Welcome to Tajikistan, a country known for its table grape culture. But what about the wine industry? To find out, we went to visit this discreet country, nestled in the heart of Central Asia and surrounded by Afghanistan to the south, China to the east, Kyrgyzstan to the north and Uzbekistan to the west.
Did you know that Tajikistan was a great wine region? It is estimated that wine history in Tajikistan dates back at least to the 9th century. However, the Tajik vineyard reached its peak in the mid-twentieth century, under the Soviet Union. Back then, the country produced nearly 600,000 hectoliters of wine a year, the equivalent of Croatia's current wine production.
A success that can be explained in large part by the astounding Tajik terroir: a healthy continental climate, cool summer nights thanks to the altitude (93% of the Tajik territory is made up of mountains and the vineyards are all planted between 750 and 1100 m altitude), poor soils and protection of the surrounding mountains, which also feed the vines with water for irrigation.
The Tajik wine industry, which had been flourishing for a long time, was undermined by Mikhail Gorbachev, then leader of the USSR, when he instituted a global anti-alcohol policy between 1985 and 1987, with the direct result of the uprooting of a large part of the vineyard.
Shortly after, the collapse of the USSR in 1991 (stop of investments), then the civil war of Tajikistan (1992-1997), continued to seriously affect the local wine industry.
Since 2008 and the 100% deposit on exported alcohol imposed by the Tajik government, a real stop for the wine sector, only a handful of winemakers continue to cultivate grapes and three domains are struggling to maintain alive a wine production of just a few thousand bottles a year.
Like Shahrinav Estate, in the region of the same name, 40km west of Dushanbe, where we went under a bright sun, in the company of HE Yasmine Gouédard, French ambassador to Tajikistan and Mr. Étienne Lancelot, cultural attaché.
"The valley of 400 hectares in which we are, at 780m above sea level, is one of the last wine-growing regions in the country", explained Mr. Muhammadyussuf Nazarov, the director of the Shahrinav region.
The estate, which has existed since 1952 and enjoyed a prosperous period until the end of the 1980s, produces only a small number of bottles each year. The country no longer exports and is struggling to find new consumers. "Tajikistan is a country of vodka", we were told.
It is in the Khodjent region of northern Tajikistan that Vinzavod Gafourova is located, near the reservoir of Kaikkum, the largest artificial lake in Tajikistan. The estate, which has existed since 1928, has just celebrated its 90th anniversary.
Originally of modest size, Vinzavod Gafourova has gradually turned into a thriving industry, exporting up much of its production to neighboring countries in the 1970s and 1980s. There were many brands of vodka, brandy and of course wine. Due to a lack of wine consumption in the country since the early 1990s, the estate is on the decline.
"To restart the wine industry in Tajikistan, we need to start from scratch: replanting the vines, changing machinery and equipment, developing technology... a major project for which we would need foreign investors", we have been explained.
A touching story in which we will remember above all the extraordinary welcome of our hosts and the very strong link with viticulture that all dream to see bloom again soon.
Last visit of vineyard in Tajikistan: the estate Parandis, in Pendjikent, in the north-east of the country, only a few kilometers from the Uzbek border.
We are at 1075m above sea level. Here, the air is fresh and pure. The vine, planted on the mountainside on sandy soils, enjoys an ideal climate for the production of quality grapes.
"Before Gorbachev was in power, there were more than 3,000 hectares of vines in the area. Today, there are less than 500 left", says with nostalgia Mr. Mahmadnosir Dustboev, Director of Parandis, who has been working here since 1971.
We taste fortified wines produced in the 1990s from Saperavi, Riesling or Cabernet sauvignon. These wines have kept aromas of nuts, caramel, and coffee. The brandy distilled from the white grape variety Rkatsiteli is delicious. The Tajik consumer loves sweet wines.
Today, the entire wine industry is to be rebuilt in Tajikistan. However, two things remain intact here: the desire to do well and the enthusiasm; two fundamental parameters to help the country to be reborn from its glorious past.
The public authorities, aware of the economic and touristic potential of this sector, are trying to support winegrowers in this process. All that remains is to seduce some foreign investors. Enthusiasts take note!
Thank you to Shahrinav, Parandis and Vinzavod Gafourova wineries for their warm welcome. And thank you to Mrs. Yasmine Gouédard, French Ambassador in Tajikistan, for her invaluable assistance in organizing this trip.