Georgia is a little country located between Europe and Asia bordering Russia and Turkey and boasts a coastline of the Black Sea. Its location brings inherent vulnerabilities, and conflict is certainly no stranger. It is an interesting country that is enduring ongoing instability … but what does this have to do with wine? Well, nothing … but then, everything! Georgia is the world’s oldest wine producing nation and has a culture embedded with the nectar of the gods.
The earliest archaeological evidence of wine production appears in Georgia in the pre-historic Neolithic period. This evidence is in the form of terracotta vessels called kvevri used as fermentation vessels. Ancient architecture is adorned with vine motifs, and religious icons contain references to wine and the vines. In fact, winemaking was an academic pursuit in Georgia as far back as the 8th and 9th Centuries.
The native grape vine varieties of Georgia provide a smorgasbord of vines to be experimented with here in Australia. Saperavi would be the most well known variety and indeed, there are some plantings here in Australia – in particular in the Rutherglen region, where we have enjoyed this exotic varietal. Saperavi is a deep red wine suitable for long term ageing (up to 50 years). It is used extensively as a blender in Georgia, boosting the lesser varietals. I mistakenly gave the few I bought away to a friend as a gift …good excuse to visit again! Maybe even a variety worth exploring for planting here?
One of the most intriguing aspects of the Georgian winemaking process for me is the use of the terracotta vessels used for fermentation. This is where the artisan skills are highlighted and what intrigues me so much. Fermentation is all about temperature control, and the Georgians have mastered the technique of utilising the temperature controlling attributes of terracotta buried in the earth. This is a skill that has been developed over many years – and what a wonderful way to make wine … in terracotta vessels embedded in the earth.
One other key point to note about the artisan methods in Georgia, which are commonly applied elsewhere in the world … The vineyards in Georgia take up four times the agricultural acreage for production than the vineyards of France, yet yield fewer grapes. There is the long held belief of cane pruning, and following from that quality vs. quantity, hence the lesser yield per acre/hectare. These beliefs are held by many Australian viticulturists and vignerons as well. It is the true artisan craft shining through vs. the corporate demon focused on the dollars.
I’m thinking I must have a little Georgian blood running through my veins myself, being a culture of drinking wine with meals while discussing the deeper questions of life … feasting in Georgia is an experience in which wine is central. Sorry, got to go – I’m booking a ticket to Georgia!