Georgian Wine Essentials

    May 17, 2020

    Georgia and Georgian wine at a glance - the background of Cradle of Wine story

    Daria Kholodilina

    We call our country Sakartvelo (საქართველო), but internationally it is known as Georgia. It is located at the coast of the Black Sea, embraced by Caucasus Mountains from the North, where it borders on Russia. It also has a border with Turkey and Armenia from South and Azerbaijan from East.

    The archaeological findings at the site called Shulaveri Gora witness the fact that already 8000 years ago, in VI millenium BC, the locals knew how to cultivate grapes and turn them into a magical drink that makes one merrier. Just imagine, the humans of the Neolithic period that lived at the modern territory of Georgia, already had specific tools for working at the wheat fields and vineyards, and special vessels for drinking wine!

    The fossilized grape pips and leftovers of clay pottery of specific shape from Dangreuli Gora settlement near modern Marneuli prove this statement time and again. The cultivated grape variety Vinis Vinifera comes from here, and its produce was fermented and served in the same kind of clay vessels that are used in the XXI century.

    That’s why UNESCO has officially called Georgia the Cradle of Wine. And we are happy that you are here to taste the fruits of our unbroken 8000-years old tradition!

    The most important things to memorize are the following: the traditional method usually includes not only juice, but also skin, stems and seeds of the pressed grapes. And the fermentation process is going on in a giant clay vessel, the womb where wine is brought to life, - Its Majesty Qvevri.

    This egg-shaped vessel is built from raw wet clay according to a good old coil-building technique. It usually takes several weeks to create a 1000 – 2000 liters big one. After the building up is done, the Qvevri is put into an ample bricked up oven where it is roasted under the temperature of 1000 C for at least a week.

    We know for sure if wine was a sacred drink during the pagan times, and the arrival of Christianity to Georgia and its establishing as an official religion in 337 AD has influenced the role of wine in the society. It became a holy drink, a symbol of Christ’s blood.

    Nino from Cappadocia, the woman who convinced the royal family of the ancient Georgian kingdom to accept Christianity, arrived in Georgia with the cross made of vine branches and tied with her own hair. The crooked shape of traditional Georgian cross is a reminder.

    Also, you will see the symbols of grapes in every church and monastery across the country! Here and there, at medieval frescoes and the forged gates, the grapes and vines are twisting up, being a tender bound for our old nation.

    As the network of churches and convents spread up across the country, monasteries became important centers of winemaking. One of the most prominent places is Alaverdi that claims to have started producing wine since 1011.

    The period between X and XIII centuries AD is considered to be the Golden Age not only for Georgia, but also for its wine producing culture. Later on, the country fell under the Mongolian armies of thousands, and then was going through the period of fragmentation and weakening, as the Persian and Ottoman rules didn’t let it recover. Obviously, the winemaking had to go underground, as those rulers had other religious views and opinions about the role of wine in the society.

    Luckily, the Georgian stubbornness and deep connection to the old faith and old habits helped the winemaking and grape varieties sustain. In 1783 Georgia signed the Treaty of Georgievsk with the Russian Empire that helped it restore Christianity for the price of independence. And in 1830, the first European-like wine cellars were established in Eastern Georgia due to the efforts of Prince Alexander Chavchavadze.

    Since that time, several PDO wines have been produced in his estate. The most prominent of them are Tsinandali, Mukuzani and Napareuli.

    In the 1870s, the first sparkling wine of Georgia was produced in the estate of Ivane Mukhran-Batoni in Kartli region. Soon his wines started going on export to France and Poland and even won international awards.

    In 1888, David Sarajishvili started production of Georgian brandy.

    In the beginning of the XX century, up to the end of Georgia’s short independence in 1918 – 1921 years, the private wine businesses have been developing rapidly. In 1929, the Soviet wine monopoly, Samtrest, was established.

    The Soviet Georgian winemaking was oriented on the big production volumes and poor variety. Due to that, Rkatsiteli and Saperavi grapes, that are the most easy to grow, started spreading industrially and replaced more demanding varieties. This standardization of wine production almost led to the extinction of dozens of endemic wine sorts.

    Elderly people often say that it was impolite to offer a factory wine to the guest due to its poor quality. That’s why many people tried to make bootleg wine at their homes.

    In 1985, the Soviet government proclaimed a so-called “dry law” that prohibited alcohol consumption in certain hours, implemented prosecution for being drunk and raised the prices for alcohol drinks.

    The turbulent 1990s with fall of USSR, war in Abkhazia and extreme poverty of transition period have been followed by establishment of first commercial wine cellars. The Russian Embargo of 2011 was a big shock and a major Zero Hour for the Georgian wine making industry, as it made the producers find the new markets, new distribution channels and revive the old tradition, bringing it from home cellars to the wider public.

    In 2013, Qvevri method of winemaking was listed in UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. In 2014 – 2016 the international wine tourism events are being held in Georgia – the 1st UNWTO Global Conference of Wine Tourism among them.

    As for 2020, more than 400 companies produce wine in Georgia; many among them are small businesses. Georgia is among top-20 wine exporters globally, and wine export makes up to 5.9% of Georgia’s total export value.