Georgia is one of the oldest wine regions in the world. The fertile valleys and protective slopes of the Transcaucasia were home to grapevine cultivation and neolithic wine production (Georgian: ღვინო, ɣvino) for at least 8000 years.[1][2][3][4] Due to the many millennia of wine in Georgian history and its prominent economic role, the traditions of wine are considered entwined with and inseparable from the national identity.[1]

Among the best-known Georgian wine regions are Kakheti (further divided into the micro-regions of Telavi and Kvareli), Kartli, Imereti, Racha-Lechkhumi and Kvemo Svaneti, Adjara and Abkhazia.

In 2013, UNESCO added the ancient traditional Georgian winemaking method using the Kvevri clay jars to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists.[5]

History

Decorative Kvevri of Twins Old Cellar Wine house in Napareuli, Telavi
Decorative Kvevri of Twins Old Cellar Wine house in Napareuli, Telavi
Bronze statue from the 7th century BC discovered during archaeological excavations in the city of Vani. This statue is the statue of a Tamada, a toast master, and as you see on the souvenir sheet it is sometimes considered as the symbol of the earliest wine making in the world. The sheet also pictures amphora that were used at this time to carry and to stock the wine. Stamp of Georgia, 2007.
Bronze statue from the 7th century BC discovered during archaeological excavations in the city of Vani. This statue is the statue of a Tamada, a toast master, and as you see on the souvenir sheet it is sometimes considered as the symbol of the earliest wine making in the world. The sheet also pictures amphora that were used at this time to carry and to stock the wine. Stamp of Georgia, 2007.
Chateau Zegaani Vineyards in Kakheti.
Chateau Zegaani Vineyards in Kakheti.

The roots of Georgian viticulture have been traced back by archeology to when people of the South Caucasus discovered that wild grape juice turned into wine when it was left buried through the winter in a shallow pit. This knowledge was nourished by experience, and from 6000 BC inhabitants of the current Georgia were cultivating grapes and burying clay vessels, kvevris, in which to store their wine ready for serving at ground temperature. When filled with the fermented juice of the harvest, the kvevris are topped with a wooden lid and then covered and sealed with earth. Some may remain entombed for up to 50 years.[6] Due to its diverse and unique microclimate, there are about 500 grape varieties in modern Georgia.

Wine vessels of every shape, size and design have been the crucial part of pottery in Georgia for millennia. Ancient artifacts attest to the high skill of local craftsmen. Among vessels, the most ubiquitous and unique to Georgian wine-making culture are probably the Kvevris, very large earthenware vessels with an inside coat of beeswax. Not only kvevris were used to ferment grape juice and to store up wine, but also chapi and satskhao; others yet were used for drinking, such as khelada, doki, sura, chinchila, deda-khelada, dzhami and marani.

The continuous importance of winemaking and drinking in Georgian culture is also visible in various antique works of art. Many of the unearthed silver, gold and bronze artifacts of the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC bear chased imprints of the vine, grape clusters and leaves. The State Museum of Georgia has on display a cup of high-carat gold set with gems, an ornamented silver pitcher and some other artifacts dated to the 2nd millennium BC. From classical Antiquity, Georgian museums display a cameo depicting Bacchus, and numerous sarcophagi with wine pitchers and ornamented wine cups found in ancient tombs.

From the 4th century AD, wine has gained further importance in Georgian culture due to Christianisation of the country. According to tradition, Saint Nino, who preached Christianity in Kartli, bore a cross made from vine wood. For centuries, Georgians drank, and in some areas still drink, their wine from horns (called kantsi in Georgian) and skins from their herd animals. The horns were cleaned, boiled and polished, creating a unique and durable drinking vessel.

During Soviet times wines produced in Georgia were very popular. In comparison with other wines from Moldavia and Crimea that were available on the Soviet market Georgian wines had been preferable for Soviets. In 1950 vineyards in Georgia occupied 143,000 acres but in 1985 already 316,000 acres due to increasing demand. In 1985 wine production was 881,000 tons. During Mikhail Gorbachev's anti-alcohol campaign, many old Georgian vineyards were cut off.

Georgian wine has been a contentious issue in recent relationships with Russia. Political tensions with Russia have contributed to the 2006 Russian embargo of Georgian wine, Russia claimed Georgia produced counterfeit wine. It was an "official" reason, but instability of economic relations with Russia is well known, as they use the economic ties for political purposes.[7] Counterfeiting problems stem from mislabelling by foreign producers and falsified “Georgian Wine” labels on wines produced outside of Georgia and imported into Russia under the auspices of being Georgian produced.[7] Some winemakers in Georgia have also been known to import grapes and produce “falsified” Georgian Wine, leading then defense minister Irakli Okruashvili to note in 2006 that “[He thought] several wineries that are still producing fake wine in Gori should be closed”.[8] The shipment of counterfeit wine has been primarily channeled through Russian managed customs checkpoints in Russian occupied Georgian territories Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where no inspection and regulation occurs.[7]

Georgia is optimistic its recent Association Agreement with the European Union will expand its export markets and reduce the risk presented by any future unilateral embargoes by Russia.[9]

Viticulture in Georgia today

Georgian nursery vineyard.
Georgian nursery vineyard.

Georgia ranks 2nd (in terms of volume) in grape production in the former Soviet Union behind Moldova, and Georgian wines have always been the most highly prized and sought after in the Soviet space. Currently, the wine is produced by thousands of small farmers (using primarily traditional techniques of wine-making), as well as certain monasteries, and modern wineries.

According to the Minister of Agriculture of Georgia, wine production has increased from 13.8 million 750ml bottles in 2009 to 15.8 million bottles in 2010. In 2009 Georgia exported 10.968 million bottles of wine to 45 countries. In 2010, Georgia exported wines to: Ukraine - about 7.5 million bottles, Kazakhstan - about 2 million bottles, Belarus - about 1.2 million bottles, Poland - about 870,000 bottles and Latvia - 590,000 bottles.[10]

By 2019 exports and productions had increased significantly with the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture annual report declaring total export as "94 million bottles (0.75 liter)" to 53 countries. Including increases in export to Russia - 9% (58,384,540 bottles), China - 2% (7,089,259 bottles), USA - 48% (678,148 bottles).

Growing conditions

Georgia's territorial and climate conditions are optimal for wine-making. Extremes of weather are unusual: summers tend to be short-sleeve sunny, and winters mild and frost-free. Natural springs abound, and the Caucasian Mountain streams drain mineral-rich water into the valleys. Georgia's moderate climate and moist air, influenced by the Black Sea, provide the best conditions for vine cultivating. The soil in vineyards is so intensively cultivated that the grapevines grow up the trunks of fruit trees eventually hanging down along the fruit when they ripen. This method of cultivation is called maglari.[11]

Georgian grape varieties

Traditional Georgian grape varieties are little known in the World. Now that the wines of Eastern and Central Europe are coming to international awareness, grapes from this region are becoming better known. Although there are nearly 400 to choose from, only 38 varieties are officially grown for commercial viticulture in Georgia:[12]

Red grapes

Saperavi grape
Saperavi grape

White grapes

Rkatsiteli grape
Rkatsiteli grape

Georgian wine styles

See also: List of Georgian wine appellations

Glass of Saperavi wine
Glass of Saperavi wine

Traditionally, Georgian wines carry the appellation name of the source region, district, or village, much like French regional wines such as Bordeaux or Burgundy. As with these French wines, Georgian wines are usually a blend of two or more grapes. Georgian wines are classified as sweet, semi-sweet, semi-dry, dry, fortified and sparkling. The semi-sweet varieties are the most popular.

White

See also list of Georgian wine appellations.

Red

Kindzmarauli Wine
Kindzmarauli Wine

See also list of Georgian wine appellations.

Fortified

Wine styles

Wine-producing regions of Georgia

Grape harvesting in Kakheti art by Grigory Gagarin.
Grape harvesting in Kakheti art by Grigory Gagarin.

Main article: List of Georgian wine appellations

There are five main regions of viniculture, the principal region being Kakheti, which produces seventy percent of Georgia's grapes. Traditionally, Georgian wines carry the name of the source region, district, or village, much like French regional wines such as Bordeaux or Burgundy. As with these French wines, Georgian wines are usually a blend of two or more grapes. For instance, one of the best-known white wines, Tsinandali, is a blend of Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane grapes from the micro regions of Telavi and Kvareli in the Kakheti region.

See also

References

  1. ^ a b Miquel Hudin & Daria Kholodolina (2017), Georgia: A guide to the cradle of wine, Vinologue, p. 300, ISBN 978-1941598054
  2. ^ "Traditional winemaking in Georgia - the oldest wine in the world - Cycloscope". Archived from the original on 2015-04-15. Retrieved 2015-04-15.
  3. ^ Watson, Ivan. "Unearthing Georgia's wine heritage". CNN. Retrieved 21 February 2018.
  4. ^ Spilling, Michael; Wong, Winnie (2008). Cultures of The World Georgia. p. 128. ISBN 978-0-7614-3033-9.
  5. ^ "UNESCO - Ancient Georgian traditional Qvevri wine-making method". ich.unesco.org. Retrieved 2019-09-09.
  6. ^ "What's in a Kvevri? Georgia's Intangible Cultural Heritage". World Bank. Retrieved 2019-09-09.
  7. ^ a b c "Position Unchanged On Russian WTO Negotiations". RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty. Retrieved 21 February 2018.
  8. ^ Georgia/Russia: Georgian Agriculture Minister In Moscow For Talks On Wine Ban rferl.org April 13, 2006
  9. ^ "Georgia's long road to Europe". BBC News. 27 June 2014. Retrieved 22 April 2017.
  10. ^ "Выросло производство вина в Грузии". www.tecilla.ru. Retrieved 21 February 2018.
  11. ^ Goldstein, Darra (1958). The Georgian feast: the vibrant culture and savory food of the Republic of Georgia. USA: University of California Press. p. 4. ISBN 0-520-21929-5.
  12. ^ Caucasian review. Institut zur Erforschung der USSR. 1958. p. 70.
  13. ^ Tamara Dragadze. Rural Families in Soviet Georgia: A Case Study in Ratcha Province, Routledge, 1988, ISBN 0-415-00619-8, p. 7
  14. ^ David R. Farber. Sloan Rules: Alfred P. Sloan and the Triumph of General Motors, University of Chicago Press, 2002, ISBN 0-226-23804-0, p. 146
  15. ^ Glenn Randall Mack, Asele Surina. Food Culture In Russia And Central Asia, Greenwood Press, 2005, ISBN 0-313-32773-4, p. 10