A Tradition of 8000 Years

Where Wine Was Made First

Georgia is not a wine-producing country like any other. It is the land where the vine was domesticated, and the grapes were first turned into wine more than 8,000 years ago. The first signs of viticulture and wine production discovered by historians indicate that wine production flourished in Georgia as early as High Antiquity. The latest archaeological research in 2018, when clay jars containing the oldest pure wine residues of the Rkatsiteli grape variety (still grown in Georgia today) were discovered, definitively put an end to the debate. “World cradle of viticulture”, “birthplace of wine” – this is how Georgia is now designated.

An Inestimable Wealth

Fiercely Preserved

Situated at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, the position of rich Georgia between contentious forces has made it vulnerable to many adversaries. Assyrians, Greeks, Romans, Persians, Mongols, Arabs, and Turks have invaded Georgia throughout history. With a climate and fertile soil perfectly suited to grape growing, Georgia provided the first cities of the fertile crescent, Babylon and Ur. The Assyrian kings, who claimed a tribute in gold from conquered peoples, made an exception: the Georgians (although they had gold mines) were allowed to pay their tribute with wine. These assaults, repeated throughout history, often caused Georgians to flee their vineyards to find a haven in the mountains. But the practice of recovering young plants to growing them in new places protected the vines – like its inhabitants – from disappearance.

I prefer Georgian wine to all Burgundy wines.

Soul of Georgia

Where the Vine is Rooted in the Heart

Georgia has an extraordinary heritage of indigenous varieties (540 authenticated varieties) and unique winemaking techniques, which have remained unchanged for millennia. Lovers of natural wine, who will one day visit Georgia, will discover a country where the tendrils of the vine weave a tapestry between Church, State, and national culture without any other comparison in the world. Even in the cities, the vine is everywhere, where urban Georgians make their wine in the courtyards. Vine leaves and grape bunches are everywhere in the national iconography, in the wood carvings, on the ancient gold and silver jugs, on the churches’ friezes and in all the architectural details. Even the unique Georgian alphabet, shaped like the vine’s curled branches, bears witness to the outstanding significance wine has had for Georgians since ancient times.

Qvevri, an Ancient Process

Honours

Today’s wine made using the traditional Georgian method follows the same process developed over 8,000 years ago. Winemaking in clay jars – Qvevri – is so closely linked to Georgian culture. In 2013, UNESCO recognized it as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. More than a distinction on these ancient terracotta archaeological objects’ exceptional character, the Venerable Institution recognized the enduring power of a living tradition.

Georgian winegrowers who now use modern equipment and techniques (such as stainless steel tanks and oak barrels) recognize Qvevri as an essential part of their heritage. Qvevri is a living symbol of Georgian’s deep roots wine and the authenticity of Georgian viticulture. Their manufacture and use is based on unique know-how that still today transcends generations. With a capacity ranging from 20 to 10,000 liters, Qvevri is carefully handmade from local clays by craftsmen who have inherited their know-how from their fathers and their fathers’ fathers. Qvevri is considered an art object and kept for centuries in the same family.

The secret of good Qvevri wine? As little intervention as possible in the vineyard and cellar, healthy and ripe grapes. the rest, Nature does the work for you.

The Qvevri Method

The First & Unique

There are only three winemaking methods: European, Jewish, and the traditional Georgian method.
Unlike fermentation in wooden barrels that give a particular taste, the main task and characteristic of Qvevri are to provide a neutral result in aroma to preserve and develop the grape’s aroma. The amphoras act on the wine like an amplifier in music where the right tones are further enhanced.
The bunches of grapes are crushed in a long vat, carved from a trunk of a lime tree or monolithic stone. The raw juice, pulp, and must are poured together into the Qvevri, previously buried. Only the neck of the amphora protrudes from the ground. It serves to stabilize these thin-walled jars and maintain a constant temperature of the fermenting wine as modern tanks do.
Before being used, the winegrower cleans the sides of the qvevri carefully: only lukewarm water and brushing with herbs with antiseptic properties are allowed. Before adding the grape juice, the sides are coated with a thin layer of beeswax. Some qvevri are so big that a man can stand inside them.
Fermentation starts spontaneously. The pomace cap is stirred three to four times a day. Once fermentation is finished, the opening is covered with a one-piece piece of slate. Then they are sealed to prevent contamination and oxidation with a mixture of clay and ash in which a tube is inserted to allow carbon dioxide to escape.
The natural yeasts in the grapes allow fermentation without additives, and the natural tannins prevent the deterioration of the juice without artificial preservatives. The container’s conical shape allows the yeast and sediment to settle freely at the bottom, while the wine can circulate on the broader center.
Until March, the must disappears naturally. The wine is usually decanted into another qvevri for a few more months. It is then divided into several small qvevri, sealed for storage, up to 50 years.
In Georgia, the wine was produced exclusively in Qvevri until the beginning of the 20th century.

The Cult of Wine

Celebration

Before Eastern Orthodox Christianity became the predominant religion of Georgia in the fourth century, Georgians were pagans. The influence of Dionysus – the God of wine and ecstasy – remains rooted in Georgian culture. In fact, for many, “life without a feast is meaningless”. It is a mantra they prove at each occasion. Wine is part of the Georgian soul. Not only the pleasure of drinking but above all the process: the work, the care, the attention. “A good person can only make good wine,” as the proverb says. One of the most beautiful days in Georgia is the traditional autumn harvest.

The opening of a qvevri is a celebrated event. Feasting in Georgia is an unforgettable experience in which wine, the “Nectar of the Sun,” plays a central role. At the heart of the many community life steps, happy and sad, is the Supra, the traditional dinner where wine finds and develops all its spiritual power. Often compared to an “academy of learning”, these ritual celebrations are inspired by ancestral tradition.

A master of ceremonies, the Tamada, introduces philosophical discussion topics that interrogate life, death, love, and friendship, God, in the form of a toast. Drinking wine during a Supra is a way of examining the profound questions of life and gives words a particular strength and meaning when spoken.

The eye has entered the grapes

The Marani

Still Alive

The traditional Georgian wine cellar, the Marani, consists of several qvevri. For a Georgian, the Marani is a sacred place and the heart of the house. “When we entered a Georgian wine cellar called ‘Marani’, we thought we were in a kitchen rather than a cellar. Maranis are at ground level. The floor is littered with Qvevri openings buried vertically in the ground.

We saw a man stirring the fermenting mass with a huge trowel and slow movements. Other Qvevri were closed. Older vintages were stored there. Most of them were open and empty. Like young birds with a wide beak, they held their mouths open to the world as if they were waiting for food. They looked alive, the Qvevri breathed in one way or another. »

O Eternal Wine

Like a Prayer

Wine plays a special role in the religious life of Georgians. For Georgians, cultivating vines and making wine “was a path to God”, the birth of qvevri wine was “like a prayer” and the legend had decreed that Georgia “became the Lord’s vineyard”. For Georgians, wine is both material and spiritual. It unites with God, in the supras (the traditional banquet), it fraternises with the people.

He who drinks wine is in Christ and therefore eternal, as it is said in the Bible. The Grape Cross, made of vine stocks, is the symbol of the Apostolic Orthodox Church of Georgia. This icon, one of the most important in Georgia, is kept in the Sioni Church in Tbilisi.

Georgian Wine as an Elixir of Life

Good Life

Qvevri’s white wine slides into the glass like liquid amber, the red wine like ink.
The popularity of local wine, in particular, can be explained by its lightness and beneficial effects on health. It is said that Georgian wine does not leave a hangover. Georgians drink it in large quantities on special occasions in cow horns with a capacity of up to 3 liters. Here, wine is milk for the elderly, a balm for adults, and a guide for gourmets. The Saperavi grape variety (red) is particularly appreciated because its nutritional value and high tannin content (there are 10 to 15 times more polyphenols present in Georgian wines, especially whites) contribute significantly to health. Georgia is a country of centenarians; wine is their elixir of life.

There is no country where one drinks so much and so good wine

More than 500 grape varieties

Source of Grapes

Georgia has more than 500 indigenous grape varieties – nearly one-sixth of the world’s recorded types – including endangered varieties found nowhere else. Some of the vineyards can be seen as living vine “libraries” where visitors can taste rare grapes. Winemakers use a range of winemaking techniques, from the traditional Georgian method of fermenting wine in clay Qvevri to the European process, to a hybrid approach that incorporates each element.

Today, more than 70% of the wine is produced in Kakheti, making it Georgia’s central wine-producing region. Although there are approximately 80 different grape varieties in the area, perhaps the two most important are Saperavi and Rkatsiteli.

Saperavi

The Most Famous

Intensely fruity but with lively acidity, this robust grape is the first red grape variety in Georgia and is native. Literally translated as “the place of color”, its deep, inky color is often totally opaque.

It is one of the few red-skinned and red-fleshed grape varieties in the world. This grape variety has aromas and flavors of blackberries, licorice, grilled meat, tobacco, chocolate, and spices.

Rkatsiteli

The Only One

Although it is now found all over Georgia and abroad, this white grape variety appeared long, long time ago, since it is its residues that archaeologists discovered in a jar dated 8000 years ago. Rkatsiteli produces remarkably acidic but balanced white wines with a full aromatic profile and good body. Refreshing, with crisp green apple flavors and hints of quince and white peach, Rkatsiteli produces a more complex and balanced wine when made according to the traditional Georgian method. Many high-quality table wines, regional wines, and AOC wines are produced from this grape variety using European (classic) and Georgian (traditional qvevri) methods. Rkatsiteli grapes are frequently blended with the Mtsvane kakhuri variety.

The Reds

Fabulous

25% of grape varieties are red grapes. Most give dry red wines. However, Georgian terroirs’ characteristics are to produce absolutely extraordinary and naturally semi-sweet wines. As specialists and oenologists say in Georgia, “these wines should not be talked about, just drunk”. Stalin’s favorite wines.
The Whites

Magnificient

75% of the grape varieties are white. Many grapes are grown at high altitudes in the cool foothills of the Caucasus mountains. Georgia’s white wines are really intense, much more complex, richer in taste, with a good structure, ten to fifteen times more polyphenols, and potential aging of 40 to 50 years. Aromatic and vibrant are the keywords of Georgian white wines.

Protected Designations of Origin

Quality

Georgia has adopted the European Union’s regulatory structure for classifying wines linked to a specific terroir. Currently, Georgia has registered many Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) wine appellations. The majority of them are located in the eastern part of the country.

Back to the Sources

The Craze for Natural Wine Today

Georgian natural wine is a popular choice among wine lovers, sommeliers, and producers interested in its authentic tastes. Many producers see this journey as a “return to the sources”, to the soul of the wine. More and more producers are beginning to experiment with this unique method. Especially in whites following the methods of Georgian winemakers. And who are not afraid to make their qvevri wine with Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer Riesling Silvaner. With success.

Daring Orange Color

Some Reflections of Well-Known Oenologist

Perhaps the underlined tastes of tannins with their unusual aromas are a real challenge for inexperienced noses and palates. Some will say – Either you love the oxidative style, or you hate it. “There doesn’t seem to be anything in between”. Others say that “whites are really intense, much more, complex, richer in taste, with good structure, ten to 15 times more polyphenols and a potential to age for 40 to 50 years, despite no or very limited sulphur input”.

Or that natural qvevri wines are cleaner and clearer in aroma”. In any case, everyone agrees that these Georgian wines are absolutely unusual and far from the mainstream. “The style of the unfiltered Orange wine, of fascinating brilliance and density, its intact and original taste is simply a fascination”!

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