Georgia, cradle of wine

Our stay from 5th to 25th of September 2018

Historical cradle of wine

Georgia or Sakartvelo. We have heard so much about it and we finally made it to arrive there!

Kakheti region is where our quest for vine and wine will continue during several weeks. Indeed, researchers established that the very first vines may have been cultivated and the first wine made at least from 6,000 to 8,000 BC south from the Great Caucasus. Grape seeds from the same time were also found at different locations across the country. All belong to the Vitis Vinifera species, Latin name for the vine which is grown to make wine.

The oldest wine vase (which dates back to 5000 to 6000 BC) called qvevri, decorated with bunches of grapes, was also discovered.

Travelers such as Marco Polo on the Silk Road have always been fascinated by the great number of vineyards and wines of Georgia. Indeed, the richness of the soils and the variety of climates favoured viticulture and allowed to create a wide range of grape varieties, 500 autochthonous vines have been identified.

Georgian people are very proud of their wine. Vines are everywhere you look: on the house facades, in the gardens. More than a tradition, wine has become a cult. For millennia, Georgian people have been using a special wine making process based on the use of qvevris, large earthenware vessel they bury in the ground for the fermentation and ageing of the wine.

Ruispiri Biodynamic Vineyard

David and I were very interested in this process and wanted to learn more about Georgian wines. Our quest brought us to Ruispiri Biodyamic Vineyard, located, as the name suggests, in the village of Ruispiri, a few kilometers from Telavi in Kakheti, the ultimate wine region in Georgia.

There we met Giorgi Aladashvili, a 36-year-old-winemaker, at the head of a 40 hectare-vineyard whose plots are spread in different villages in the surroundings.

Giorgi likes nature that is why he has chosen a biodynamic approach for his vineyard. His purpose is to respect the plant and its environment without using any chemical product. He studied in Switzerland and in France and met pioneers of biodynamic viticulture such as Marie-Thérèse Chappaz or Nicolas Joly in order to improve his technical skills.

In Kakheti, most of the Georgian families make their own wine. Giorgi also inherited this tradition since his grandfather had already vineyards. Since 2010, he has been working with different native grape varieties like Saperavi (red) or Rkhatsiteli (white), but also with varietals from Switzerland such as Malvoisie or Pinot Gris.

During our stay in Ruispiri, we had the chance to participate in the harvest and to help Giorgi and his cellar master, Ucha, for different tasks in the marani (wine cellar).

To Giorgi, using qvevris for the fermentation as well as for the ageing of the wines is obvious: first of all because it perfectly matches with his biodynamic philosophy, then because the qvevri offers the wines a real identity and a unique character and style, finally because this technique perpetuates the ancestral Georgian tradition.

Working with qvevri is very demanding and requires a certain experience. Indeed, once grapes have been pressed and transferred into the qvevris, the cellar master has to carry out cap punching several times a day making sure the fermentation occurs in good conditions. Giorgi is so attentive that he sometimes sleeps next to the qvevris!

But his efforts are rewarded: qvevri wines offer unique aromas and emotions. A real delicacy!

To celebrate the end of the harvest, Georgian people usually organize a big banquet called Rtveli. Giorgi did not derogate from that tradition: grilled pork, home baked bread, katchapouri and lots of Georgian specialities without forgetting the great wine, everything to the sound of Georgian polyphonies! Everyone pitched in to help and the evening ended with the initiatory grape foot pressing! A great moment and lots of laughs!

About our stay we will remember the warm Georgian hospitality, especially from Giorgi and his team with whom we could live the everyday life of the vineyard and who taught us a lot about Georgian wine. We couldn’t expect more than that! A unique experience in a wonderful region we are not ready to forget so soon.

Kakheti

Tbilissi

Capital of Georgia since the 5th century, first Persian then Russian, the city of Tbilissi is bordered by mountains and extend on both banks of Mtkvari River. According to a legend, the king Vakhtang I Gorgasali himself, who used to hunt in this region was so impressed by the richness of the hot spings that he may have ordered to raze the entire forest to build the city; tbili meaning « hot » in Georgian.

Still today, one can enjoy the sulphuric waters of the baths whose brick roofs look like little hats in the picturesque neighbourhood Abanotubani.

Price: between 50 and 90 GEL (20 to 30€) depending on the type of bath and service you choose.

Walking is the best way to discover Tbilissi. One can stroll in its narrow streets to admire churches and explore small shops. But it is also very easy to use public transport, buses and metros are well developed. Do not miss the cable car to Narikala fortress which offers a breathtaking panorama on the city and its monuments. At sunset, the Georgian capital takes on a whole new face with hundreds of colors and ultramodern lights such as those of the Bridge of Peace and its futuristic architecture.

Eat & drink

Pasanauri, Griboedov st 37, Tbilissi 0108 (metro Rustaveli)

This trendy and warm restaurant offers a varied menu (also in English) with typical Georgian dishes such as Kinkhali, delicious raviolis stuffed with meat, cheese or mushrooms or Khatchapouri, a bread dough stuffed with a cow’s milk cheese. Very reasonable prices.

In Vino Underground, 15 Galaktion Tabidze Street, Tbilissi 0105 (metro Liberty Square)

First natural wine bar of the city where you can taste different Georgian (but also foreign wines) wines. Tasting of 4 or 7 wines (15 to 25 GEL, from 5 to 10€).

Telavi Market

We liked the market of Telavi very much. There you can find a large range of seasonal fruits and vegetables as well as spices, meat, fish and cheese. Perfect to taste local products! Open every day from 10 am.

Ikalto

Haven of peace surrounded by cypresses, the former Ikalto academy, located only 8 km from Telavi, is worth the visit. Built in the 6th century by Zenon, this monastery used to provide education in many different subjects such as philosophy or geography. The Georgian poet Rustaveli may have studied there.

Gremi

Another remarkable site is the castle of Gremi built in the 16th century by the King Levan de Karthli. Great view on the whole Alazan Valley, between Telavi and Kvareli.

Other touristic highlights

Sighnaghi

It is one of the smallest cities of the country, also called city of love. It was built in the 18th century by the King Heeraclius II. Walled with a 4 km fortification and 28 towers, it offers romantic strolls like the beautiful monastery of St Nino which dates back to the 9th century.

Breathtaking panorama on the city along the road going down from the monastery to the city. And for those who like thrills, a little stand offers to fly in the sky with a zip-line!

Vardzia

Another remarkable site is the cave city of Vardzia at the Turkish border. This monastery group dates back to the 12th century was submitted for inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2007. Built on the slopes of the Erusheti Mountain, the 3000 caves are 500 km long and have 19 tiers! A real masterpiece not to be missed!

Our video

As a conclusion, here is our 3-minute video which will hopefully make you get to come to Georgia: https://youtu.be/vFNHe5R3VjY

 

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