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Georgia's ancient traditions support modern development

“Georgia the state or Georgia the country?”

I usually have to explain to friends and family that my Kiva Fellowship took me to the tiny eastern European country of Georgia, not the state of Georgia in the American South.

Despite its low profile, Georgia is an ancient country with a long fruitful history, glorious natural beauty and incredible architecture. It’s been around long before the Georgia Peach. After testing unearthed clay wine jars called qvevri, scholars confirmed that wine was being made in Georgia in 6,000 B.C., over 8,000 years ago!

Kiva came on the scene in Georgia a bit more recently. In 2011, Kiva partnered with Credo, a microfinance organization that became a registered national bank in 2017. I spent most of April with Credo's Kiva Coordinator (KC) Nino Svianadze. She has been with Credo since 2015. KC’s like Nino often accompany Kiva Fellows like me on borrower visits to help with logistics and translation. Nino shared with me the story of her first borrower visit.

Nino, Credo's Kiva Coordinator, poses in a Georgian vineyard

Nino’s very first Kiva Fellow visit changed her life forever. During the first borrower visit Nino was involved with, she took the Fellow to a Credo branch in the Kakheti region, renowned for its wine. They met with the loan manager, Tornike, who took them to visit the borrower. The next day, Tornike called Nino to chat, and within a year they were married! A wonderful example of Kiva love at work!

Tornike now works for Credo in Tbilisi, but he keeps one foot in Kakheti so that he can manage his 10-acre vineyard. Some of his vines can be traced back to 1,000 years ago. Unlike his ancestors who made a living selling grapes, Tornike has joined Georgia's ancient profession of making wine.

A vineyard in Georgia's Kakheti region, renowned for its wine

The ancient Georgian traditional qvevri winemaking method that Tornike uses was registered on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2013. He has produced 16,000 bottles of red Saperavi wine and 9,000 bottles of white Rkatsiteli wine using this method.

Many people, myself included, have never heard of these grapes. Not surprising, as Georgia has over 500 varietals, 40 of which are used in commercial production. Last year, Tornike’s wine won the bronze medal at the 1st International Saperavi Wine Competition in Tbilisi. Let me assure you, it was well deserved!

Just one of Georgia's 500 varietals

Nino and her husband hope to someday build an inviting guesthouse and have tourists stay at their vineyard to learn more about the unique Georgian winemaking process. In the meantime, they continue to submit their wines to international competitions.

Georgian wines are available in countries such as Russia, China, and Ukraine, but are not yet available in most US or European markets. As more people discover Georgia's incredible beauty, history, delicious food and outstanding wines, tourism here grows. Credo works to encourage entrepreneurs in the tourism industry with special training classes and loans through Kiva. With over 17% annual growth in tourism, there is no doubt in my mind that both Georgia and its wine will easily gain the recognition and international accolades they deserve.

Make a loan in Georgia through Credo here.

About the author

Betsy Benoit

Betsy worked for 21 years in sales with Pfizer Inc. In 2014 she was chosen as their Global Health Fellow to PSI in Cambodia for 4 months. After working to enhance PSI/PSK's efficiencies and capabilities, she decided to work full-time helping others, leaving Pfizer to lead a US nonprofit which supported an NGO in Ghana. She saw the importance and benefit firsthand of empowerment versus charity, as they worked in rural villages on WASH and education infrastructure projects. Betsy is excited to continue learning how to empower others through the Kiva Fellowship. She is looking to increase her knowledge and abilities in order to create a microloan organization focusing on community and group loans that will be used to improve education, health and WASH infrastructure.