mirrored the growth of the rest of the food industry and agriculture. During the early years of the Soviet Union, the SFR targeted the wine industry as a symbol of a social class and a population that the Soviets wished to eradicate. This is because the Soviets want to eliminate these subcultures from their society[11].

When compared to other states, Georgia developed a two-tiered industrial structure. The wine was produced in small-scale artisanal operations and large-scale industrial facilities under this dual-pattern production model. The SFR’s internal work and product trading distribution for many years relied on the latter method[12].

Sherry-like wines have taken over as Armenia’s primary winemaking style, with a decline in the production of other varieties of wine. These wines will be utilized as an ingredient in making brandy. The SFR’s domestic sourcing strategy included brandy. Still, it also played a role in the economic exchanges between “the east and the west” because of its global export position as a product of the highest quality[13].

Figure 3. Number of Hectares Planted with Vineyards (Georgia) between 1970 and 2018


Food regimes are primarily responsible for how food and agricultural exchanges are organized on a geopolitical scale. Wine production and consumption were obliged to take a backseat to agro-food relations and a new strategy for the USSR’s internal sourcing in light of the facts offered in this article. De-polarization resulted in the annihilation of both countries’ wine industries during the process of creating the SFR. Priority was given to producing brandy rather than wine, and Georgia’s wine sector became increasingly focused on exporting its goods to Russian consumers after this shift in priorities.

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August 23, 1990: Day of independence from the Soviet Union and ratifying Armenia’s Declaration of Independence[14]. Because of the Soviet Union’s collapse, which was formally recognized on December 26, 1991, wine shipments to other Soviet Union countries significantly declined. Thus, the wine industry in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union changed and started to develop.

Want to read more? Try these books!


[1] P. McGovern, M. Jalabadze, S. Batiuk, P. M. Callahan, K. E. Smith, G. R. Hall, E. Kvavadze, E., Maghradze, D., Rusishvili,N., Bouby L., Failla, O., Cola, G., Mariani, L., Boaretto, E., R. Bacilieri, P. This, N. Wales, and D. Lordkipanidze, Early Neolithic Wine of Georgia in the South Caucasus, PNAS, 114:48 (2017) 10309–10318

[2] T. de Waal, T. The Caucasus: An introduction, Second Edition, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019).

[3] T. de Waal, T. The Caucasus: An introduction, Second Edition, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019).

[4] R. K. Yin, Case Study Research Design and Methods, (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2009).

[5] G. Åkerlind, G. Variation and commonality in phenomenographic research methods. Higher Education Research & Development, (2012) 31:1, 115—127

[6] G. Åkerlind, G. Variation and commonality in phenomenographic research methods. Higher Education Research & Development, (2012) 31:1, 115—127

[7] 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

[8] 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.

[9] Georgian Wine Association, (2011); OIV, Statistical Database. http:/, Accessed 2019—11—18.

[10] Georgian Wine Association, (2011); OIV, Statistical Database. http:/, Accessed 2019—11—18.

[11] Georgian Wine Association, (2011); OIV, Statistical Database. http:/www., Accessed 2019—11—18.

[12] Curtis, “Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia”, 41—56, 190—205; Lang,”The Georgians”, 245—247.

[13]  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

[14]  H. Barnard, A. N. Dooley, G. Areshian, B. Gasparyan, and K. F. Faull. Chemical evidence for wine production
around 4000 BCE in the Late Chalcolithic Near Eastern highlands, Journal of Archaeological Science, 38 (2011) 977—984.

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