Sudaba Allahverdiyeva has been growing grapes in Khachmaz for many years, but she says that it is no longer profitable. The land on which she grows her grapes is not even hers, but is a remnant of state-owned farmland from the Soviet Union.
Sudaba grows grapes for winemaking and sells them to the local wine factory in Khachmaz. Sudaba walks 2km from her home every day to reach her vineyard, and spends the harvest collecting grapes under the scorching sun. After all this work, her total profit per day is usually around 12 AZN. Sudaba explains, “Special fertilizers are very expensive, around 250 AZN for a season. Grapes demand a lot of attention, and as a result we don’t get a lot of profit from them. Now, we are trying to buy cherry trees because it makes more money and we can export them to Russia.”
According to Sudaba, most of the vineyards in this area were destroyed during the Soviet Union. “Our grapes are wine grapes. That’s why our income is very low: sure, we have white grapes too, the “table kind,” but not a lot.”
In Soviet times, nearly 2 million people in Azerbaijan were engaged in growing grapes, with 40% of the country’s budget coming from winemaking.
Azerbaijan has long been considered on of the best wine producers in the post-Soviet space, and once produced ⅕ of the wine in the USSR. During that period the country used 274 million hectares of land to cultivate vineyards, and harvested over 2 million tons of grapes each year.
During it’s heyday, the Azerbaijani wine industry contained about 180 plants for processing grapes. In 1985, a campaign known as the “dry law” passed and quickly began to erode the viticulture industry.
This anti-alcohol campaign planned to fill Azerbaijan’s vineyards with “table grapes” instead of those used for making wine. Between 1985 and 2014, the land in Azerbaijan used to grow grapes decreased from 218,000 hectares to less than 16,000. In addition to the dry law, the long-standing conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh has helped to accelerate the decline of the grape industry in this region.
In 2012, the government approved a state program to promote the re-growth of viticulture between 2012-2020. The country now has more than 600 grape varieties. Among them some are unique local varieties. According to the Wine Institute, in 2012 Azerbaijan produced 5 million liters of wine (approximately 555,000 cases), quite a small number compared to neighboring Georgia’s 95 million liters. Most of the wine in Azerbaijan is exported to Russia or consumed in country - a quite unusual fact given that 93% of the country is Muslim. Azerbaijan’s wine consumption actually matches that of the U.S.A with each country consuming just over 10 liters per capita.