Georgetown, Guyana and Tbilisi, Georgia

At first glance, there is little in common between these two wonderful, yet disparate places. Each location offers tourists and visitors a unique and memorable experience; each conjures up quizzical looks when announced as destinations, and each if often confused with a better known, but eponymous location.

The Georgia to which I refer lies in the western end of the Caucuses; a spit of land separating Russia to the north from Turkey and Iran in the south; it is land that has seen its fair share and more of conquest, invasion and occupation, but now revels in its independence, and shift to the mainstream of nations in both and economic and political sense.

It does, however, get terribly confused with the American state of the same name.

Georgetown, for this piece, refers to the capital of Guyana; the most western of the three Guyanas, and a most delightful and interesting city. It is a city of intrigue, wonderful architecture, rather obscure and enchanting museums and a hotbed of social and political activity.

It is neither a suburb of Washington DC, nor the capital of the Malay island of Penang.

I make this rather obtuse point because each country manufactures and exports, and it is perhaps the relative unfamiliarity of each place that places a distinct and rather iniquitous burden upon manufacturers, and makes selling their products in a broader market so difficult.

ALthough this will come as a ssurprise to many, rice is exported from Guyana. Its rice industry is interesting, operates below capacity and offers tremendous growth opportunities; the main commercial variety grown in Guyana is the Rustic, an extra-long grain product that has found much favour in its traditional markets. As tastes change, so do rice fashions, and the newly emerging markets are seeking shorter varieties of rice, and research continues. It is interesting to note that for the newer markets, particularly in Latin America, paddy (unprocessed rice) is exported, thus denying the Georgetown economy the benefits of the value-added conversion of paddy into other rice products.

There is, it must be said, an almost complete lack of awareness of Guyanese rice. Consumers do not demand it and nor does it command high prices, although justified, in the boutique world of Fashion Groceries. It is perhaps this invisibility that prevents the investment required to bring the industry to its next level; consumer-driven demand with the concomitant raising of prices for the industry.

Eerily similarly, Georgia’s wine industry languishes in almost complete obscurity; although producing wine now for 8,000 years, and believe me, during that period they have learned a thing or two, it is remarkably difficult to find Georgian wine outside Georgia, and the former Soviet countries. It is true that they export over 11 million bottles, but as 10 million of them go to the Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus, it is improbable that you will have run into one.

Some are, of course, exported to the US, Canada and western Europe, but nowhere close to the quantity that its quality deserves.

Which is a great shame; the wine, while its pedigree is long, it is not unbroken, has only recently come to include some marvellous and delicate varieties. The primary varieties are Saperavi (red) and Rkatsiteli (white), each producing some fine wines. Winemakers are both artisanal small-holders and modern wineries, and production is most certainly geared to serving a broader western market.

In concert with Guyana, without public knowledge of and demand for Georgian wines, building the next step to becoming a recognised source of fine wines will remain difficult; and for no other reason than the geographical ineptitude of the market.

Georgia and Georgetown are indeed delightful places for tourists, but more that that; each sits on a product and industry that offers increasing demand; its ever more complex distribution systems offering ever more opportunity should make Georgian vintners and Guyanese rice farmers smile.

The market, however, needs more geography lessons.