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Friday, May 13, 2011

American Winemaker Highlights Growing Entrepreneurial Interest in the Republic of Georgia

TIBAANI, Republic of Georgia--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Entrepreneur John Wurdeman is making strides to put the Republic of Georgia on the map for wine connoisseurs around the world.
Wurdeman, an American painter initially drawn to the Eurasian region for its distinctive folk traditions, saw the potential for an artisanal winery in the rich soil of Tibaani, a small village outside Georgia's capital city of Tbilisi. In 2007, he founded Pheasant's Tears, continuing one of the oldest winemaking traditions in the world, dating back 6,000 years to the early Neolithic period.

"Georgia was attractive because it has the greatest biodiversity of any country on the planet," said Wurdeman, 35, noting the country produces more than 500 varietals of wine-quality grapes. "They had a fascinating wine tradition that was not being represented in foreign markets."

The wines of Pheasant's Tears, produced organically in clay pots known as qvevri using the region's ancient methods, are now sold in markets as diverse as Hong Kong, Germany, Norway, Canada and the United States.

With only 40,000 bottles produced annually, Wurdeman said demand for the wines, which retail for about $20 a bottle in the U.S., has outpaced supply, with restaurants and retailers clamoring to get their hands on the exclusive vintages.

"Right now we can't produce enough wine," said Wurdeman, whose company also offers tours of the winemaking region in the Caucasus Mountains.

Wurdeman is representative of a growing community of Western entrepreneurs betting on the future of the Georgian economy, which offers a favorable tax structure, a highly educated, affordable workforce and a growing middle class. Situated between Eastern Europe and Western Asia, the country is emerging as an attractive focus of foreign investors.

Beyond its principal sectors of agriculture and tourism, investors are finding opportunities in light manufacturing, hydro-power and retail, among other industries.

The country ranked 12th worldwide for ease of doing business, according to a 2011 report prepared by the World Bank, moving up a notch from the prior year. The report examined factors ranging from starting a company and dealing with construction permits to obtaining credit and trading across borders. Georgia was also among the 10 leading economies making the greatest strides toward a more favorable regulatory environment, the World Bank said.

"With the good business environment that's been established in what is still a very underdeveloped market, there are great opportunities in Georgia -- and much is already underway," said Stephanie Komsa, a Tbilisi-based business consultant who advises foreign investors and companies seeking outside funding.

"Particularly in the past year, I've seen a number of business ventures involving U.S. and other foreign investors prove successful," said Komsa, citing Open Revolution, a U.S. group that recently launched MobiPay, a new mobile payment network. The business has seen steady customer growth and now supports 130 local employees, she said.

In a sign major foreign brands are increasingly bullish on the region, Donald Trump in March signed a deal to jointly develop two residential towers -- one in Tbilisi and the other on Georgia's Black Sea Coast – in partnership with Silk Road Group, one of the largest private investment firms in the Caucasus region.

"It's the right time for a small investor or a major international brand to get into the country," Komsa said. "Georgia is ripe for investment."