Azerbaijan is a land of many rich cultures and customs, among which a millennia old tradition of winemaking.
1. Winemaking in Azerbaijan
Artifacts uncovered at an archaeological site in the Qabala region prove the tradition of winemaking in the area dates as far back as the second to first centuries BC. Even Greek historian Herodotus wrote about wine production on Azerbaijan’s territory around the 7th century BC.
Despite the Islamic conquest of the area, historians and geographers described continuous extensive viticulture around Ganja and Barda. Winemaking was then enriched with arrival of German immigrants to the region in the early 19th century, who heavily invested in the industry, increasing the production of wine, along with cognac.
Before the Soviet era, there were about 240 wine producers in Azerbaijan, but during Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign and prohibition time, 2,083 hectares of vineyards were destroyed in Azerbaijan, crippling the country’s winemaking industry.
Since Azerbaijan regained its independence, it started redeveloping its wine industry. In 2012, President Ilham Aliyev approved a decree “State Program for development of grape growth 2012-2020, with the aim of increasing grape growth, as well as developing winemaking and rising the rate of exportation. The size of territories designated for vineyards has been growing every year and now there are about 450 types of wine produced in the country, in 11 wineries spread across its territory.
2. Savalan Valley
Azerbaijan started offering wine tourism in 2018 and the first winery to do that was Savalan, starting with small groups of 7-8 people. Named after the valley where the vineyard is located, the ASPI winery, the company behind the Savalan brand, was started in 2007, with the factory opening in 2010.
The Savalan Valley creates perfect conditions for cultivating grapes. At an altitude of 350 metres, the Caucasus Mountains provide just enough shade to allow for the perfect amount of sunshine and ideal temperature, which, along with the right amount of precipitation, create the most favourable conditions for the grapes.
The vineyard has a surface of 350 hectares, 50 around the factory and the rest spread across the valley. Here, they grow 36 different types of grapes, but only 20 are used for winemaking, while the rest are just for eating.
The winery currently produces about 600.000 bottles per year, but has a capacity of up to 2 million bottles. They have 24 wines, ranging from red to white and rose and from dry and semi-dry to semi-sweet and sweet, there’s something for every taste here. From these, 75% is sold domestically and 25% exported to Europe, Türkiye and Russia, among others.
During Soviet times, 35-40% of all the wine provided to the 15 former states came from Azerbaijan. We like to say that today there’s no Russian without Azerbaijani wine in his blood.Gafur Jalilov, Sommelier at ASPI winery
Over the past 10 years, Savalan wines have received over 60 awards at international competitions, including several gold medals at the Mundus Vini Grand International Wine Awards. The 7th largest producer in the country, Savalan supplies wine to no less than 142 Michelin starred restaurants in Europe.
The winery also makes cognac, that aged from between 2 to 60 years, fruit brandy, grappa and the traditional Azerbaijani drink – wild cranberry vodka. All the bottles are labelled “Made in Azerbaijan” to ensure the promotion of the country abroad.
One of their signature bottles is the Elisa, a dry, white wine made from 4 types of grapes, Chardonnay, Traminer, Moscato White and Moscato Yellow. It was created especially for the wedding of Elisa Vagnoni and Daniel D’Andrea, the Italian engineers who oversee production at Savalan, the result being “a special wine for special occasions”, according to Elisa.