Interview for the Wine Weekly Information Review

The ASPI AGRO winery of Azerbaijan, located in Gabala and producing the wine “Savalan”, in the near future plans to expand production. One of the most modern vine producers on the post-Soviet territory managed to gain a firm position not only in the ex-USSR market, but also in many European countries, in quite a short period. We asked the ASPI AGRO Executive Director Timur Mammadov to tell us about the secrets of successful development.

– It is become known in August that the ASPI AGRO winery, producing wine “Savalan”, plans to expand production in the near future. Could you tell us about the works to be done and the time frame?
– We bought all the necessary equipment and built workshop premises for the production of fruit distillates, such as cornelian cherry, pear, mulberry, and so on. The release is planned for 2018.

– How much wine does your enterprise produce today and how much wine is expected to be produced after modernization? And what kind of product will it be?
– Today we produce 400 thousand bottles. But the plant’s capacity is 1 million bottles. We plan to produce new wines, including premium ones.

 – Don’t you think that increasing release can lead to the glut on the market?
– We don’t think so. First, the culture of wine consumption is growing. People want to drink a quality product, thus the consumption of our products is growing. Our wine is like a food product, and people like to have a good meal.

– What is the structure of sales of “Savalan” wines today? What are the countries with the highest volumes of their consumption?
– Azerbaijan, Russia and Europe. Everywhere we work through distributors.

– What is the share of the Russian market and how much is it promising for you?
– About 17%. The Russian market is very promising for us. We are quite new there and we try to expand the territory across regions and conduct tastings. We glad to see that people buying our wine for the first time, come back again and again.

 – Don’t you afraid of the fact that the prices for your wines in Russia start from 900 roubles? After all, with these or even less money in our country we can buy a large number of wines from France, Italy, Spain and other countries?
– Since the first vintage of 2010 we asserted ourselves as a premium class and clearly adhere to the quality of our products. We highly respect wines from Italy, France and other countries, but our wines have their own character and style. Grapes are grown in special climatic conditions. In short order we received a large number of international awards.

– Today, a new generation of wine consumers has grown up in Russia, which unlike its parents, for example, is not so familiar with Azerbaijani wines. How do you think what should be done to increase the recognition of Azerbaijan wines in the Russian market?
– At the present time, we constantly organize field tasting with participation of the plant’s representatives in the regions of Russia, giving an opportunity to taste our wines and telling about the winemaking history of not only our company, but also Azerbaijan as a whole.

– How are the wines of “Savalan” brand met in the oversaturated wine market of Europe and other countries?
– Our wines are in the Museum of Bordeaux, in European hotels and restaurants. For Europeans, it is a new product, and they taste and buy it with genuine interest.

– Today your winery produces wines from 18 sorts of grapes: Riesling, Chardonnay, Traminer, Viognier, Moscato, Verdejo and others. However, they are all international. Why don’t you grow the autochthonous grape varieties in your vineyards? Do you have any plans to experiment with local traditional varieties in the near future?
– In the near future we plan to produce wine with local varieties of grapes.

– As I know, the main winemaker of the ASPI AGRO is Italian. Why did the company choose the specialist from this country?
– The wine production in Italy is really creative and obsessive. They are constantly striving to use the latest technologies and like to experiment with wine. All these small changes they make into wine, make our wines so special. And what is more, our vineyards are in the same parallel with Italy.

– Tell us why Gabala was chosen for the construction of the winery? Is it the birthplace of its owners? Or does this area have some unique soil and climate conditions?
– The land for planting vineyards was selected in accordance with a careful scientific approach, after all types of analyzes conducted in the best laboratories of Italy. This area of Gabala has everything necessary for cultivation of first-class grapes – the structure of the terrain, the soil characteristics, and the climate. A cool breeze descends from the Shahdag mountain in the evening. This affects the quality of the grapes very favourably.

– What are the difficulties faced during the grapes cultivation? And how does the ASPI AGRO cope with these problems?
– After many years of doing business, the weather was different every year. Therefore, we have a weather station, which determines the amount of precipitation, wind direction, humidity, etc. The station automatically “predicts” the future weather. In this regard, we are able to predict the anticipating problems in advance and prevent them in time. Forewarned is forearmed.

– Active works are currently underway in Russia to establish a terroir system, where grape for wines with a protected geographical indication (PGI) and a protected designation of origin (PDO) will be grown. And what about the situation with this issue in Azerbaijan?
– We hold a license of the European Union, where our wines are listed as “The Wine of the Protected Geographical Indication of the Region (PGI)”

– In many European countries enotourism (wine tourism) is developing actively and its revenues in some regions and wineries constitute are significant. Do you plan to develop this sphere? And what can wine tourists expect in the very near future?
 – Tourism is developing in Azerbaijan rapidly and wine tourism as well. Even now we receive tourists at our plant and plan to develop this sphere in future.

– The wines of your winery have already won many awards at various international competitions. Which of them are the most valuable for you?
 – Any reward, even the smallest one is valuable for us. We put our heart and soul into the wine production. Our wines are like our children. And even a small diploma of your child is important for you.

– How do you see the prospects for the development of winemaking in Azerbaijan? How do you think it will be in 5-10 years?
– Generally speaking, the goal of all winemakers and wine enterprises is the revival of the former glory of the winemaking of Azerbaijan. First of all, we should increase the vineyards area​​ and achieve the leading position in the wine production and export. In the near term, within 5-10 years, the goal is to increase overall production at least 5 times. Since the natural and climatic conditions, the material and technical base of existing production capacities, the desire and ambitions of winemakers and, of course, the support and promotion by the state policy focused on expanding wine exports, permits the rapid achievement of these goals!