THE COUNTRY WHERE WE TAKE THE WINE OF THE EARTH
There is probably no place on earth where wine is so closely related to culture as in Georgia.
Many of the world’s most renowned experts agree that the discovery of 8,000-year-old grape seeds enclosed within ancient clay vases only strengthens Georgia’s position as a cradle of viticulture in the world.
Entire dynasties have come and gone on their lands, yet Georgians have continued to make wine and in doing so have earned the distinction of the longest uninterrupted tradition of winemaking in the world.
Total area of vineyards: 100,000 ha
Kakheti: more than 70% of production / grape varieties saperavi, mtsvane and rkatsiteli
Imereti: tsitska, tsolikauri and krakhuna grape varieties
Number of grapes in total: 540
Number of native grape varieties: 500
Appellation of controlled origins: 18 (10 whites, 8 reds)
Tsinandali, Teliani, Napareuli, Vazisubani, Mukuzani, Akhasheni, Gurjaani, Kardenakhi, Tibaani, Kindzmarauli, Manavi, Khvanchkara, Tvishi, Kvareli, Atenuri, Sviri, Kotekhi, Kakheti (Kakhuri)
A unique environment always confers unusual tastes. Despite its relatively compact geographic footprint, Georgia has an extremely varied climate and topography that makes it ideal for growing, and some of its regions are clearly optimal for viticulture. Protected from extreme temperatures, the vines are protected from the sun and bitter cold. The Caucasus Mountains are full of natural streams that drain mineral-rich waters in the valleys and contribute to the distinctive flavors of the wines.
Before Eastern Orthodox Christianity became the predominant religion of Georgia in the fourth century, Georgians were pagans and the influence of Dionysus – the god of wine and ecstasy – remained rooted in Georgian culture.
“Give me a vineyard and you can make me live on the sand,” says an old Georgian saying. Georgians, however, have much more than sands; they own some of the oldest and most distinct wine terroirs in the world where they have grown more than vines, but a world-class wine-growing culture.
Georgia is home to more than 500 varieties of native grapes – nearly one-sixth of the world’s varieties, including endangered vines that are found nowhere else on Earth. In fact, some vineyards have living “libraries” of vines where visitors can enjoy rare grapes. Winegrowers use a range of winemaking techniques, ranging from the traditional Georgian method of fermentation to qvevri (pronounced kou-e-vri), to the European process, via a hybrid approach incorporating elements of each.
Before the Soviet regime decimated its flourishing winegrowing, many of the Georgian grapes were used by family winemakers. When the communists took power, they planted vast fields of the strongest and most voluminous grapes: rkatsiteli and saperavi by eliminating the more delicate and low-yielding varieties, however, families were allowed to keep small parcels of one hectare: this is how the incredible range of varieties survived the occupation.
Today, more than 70% of the wine is produced in Kakheti, making it the main wine region of Georgia and every year, the winemakers rediscover old grapes in the forests, old family farms or in sponsored seed banks by the government.
Its name means “red stem”, this leading white grape variety in Georgia, accounts for 43% of all vineyards planted on 20,000 hectares. Its original period is uncertain, but it is native to Kakheti, and is cultivated throughout the province, as well as in the Kartli.
rkatsiteli is mainly dry-vinified, but it is also an essential varietal of the Kardenakhi PDO, a mutated wine suitable for all styles of wine. Georgians also serve rkatsiteli as a table grape. In 2014, more than 20,000 hectares of rkatsiteli were planted in Georgia.
Krakuna is a grapevine producing light-skinned berries in western Georgia, which is mainly used in dry white wine blends. It is highly resistant to frost and has an excellent natural defense against powdery mildew, a fungal disease. The neutral aroma and high levels of krakuna acidity make it an excellent blend ingredient. Its common partners are tsitska and tsolikouri, which have a much higher natural sugar content than krakuna and therefore give weight to mixtures. Some traditional fortified wines, elaborated in a style similar to that of Madeira, also contain krakuna.
Literally, “green Kakhetia”, the five-lobed leaves of mtsvane kakhuri are dark green and channeled. It easily accumulates sugar while maintaining a high acidity, hence its relevance for sweet wines mutated. The yields are generous, and it grows well on the calcareous soils of Kakheti.
Made in Europe, the young dry white wine often has a shade of greenish straw. Mtsvane kakhuri imparts aromas of fresh white peach, floral, citrus and tropical, with a slight mineral undertone. It is quite dark and will show more apricot and stone fruit character when vinifying in qvevri. Aromatic variety, it oxidizes easily and, unless vinified in qvevri, it requires a sensitive anaerobic manipulation. It is also suitable as a table grape. In 2004, 249 hectares had been planted.
A very old variety, it is the most heavily planted red grape in Georgia, with 10% of all plantations in the country (more than 4,000 ha). Saperavi can be dry, semi-sweet, sweet or mutated.
Traditional and European methods are used and it can be aged in French, American, Slavonian, Russian or Hungarian oak barrels. Whatever the manner in which it is produced, this variety of dyer produces inked wines, often totally opaque, with aromas of black berries, licorice, grilled meat, tobacco, chocolate and spices. The texture of the wine is sandy and tannic, with considerable acidity and alcohol levels can range from 12 to 14%.
It is evocatively called “hammerhead” for its flat top of the bay itself, it is a grape from Kartli but has also been cultivated in Kakheti.
Tavkveri grows well in deep clay and sandy soils. Its flowers are fully functional and must be planted close to other varieties such as chinuri or goruli mtsvane to ensure pollination. Tavkveri can bloom from late March to mid-April and mature from late August to mid-September. Vine vigorous and high yield, its bunches are large and compact with broad shoulders. The grapes are round, a little big and dark blue.
A clay matrix
The wine produced today according to the traditional Georgian method follows the same process that was developed by Georgians almost 8000 years ago. This winemaking tradition is so closely linked to culture that UNESCO has recognized it as essential to the cultural heritage of humanity in 2013.
Despite modern technological advances, these egg-shaped amphorae placed underground have a capacity ranging from 20 to 10,000 liters. The most common formats for maceration are those of 300 to 800 liters and are hand-made in local clay by Georgians who have inherited their art from their fathers and grandfathers.
The breeding method in qvevri consists of pouring the juice, skins, stalks and grape seeds into this container, closing it and burying it in the soil for a period of five to six months, the time required to fermentation and winemaking.
Before each use, the interior of the qvevris is thoroughly cleaned and beeswaxed before adding the juice, then they are completely sealed to prevent contamination and oxidation. Natural grape yeasts allow fermentation without additives and natural tannins prevent deterioration without artificial preservatives. Their conical shape allows yeast and sediment to settle freely in the bottom while wine can circulate in the wider center. Once buried, the qvevris maintain the temperature of the wine in fermentation, as do modern temperature-controlled tanks.
Although few craftsmen still make it, qvevri recalls that winemaking in Georgia is not a borrowed tradition, it is a skill that transcends generations and fully understands the power of winemaking to transform the history of wine making. a country and inform its future.