Natik Musaev is the co-founder of the Gardabani Group, a wine and spirits distributor that represents wines from all over the world and is bringing Azerbaijani wines, in particular, into the spotlight. Here Maria Webster speaks to Musaev about wines from the region and why they are becoming so popular in the West
Baku: Can you tell us how the Gardabani Group came about?
Natik Musaev: Gardabani Group is a London-based wine and spirits distributor founded by myself and my Italian business partner, Giovanni Rimonti. The company’s aim was clear from the start: to become one of the UK’s leading premium wine specialists which is recognised worldwide for the excellence of our portfolio. Today, this goal remains unchanged – and we are proud to represent internationally acclaimed wineries from places like Italy, Georgia, France, Spain, New Zealand, Argentina, and the US. Recently, we were delighted to add a new range of premium Azerbaijani wines to our portfolio. Our wines can be found in many top-tier British restaurants, hotels, and wine merchants.
Baku: What is significant about where the Gardabani Groups originate from?
NM: Coming from abroad, we see our trade as a crucial cultural bridge between Georgia, Italy, and the United Kingdom. Until Gardabani Wines started importing and promoting it, Georgian wine was largely unknown amongst wine connoisseurs in Central London, the UK. Now however, more and more Brits are learning the incredible story of Georgian wine. They are amazed to hear that a plucky little nation in the South Caucasus is the inventor of one of the world`s most treasured commodities – with an unbroken winemaking tradition stretching back 8,000 years. I believe that to taste a country`s food and drink is to imbibe the spirit of the place itself, and I am therefore proud to be bringing a slice of Georgia (the country that I originally come from) to British shores.
Baku: What is your approach to sourcing and curating wine experiences?
NM: Together with our brilliant multinational team, we carefully select only the best quality wines which can faithfully represent the great regions of the world. We are forever on the lookout for the charismatic personalities behind the labels, and for those who share our relentless passion for producing only the very best vintages. We love working with estates which have as rich and deep a history as the wines they create. Wineries who can tell an authentic story about their product are the ones that stick in the mind of consumers – and we take great pride in being the curator of those kinds of bespoke experiences.
In this vein, we regularly organise wine-themed events in our Central London showroom, and with our top-tier restaurant partners across the city. Recently, we had the honour of co-hosting one such event with the Fabergé family, which turned into a wonderful evening of good company, exquisite artistry, captivating tales about the history of the Fabergés’, and of course fine wine. Many guests were delighted to sample Azerbaijani wine for the first time.
Baku: What is the most exclusive wine you have ever imported to the UK?
NM: We have a select few exclusive ranges from premium wineries in Italy, France and elsewhere. For instance, Migliorè of Vallepicciola from Italy is one of the most renowned and exclusive brands in the world. Its creator Alessandro Cellai is one of Italy’s greatest and most devoted winemakers, and has pioneered many of the country’s finest vintages. His Grandi Cru range, which includes Migliorè, enchants even the most hardened wine connoisseur with its elegance and rarity.
In Georgia, our most exclusive range is Khomli – which hails from the north-western Lechkhumi region. This historic winery boasts an impressive ultra-premium portfolio with bottles costing up to £900. Our Azerbaijani ranges are also highly exclusive, given that we are their first and only importers in the UK. The next time you find yourself in London with an urge to live like Bacchus, perhaps swing by the appropriately named Hedonism Wines in Mayfair and grab yourself a bottle.
Baku: What made you decide to import Azerbaijani wine in the UK?
NM: Azerbaijan has an excellent climate, fertile soils, and a passionate, hardworking people. I believe the only thing standing in the way of Azerbaijan putting its name on the map as a leading wine-producer, is time. In May 2023, we introduced Azerbaijani wines to Britain for the first time in history. We hosted a stand called the ‘Wines of Azerbaijan’ at the London Wine Fair, marking the first time the country was represented at this international expo.
As Georgian-Azerbaijani, I was proud to put on display something which is so entwined with the history and culture of our country. We consider it a privilege that our work is helping to bring the great tradition of Azerbaijani winemaking to the world – and hopefully tempting some of the world to the country`s doorstep as well.
Wine has acted as a valuable social lubricant at countless social occasions and celebrations since it was invented. In the same way, I believe our business has the potential to grease the wheels of cooperation internationally. The UK is one of Azerbaijan`s key strategic allies, but there is scope for an ever-greater partnership between our countries. Wine has always had the power to bring people together, and the same can be true of nations who choose to share in its delights together. It’s a unique form of diplomacy, which we suspect will be quite popular in Tbilisi, Baku, and Westminster alike!
Baku: Meysari is one of Azerbaijan’s newest winemakers from the district of Shamakhi. What makes it so different from other Azerbaijani wineries?
NM: Meysari is one of Azerbaijan’s top wineries, located in the stunning Shamakhi region. Aside from producing top-quality wine, Meysari is also studious about minimising the negative impact of vine growing on the local environment. They are pioneers in the field; Meysari is the first winery in Azerbaijan to obtain sustainable organic certification.
Baku: What makes the Shamakhi district a great place to produce wine?
NM: A scenic 90-minute drive from Baku, Shamakhi was the ancient capital of Azerbaijan which was home to a pantheon of poets, philosophers, scientists and architects. It is also a traditional wine growing region, with a heritage stretching back to the earliest days of the country. Wines from the region are distinguished by their unique taste and aroma. For example, Meysari’s flagship vintage is Makhmari Premium – which has a rich and balanced taste.
Baku: What kind of experiences does the winery offer for visitors?
NM: Wine and history are very interconnected in Azerbaijan. Exploring its vast vineyards – from lush foothills to medieval cities to the verdant shores of the Caspian Sea – reveals a side to the country that not many travellers expect. These idyllic expanses of orchard and vineyards in Meysari produce fine organic wines, and are now a regular haunt for oeno tourists, celebrities, and officials who come to sample the distinctly Azerbaijani delicacies they have heard of through the grapevine.
The site of Meysari has grown to include a hotel, museum, and the Abqora restaurant, where all its products can be sampled at leisure. Meysari also isn’t far from the eastern town of Shamakhi, making it the perfect stop-off on the way between Baku and Gabala, Ismayilli or Sheki. On arrival, guests are greeted by expert guides to lead them through the secrets of the ancient ritual of the winemaking art. They are able to tour the vineyards where local farmers show their harvesting techniques, and then venture down to the cellar to learn how modern technology is integrated with traditional fermentation processes.
Baku: What would be the best Meysari wine-and-food pairings?
NM: I believe there is sort of sensible classic geographic combinations when it comes to wine and food pairings such as Sancerre with a fresh goat’s cheese. In our case, I think Meysari wines as an expression of Azerbaijani soil pair ideally with Mediterranean cuisine. You can serve a Rhone blend Meysari Sadaf with flavoursome seafood dishes.
In general, I think, consumers should not be too rule-bound with wine & food pairings and be more adventures instead.
Baku: Where in the UK are the Azerbaijani wines that you import most popular?
NM: As soon as Azerbaijani wine landed in the UK, we invited our partner restaurants, hotels, and premium merchants to bespoke Azerbaijani wine tastings in Gardabani Group’s central London showroom. Azerbaijani wines were soon embraced in the heart of Mayfair at top-tier establishments such as the prestigious Arts Club Mayfair, high-end British and Irish restaurant Corrigan’s, fine wine and spirits boutique Hedonism Mayfair, modern Turkish Yamabahce Oxford Street (next to Selfridge’s), contemporary Anatolian high-end restaurant Ruya and many other locations. Our Azerbaijani products are also spreading beyond the capital, and we look forward to the day when our Azerbaijani products adorn dining tables in Edinburgh, Cardiff, Bristol, Glasgow, Manchester, and Birmingham as well.
Online Editor: Candice Tucker