Monday, January 21, 2019 | ePaper

Uzbekistan pulls out the stops for fine winemaking

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AFP, Parkent :
As the warm, busy autumn becomes a distant memory and winter extends its grip over the Central Asian steppe, Uzbek grape farmer Abdumutal Yuldashev's harvest is bottled up, bound for Russia.
If once Yuldashev's 15 hectares (37 acres) of land mostly yielded grapes for the table, now he and his small cohort of workers find themselves on the front lines of an ambitious state-led winemaking drive in the majority-Muslim country.
This season his team harvested Bayan Shirei and Rkatsiteli grape varieties, native to the former Soviet countries of the Caucasus. But in the future, more internationally-renowned types such as Chardonnay and Cabernet could be the order of the day, if strongman President Shavkat Mirziyoyev's plan to overhaul the sector bears fruit.
A decree published by the presidential office in February called for a 60-percent increase in the state wine company's wine exports by the end of 2021 from current levels.
By then too, it also wants the area under cultivation by the company to have doubled.
Mirziyoyev has pledged to unshackle Uzbekistan's economy, weaning it off its dependence on commodities like the water-thirsty cotton crop that covers the country in swathes, while attracting foreign investors.
The plan calls for the "organisation of cultivation of especially valuable industrial varieties of grape seedlings", including those from France, Italy, Chile and the United States. However, industry experts have voiced reservations about Uzbekistan's ability to become a maker of fine wines, while a wine festival organised in the capital, Tashkent, last month as part of the drive failed to pique public interest.

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