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But Some Declare: “We Won’t Drink It” : Soviets’ Light Wine May Cut Alcoholism

Associated Press Writer

In a concession to the Kremlin’s campaign against drunkenness, the ancient vineyards of Soviet Georgia are turning out low-alcohol wines.

But in a region as steeped in wine-drinking traditions as France or Italy, the light wines aren’t expected to gain much favor over full-strength vintages.

“We won’t drink it,” declared a 32-year-old Tbilisi man. “But maybe some of those vodka drinkers up north won’t be able to tell the difference.”

Georgians, he argued, appreciate good wine and do not drink it just to get drunk.

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A low-alcohol brand of champagne called Azure is ready for the market, said Rudolf Dzhaushvili, director of the Tbilisi champagne factory, and he claims that even wine experts can’t tell the difference between Azure with its 5% alcohol content and regular champagnes with 11% or 12%.

22 Million Bottles

The plant is expected to produce more than 22 million bottles of champagne this year, and the proportion of low-alcohol champagne will depend on its popularity, Dzhaushvili said. Also planned within the next few months is a no-alcohol champagne.

Dzhaushvili said the light champagne and light wines, which are planned within a few months, are efforts by the Georgian wine industry to help the nationwide campaign launched by Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev to reduce alcohol consumption.

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But Dzhaushvili claims that Georgia does not have the alcoholism problem that exists in the Russian Republic and is especially pronounced in remote areas of Siberia and the far north.

“Hard drinking does not exist in Georgia,” he said. “You won’t see drunks in the street.”

Nearly 500 varieties of grapes grow on the rugged, sun-baked slopes tended by Georgian women in calico dresses while the men watch over small family plots that provide food and much of the family’s income.

Nation’s Finest Wines

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The wines produced in Georgia are revered throughout the Soviet Union as the nation’s finest. Some Georgian wineries hold back their best stocks for local consumption, claiming that the wines don’t travel well.

The popularity of the wines and the republic’s economic dependence on the industry may explain why Georgian wine production is being expanded while many enterprises producing alcoholic beverages in other parts of the country have been converted to soft drink plants.

Almost a year ago, anti-drinking measures were introduced that raised the legal drinking age from 19 to 21, cut vodka production, reduced sales hours and imposed stiff fines and even imprisonment for public drunkenness or other alcohol-related infractions.

The measures have had some visible effects in major cities, including Moscow where many liquor stores have closed entirely and some restaurants have stopped serving alcoholic beverages.

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Lots of Wine, but No Lines

In Tbilisi, wine accompanies lunch and dinner at nearly every table but there are no lines at its well-stocked wine stores.

“We have normal consumption, so we have fewer lines,” commented Tamaz Kandelaki, a deputy chief of the Georgian State Committee for Wine Making.

Wine production has been the major industry of the Georgian people for centuries, and the work involves nearly every family from the Caucasus Mountains to the Black Sea.

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