Georgia – the cradle of winemaking
If, thanks to historians, the romantic definition “cradle of humanity” is associated with the African continent, the “cradle of winemaking” is rightfully considered to be Georgia. Exactly in Georgia were found the most ancient evidences of the existence of winemaking. Namely, these were surprising archaeological finds – underground clay jugs for fermentation and aging of wine “kvevri” with the remains of grape seeds at the bottom, dating back to 6000 BC. Moreover, the unique technology of wine production in the kvevri is still used in Georgia and is even of interest to European winemakers, who are experimenting with fermentation and aging of wines in clay amphorae, similar to the smaller, aboveground version of the kvevri. The cultivated Vitis Vinifera grape itself, from which wines are made, unlike table varieties (with few exceptions), also comes from the South Caucasus.
And, in the end, even linguists have come to the conclusion that the word “wine” itself in various languages (wine, vin, wein, vino, etc.) has the Georgian root “ghv” from the word “ghvino”, which also means “wine”. In other words, Georgia can really be considered the historical homeland, the “cradle”, of winemaking. The amazing thing about Georgia is the incredible richness and variety of unique autochthonous grape varieties (about 525, which is almost 3 times more than in Switzerland, which also has a great number of autochthonous grape varieties and counts about 200). And of course, the aforementioned method of winemaking in Kvevri, typical only for Georgia and giving specific and unexpected for the modern consumer wines (for example, white wines, in which tannins are distinctly felt). The variety of Georgian wines (semi-sweet red Khvanchkara and Kindzmarauli, rich red Mukuzani and dry white autochthonous Rkatsiteli and Kisi, aged in Kvevri or produced with the help of modern technology) may surprise even the most sophisticated wine lovers. There are soft and rich semi-sweet wines, dense dry reds with a serious structure of tannins, and spicy, slightly tart dry whites with a rich orange color due to aging in quavers together with the pulp (skins, pips and combs). Even lighter and closer to European style wines can be found, but they retain all the uniqueness of the autochthonous grape varieties, the favorable climate of Georgia and its culture, closely associated with wine for several millennia.
A brief overview of winegrowing conditions in Georgia
In a relatively small Georgia (comparable in size to Austria or Ireland), grape growing conditions, which are determined by climate, soil and topography, are remarkably varied. Georgia is on the border between Europe and Asia, neighboring Russia to the north, Turkey and Armenia to the south, and Azerbaijan to the east. In the west Georgia is washed by the Black Sea, and in the north it is separated from Russia by the high Caucasus Mountains. It is these two natural factors have a significant impact on the diversity of climatic conditions of Georgia. If the picturesque peaks of the Caucasus protect it from the cold air masses from the north of the continent, the lowland western part of the country, on the contrary, allows the humid warm air from the Black Sea to move inland and warm the central valley. The climate here ranges from sub-tropical to alpine and continental, depending on the location of the region in relation to the Black Sea and the Caucasus Mountains. For example, the Colchis plain in the west, near the Black Sea, located at an altitude of about 500 meters above sea level, is characterized by subtropical humid conditions and a moderately warm climate, and Kartli, covering the Mukhrani and Gori plain in the east of Georgia, surrounded on all sides by mountains, has more moderate temperatures and a more pronounced continental climate. Georgia’s soils are no less varied: clay, lime, chernozem, shale, sometimes stony and sandy. Some were formed as a result of river sediments or erosion. Given this diversity, perhaps it would be much clearer if we considered each wine region of Georgia separately.
Wine-producing regions of Georgia and names
It is the most famous wine-producing region, with about 70% of all vineyards and producing about 80% of Georgia’s wine. Kakheti is located in the southeast of the country, bordering Russia in the northeast and Azerbaijan in the south. The climate of Kakheti is quite warm and can be hot in summer but the cooler winds from the Caucasus Mountains reduce the temperature a bit. The humidity is lower here than in the western part of the country, because the Black Sea is farther away and has less influence on the climate. Among Kakheti’s varied soils (brown forest, alluvial and calcareous soils) brown forest soils consisting of clay, sand and limestone deserve special mention. They are characterized by low fertility, but high mineral and iron content, which gives them brownish color and earthy flavor to wine. In Kakheti there are 14 protected names of wines, the most famous of which are red dry Mukuzani, red semi-sweet Kindzmarauli and Akhasheni and white dry Tsinandali. Two varieties of grapes are most common in Kakheti: red Saperavi and white Rkatsiteli. Saperavi, which got its name – “dyer” because of its colored flesh, is the basis of Mukuzani, Kindzmarauli and Akhasheni wines, while Rkatsiteli, whose plantings were once the most extensive in the world, is the basis of Tsinandali wines. Traditionally, both red and white wines were produced in quavers, but today neutral steel vats and oak barrels are also used in production. Saperavi wines, both dry and semi-sweet, have a deep color, tartness and a rich fruit-spicy taste with good acidity, which makes the wine pleasant and harmonious, while Tsinandali wines have citrus and floral aromas, as well as notes of peach and sometimes a creamy hue. And, of course, when talking about Kakheti, one cannot leave out the picturesque Alazani Valley surrounded by mountains, through which the clear Alazani River flows. Alazani Valley is sometimes even called “Tuscany of Georgia”. It is characterized by favorable climatic conditions and soils and includes several microzones with their own protected names (Kindzmarauli, Tsinandali Akhasheni). But Alazan Valley itself is a semi-sweet white and red budget wine, is not a protected geographical appellation and almost the entire volume of this wine is exported.
Kartli (Shida Kartli)
East of Kakheti is the region of Kartli, which does not have a large number of protected names, but, nevertheless, occupies an important place on the map of Georgia. First, the Kartli region is home to the capital city of Tbilisi, and second, it includes Georgia’s only protected appellation for sparkling wine, Ateni, and third, Kartli produces 15% of Georgia’s sparkling wines and brandy. The vineyards are located on the northeastern slopes of the Trialeti mountains, at an altitude of 620-750 meters above sea level, but in general the territory of Ateni vineyards includes both mountain slopes and river valleys. The climate here is temperate, with warm summers and fairly mild winters, depending on the altitude. However, Ateni is characterized by a significant difference between night and day temperatures due to the cold air masses coming down from the mountains. Ateni sparkling wines are produced by the traditional method (second fermentation in the bottle) or the Charm method (fermentation in the vat), from the autochthonous Chinuri, Goruli Mtsvane and Budashuri varieties. The second method yields light, light wines with citrus and apricot tones, the first adds brioche notes, depth and complexity to the wine.
To the west of Kartli is the Imereti region, where the climate and soils are the most diverse of Georgia’s other wine regions. In the Colchis Lowlands, the climate is subtropical and influenced by the Black Sea, while on the higher mountain slopes the temperature is markedly lower. Depending on the terrain, soil types also vary considerably, which is reflected in the variety of wines. As in Kartli, there is only one protected appellation for wine in Imereti: Sviri. This microzone is located in the eastern part of the Colchis Depression, near the slopes of the Caucasus Mountains. Sviri is located at an altitude of 220 meters above sea level, on smooth slopes oriented to the south and south-east. The climate here is moderately humid, subtropical, with warm winters and hot summers. Under these conditions, the grapes gain high sugar levels and ripen perfectly, but have low acidity levels. The base of the wine is made up of Tsitska, Tsolikouri and Krahuna varieties. Sviri wine can be produced either in a modern way with fermentation in stainless steel vats or in the traditional Imereti way in kvevri (which are called “churi” in Imereti). Unlike Kakheti, the Imereti method of fermentation implies using only grape skins without pips and ridges (10% of the mash volume). Therefore, Sviri wines are lighter, suitable not only for white meat, but also for fish, fresh cheeses and aperitifs.
The smallest wine-producing region of Georgia, where wines of protected geographical indications are produced, is Racha-Lechkhumi. However, it is of great importance for the Georgian wine industry, because it is the homeland of the famous red semi-sweet wine Khvanchkara and the only semi-sweet white wine with a protected geographical indication – Tvishi. The Racha-Lechkhumi region is located in northwestern Georgia, in the middle of the mountains and valleys of the Greater Caucasus. The climate here is colder than in neighboring Imereti (in January usually from -1 to -2 °C, but summer can be quite warm), so the vineyards are located on the southern and south-eastern slopes of the Caucasus Mountains, where there is more sun and slightly higher temperatures, which allows grapes to mature to a fairly high level of sugar content. The variety of soils favorable for winemaking (a mixture of black earth and carbonate soils, sand, clay, as well as siliceous and calcareous soils) is reflected in the richness of wines produced in the Racha-Lechkhumi region using traditional technology – kvevri, with natural conditions also contributing to the winemaking process. The early cold slows down the yeast, and the fermentation stops before all the sugar is converted into alcohol. That’s why the wines are semi-sweet rather than dry. Of the wines, the legendary Khvanchkara, which is produced in Racha province from the varieties Alexandrouli and Mujuretuli (nowadays, not only in Kvevri by stopping fermentation naturally, but also in stainless steel vats, using artificial reduction of temperature) should definitely be singled out. Thanks to a combination of climatic and geological features (the proximity to the mountains and the relative remoteness from the Black Sea, which provides a significant difference between summer and winter, day and night temperatures and the special soil – calcareous and stony, with an admixture of black earth and quartz) the red varieties mature well, without losing the acidity necessary to create a harmonious wine. This wine has a bright and fresh fruity aroma and taste with hints of red currant, strawberry, as well as rose and pepper, delicate tannins and refreshing acidity of Saperavi, which is in harmony with the pleasant sweetness and gives Khvanchkara its uniqueness. Another semi-sweet wine (and the only protected appellation for white semi-sweet wines) is Twishi from Lechkhumi province. Like Khvanchkara, Tvishi vineyards are located along the Rioni River, but it is more influenced by the Black Sea from the west: the climate here is more humid, with hot summers and moderately cold winters. Many vineyards are planted on slopes oriented to the south and southeast on mostly calcareous soils. The Twishi is made only from Tsolikouri grapes, by stopping fermentation in steel vats, when the residual sugar remains about 45g/l, and the alcohol level reaches 10-11.5%. It is a light wine with pleasant sweetness and fresh acidity and aromas of pears, quinces and stone fruits. It can be enjoyed with fruit desserts or spicy dishes.
Black Sea Coast Area
On the warm and humid Black Sea coast, winegrowing also occupies an important place in culture and agriculture, although this region does not have any protected geographical appellation. In general, the climate of the Black Sea coast is subtropical and is characterized by high humidity, hot summers and warm winters, but in the east of the region, on the slopes closer to the mountain ranges, it is drier and windier, which creates more suitable conditions for viticulture. The main types of soils are marl (calcareous clay), calcareous, alluvial with stony sediments washed away by rivers and clay-sandy. Plots on the slopes of mountain ranges are characterized by good location relative to the sun and stony soils, with projecting to the surface marl and calcareous layers. The Black Sea coast regions of Guria, Samegrelo, and Adjara are rather humid and cloudy for high quality yields, but the small microzones of Samegrelo in the east of the region, closer to the mountains, have better conditions for viticulture and are known for their red semi-sweet wine Ojaleshi from the variety of the same name. Guria is a river valley with high humidity and is not characterized by widespread winemaking (at least of vintage and premium wines). Adjara is an important historical, administrative, and tourist center of Georgia, which is also home to its second largest city, Batumi. Adjara is the southwestern region of Georgia, bordering Turkey, and is both the coast of the Black Sea, part of the mountainous area of the Lesser Caucasus and the vast forests, spread over 60% of the territory of Adjara. The climate here is one of the wettest in Georgia (and in September and October precipitation is usually most abundant), but the sunlight and heat is quite enough, especially during the hot summer and warm spring. Further inland and closer to the mountains the amount of precipitation decreases, as does the average air temperature: in contrast to the coast it is 3-5 degrees colder here. Soils in Adjara are quite diverse and range from clay and stony soils at higher elevations to alluvial soils in the river valleys. Historically, Adjara is an important wine-producing region, but now it is less well known than, for example, Kakheti or Racha-Lechkhumi. Nevertheless, now there is a gradual restoration of vineyards, and especially – ancient, but unknown varieties of grapes: Tsolikluri, Chhaveri, Brola, Khopaturi, etc.
Throughout Georgia’s history, wine and wine culture have been and remain an integral part of it. The tradition of home winemaking still exists and goes hand in hand with generous Georgian cuisine. In addition to the success of Georgian semisweet wines on the Russian market, there is increasing international interest in its autochthonous grape varieties and unique wines produced traditionally in the Kvevri. Georgia has recently (as a result of the Russian embargo) opened European, American and Asian markets and modern winemaking technologies, and has also begun to produce wines aimed at Western consumers. But it has maintained and will continue to maintain its uniqueness and uniqueness.
Georgia – the homeland of wine
Many of you reading this have probably heard that Georgia is the birthplace of wine, but perceive this fact as a beautiful legend, no more. In fact, Georgian scientists, who have been investigating the remains of ancient settlements on the territory of our country for many years, have long and justifiably stated this, referring to the results of excavations and their research.
For three years a group of archaeologists from different countries worked on the territory of Georgia, united by Patrick McGovern, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, a wine historian and biochemist. Specialists from the United States and Canada, Italy and France, Israel and Denmark worked under his direction.
During excavations in the region of Kvemo Kartli in Marneuli district the most ancient artifacts were found, and among them were ancient clay vessels. Remains of grape seeds and sediment of an ancient drink were found in the ancient vessels, which after examination turned out to be wine.
The ancient vessel from Marneuli is the first Kvevri and the most ancient of the proven wine vessels
Findings of archaeologists have proved that Georgia is the true homeland of winemaking, and it was here that ancient man 8 thousand years ago, first cultivated vines, created the first press and made wine from the cultivated berries in clay jars.
So after a 2017 article published in the Proceedings of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the fact that Georgia is the birthplace of wine and winemaking is internationally recognized.
Detailed information about the contents of ancient vessels indicates that already in the Neolithic period highly developed people lived here. This is proven by the remains of wheat and legumes, as well as farm implements and other objects of the formed culture found in the territory of Eastern Georgia in ancient excavations.
Georgian wine at international exhibitions
It was in 2017 that Georgian wines were well represented on the international stage and received tremendous interest in the professional community.
The 2017 “Invitational Feast,” held at the Bordeaux Museum “City of Wine” and recognized as the Center for Wine Civilization, featured wine history and winemakers’ products in the “Georgia – Birthplace of Winemaking” exhibit.
Many ancient and modern monuments and works of art depict grapevines, and wine and grapes occupy an honorable place in the Georgian epos. There are a huge number of different grape varieties cultivated in the wine-growing regions of Georgia, out of 4000 recognized in the international list of grape varieties, about 500 come from Georgia.
In 2013, the UNESCO list was expanded and now the production of wine by the Georgian method and the method of aging it in clay “kvevri”, is under the protection of the world organization.
International exhibition “RAW London” presents Georgian wine or as it is known in many countries – “kvevri” since 2012, which is attended by the most famous cellars:
“Natenadze’s Wine Cellar”;
For producers, without personal presence, the National Wine Agency of Georgia gave the opportunity to present their products on a separate table at the international exhibition in London.
This is a unique opportunity to introduce Kvevri wine to representatives of many countries in the wine industry and to find potential importers on an international scale.
In 2017, a special tasting seminar of Georgian wine was organized in Japan, where 13 companies-producers received well-deserved awards. Japan’s leading sommelier Motyoki Okoshi and Master of Wine Kechini Ohashi took part in the presentation of Georgian wines, with 65 sommeliers, hotel and hotel representatives from different cities from all over Japan attending the tasting.
Export of Georgian wines
Wines are shipped to 80 countries; in 2020, Georgia exported 125 million bottles of 0.75 liters to many countries, even France. But the top five importers, accounting for 67% of all exports, include: Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Belarus and Poland. These are traditional markets for Georgia, because historically Georgian wine has been known here for a long time, and the conquest of world markets has been very rapid in recent years and the volume of shipments to other countries is steadily increasing.
Historical Memory of Georgian Wine
David Lordkipanidze, director of the National Museum, as a famous archaeologist and author of many works on the excavations of the South Caucasus, has many arguments to prove that Georgia is the historical homeland of wine.
In the origin of the name “wine,” some linguists find Georgian roots, as the word has a common semantics with the Georgian “gvino” and “gvivili,” which means “fermentation.
In the ancient works of Greek, Assyrian and Byzantine authors, historians find information about winemaking as an important industry on the territory of ancient Georgia. Scholars have studied the ancient sources of Apollo of Rhodes, Xenophon, Strabo and Procopius of Caesarea find mention of Georgian wine of that period.
In Western Georgia during excavations around the settlement of Vani a small statuette of bronze was found, which experts have dated to the 7th century BC – the figurine of a young man with a typical vessel in his hand, which was called “tamada”, is in the Museum.
Toastmaster in Georgia is a very important representative of any holiday; he is the head of the feast and no celebration can do without him. The bronze statue was copied and enlarged several times and now the monument to Toastmasters is located in the historic Old Town of Tbilisi. At the intersection of Sioni and Shardeni streets.
Wine regions of Georgia
The main wine-producing region of Georgia is Kakheti , on its territory are defined 15 microzones where Kakhetian wine is produced with fixed appellations, such as: Tsinandali and Kindzmarauli Akhasheni and Vazisubani, Gurjaani and Kardenahi, Mukuzani, and Kvareli, Teliani and Kotehi, Manavi and Kakheti, Napareuli and Tibaani.
In the remaining regions of Kartli, Imereti and Racha-Lechkhumi, there are 6 microzones involved in wine making.
The tradition to call wine by the name of the village is now enshrined in the law of Georgia “On the name and geographical indication of the place of origin.
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