Wine tourism is not only for wine sellers, and wine tastings are not only for sommeliers. So I’m taking you to Georgia, the country with beautiful and long lasting tradition of wine making. But what is even more impressive, the country, where wine was actually born.
Georgia – the birth place of wine
There are at least few countries claiming to be the birth place of wine. But well, the truth is that there is only one that can hold the title. Georgia is the land where wine has been made for at least 8.000 years. There is no other place in the world that has evidence of wine making been found dating back that far. Wine made today with the traditional Georgian method follows the same process Georgians developed more than 8.000 years ago. How amazing is that, right?
So even if majority of us primarily associate countries like France or Italy with a wine-centric culture, in fact, Georgia is even more connected with wine. And definitely on a much deeper level than what we imagine.
Georgian winemaking method is a UNESCO heritage
In most of the wine countries wine is made in the stainless steel tanks or oak barrels, by fermenting grape juice after it has been separated from the grape skins. But Georgia, since the ancient times, developed its own and unique method. Traditional Georgian wine is skin-fermented without yeast and chemicals and this process takes place in qvevri, a clay pot shaped like an egg. It’s lined inside with beeswax and buried to the underground to left the wine age.
What is important, is that qvevri is completely sealed to prevent contamination and oxidation. Because it’s underground, the earth’s temperature remains relatively constant, what is crucial in the whole process. Also, the design of qvevri plays a big role here. The qvevri’s egg shape allows sediment to collect at the pointed bottom of the vessel, while the wine naturally moves in the middle. During the whole operation wine closed in qvevri gets a unique, deep tannin flavour. This method is used for producing both, red and white qvevri wines.
Qvevri are carefully hand made of locally sourced clays. This craft have been inherited by todays craftsman from their fathers and their fathers’ fathers. Many of the qvevris used in Georgia today, having been in use for decades if not centuries! Even Georgian winemakers who use modern equipment and techniques, like stainless steel tanks and oak barrels, recognise the qvervi as the most important part of their wine heritage. It’s kind of a living symbol of the Georgian roots and also a reminder, that winemaking in Georgia is not a borrowed tradition.
Wine making tradition in Georgia
What I especially love about Georgian wine, it the fact, that this country preserved so many small, family run vineyards. If you talk to any Georgian, you can be pretty sure that every second person owns a wine production. Although, modern and large-scale wineries do exist, the country is dominated by thousands of small-scale farmers who produce wine.
So why Georgian wine is not that worldwide famous? Especially taking into account its long history and unique methodology? The answer lies in the complicated political situation of the country.
Soviet impact on the wine market in Georgia
In the old days, soviet dictator Josef Stalin, turned his homeland into a major source of wine for the USSR and Communist bloc countries. Unluckily, communists ripped up hundreds of grape varieties that grown on Georgia’s vineyards and planted instead just a handful of grape varietals to nationalise viniculture. At that time almost 80 percent of wine went to Russia, and Georgian wine was basically unknown to the West.
The big change came after 2006, when Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government banned Georgian wine import. Without Russian market, Georgian wine industry obviously collapsed. But sometimes, bad situations turn into something good, and this is exactly what happened to Georgian wine. Shortly after the ban took effect, Georgian president ordered tougher control over producers and started complex market transformation to improve wine quality. The goal was also to promote Georgian wine in the western countries. Dozens of companies went bust, and many farmers chose to switch to more profitable crops such as peaches, persimmons or hazelnuts. But not all of them. The results of implemented wine production changes were not immediate but, step by step, became rewarding. Western critics started appreciate Georgian wine while the production reinvented itself for a global clientele.
How to read Georgian wine bottle etiquette
Of course, nowadays the standard layout of wine etiquette can vary a lot. Especially in case of smaller wine makers, as each of them have their own label style. But there are some characteristics that can make your life easier. A typical Georgian wine bottle etiquette will carry the name of the source region, district or village from whence the wine is. The most popular wine types in Georgia are made from a blend of two or more grape varieties but wines made from a single variety also exist and are not difficult to obtain. This information should be placed on the etiquette too.
Wine regions in Georgia
There are five main regions of viniculture in Georgia:
- Kakheti – main wine region where approximately 70% of all Georgian grapes are grown.
- Racha-Lechkhumi and Kvemo Svaneti
Visiting vineyards in Georgia
If you truly want to understand Georgians and their culture, a vineyard tour should be a part of your travel itinerary. The kindness you will experience is something more than just hospitality. “A guest is a gift from god” is not only a famous Georgian saying, but a true lifestyle. We were lucky to visit two great and really worth going to vineyards in Georgia.
Chateau Dio is located in Racha region, famous from its Alexandrouli red wine. Racha only has vineyards on a small territory, but this region is distinct with quality grapes and deep, sophisticated wines. Almost all types of grapes in Racha are of local origin so you can try some really unique examples here. Chateau Dio is beautifully located on the hill from where you can admire the view of the surrounding vineyards. I also loved the garden and could perfectly imagine myself swinging in a hammock with a glass of Georgian wine in my hand :) This family run vineyard offers not only wine and food tasting but also accommodation and you can book it HERE.
The second place we visited, Otia’s Ezo, is located very close to Kutaisi. It’s owned and managed by a son of one of the famous Georgian writers, and his wonderful wife. You can also visit Otia’s museum that belongs to the vineyards. We fell in love with this family from the very first minute. Wine tasting by the fireplace, long conversations about Georgian wine and lots of laughter – our time passed way too quick. We got invited to the wine harvest in autumn and cannot wait for this event and all the wine celebrations that will follow. Otia’s Ezo offers wine tasting only but in the near future a guesthouse will be open too.
If you wish to find out more about Georgia you may be interested in my other articles: