As recently noted on Eurasianet, Georgian wines are slowly returning to the Russian market, after a seven-year ban. What this all means for the Georgian wine industry is still unclear and is one of the issues discussed in an interesting recent piece produced by Al Jazeera English, which took a good look at how the Georgian wine has fared over the last seven years. The video can be viewed below:
EurasiaNet's photoessay from the other day about how the supra -- the traditional eating and drinking feast that is a bedrock of social life in Georgia -- is evolving and modernizing is highly recommended reading for anyone who wants to understand how Georgian society itself is changing.
Interested in getting more details about the story and the evolution of the supra, I sent several questions to its author, the Tbilsi-based Molly Corso, an American married to a Georgian. Our exchange is below:
1. What gave you the idea for this story?
I first started wondering about changes to the supra after I read a blog post on changing views toward the funeral feast on ISET.ge, the International School of Economics at Tbilisi State University. After I read it, I started noticing that, fairly often, when my husband and I met up with friends, there would be an argument about who should be tamada (the toast master) since no one wanted to be saddled with the role of drinking so much. Sometimes there would be little disputes over whether or not it is necessary to say all of the traditional toasts. I started to wonder if it was something isolated, just among my husband's circle of friends and relations, or if it was a wider trend.
2. Based on your own experience, how would you describe the role of the supra in Georgian life?
The indispensable Hvino News website has just released a superb resource for anyone who wants to learn more about the rapidly improving Georgian wine scene, a detailed "appellations" map for Georgia's wine-growing regions. Mapping out eighteen distinct regions, from Akhasheni to Vazisubani, the map also provides detailed notes on each region's geographical characteristics and descriptions of the types of grapes grown there. Curious to know more about the Goruli Mtsvane white wine grown in the Ateni region near Gori? Check out Hvino's map, here.
The title of being the birthplace of wine is a contested one, with Georgia, Armenia, Turkey and even Azerbaijan all vying for it. But now Georgia can at least claim that it is officially the "cradle of wine."
As the all-things-Georgian-wine blog Hvino News reports, the European Union has just awarded Georgia the exclusive right to sell wine within its territory with the tagline "Georgia - the Cradle of Wine." From Hvino's dispatch:
According to "Sakstat" (Georgia's statistical institution), until 2011 this brand has belonged to a British company. The new registration allows Georgia to ban any other company using the name without permission. Use of the brand "Cradle of Wine" is supposed to help promote Georgia as the oldest wine-producing country.
But even before Georgians had a chance to raise a celebratory glass, the Financial Times weighed in on the question of Tbilisi's plan to label every bottle of wine with the now exclusive slogan, calling the victory in Brussels a "mixed blessing":
Emphasising its rich heritage is the obvious way for Georgian wine to make its mark in a highly competitive global market. But some consumers may more readily associate cradles with babies or bottle racks than the history of the Alazani Valley.
Perhaps aware of Hillary Clinton's fondness for cutting loose with a bottle of brew in hand, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili hosted the visiting American Secretary of State at a wine-filled dinner at restaurant in the Black Sea resort town of Batumi. Reports the, ahem, Daily Mail (in a photo-filled dispatch):
Hillary Clinton made sure to have a little fun on her latest official trip by taking some time out to taste the best wine that Georgia had to offer.
The Secretary of State seemed to be in high spirits as she chatted with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and surveyed a variety of wine at the Adjarian Wine House in Batumi, a beach town decidedly off the beaten path of high-level political conferences.
She was pictured trying at least three different variations of the restaurant’s vintages, and laughing with the President and First Lady over champagne when they first sat down to dinner.
Culinary connoisseurs around the world, have we got news for you. A brandy-like drink will soon cascade from a fountain in the city of Batumi, Georgia's up-and-coming party town on the Black Sea coast.
And we are not talking about just any kind of booze here. No less than Georgia's national hard liquor chacha -- sometimes defined as grape brandy or grappa, sometimes as grape vodka, but always no less than chacha -- will gush once a week from a tower in the central part of town. "Once a week, for 10 to 15 minutes, chacha will flow from this fountain instead of water. Tourists will have an opportunity to taste the traditional drink," Mayor of Batumi Robert Chkhaidze told Georgian television.
Georgia has been going out of its way to attract tourists and Batumi, its star tourist project, now offers wonderfully tacky attractions ranging from wedding-cake buildings to Dubai-style glass towers and an upcoming aerial tramway.
The price tag for this latest addition -- described, with a straight face, as "Georgia's first chacha tower" -- has not been released, but the city government hopes that the fountain will attract an ever larger crowd of visitors.
As previously reported on this blog, the ancient Georgian tradition of making wine in clay jars (known as kvevri) has not only been making a comeback in its birthplace but has started to gain a strong reputation globally. So can the kvevri craze help turn things around in Georgia, especially in terms of developing both the country's wine and tourism industries? The BBC, in a recent report, tries to answer that question by taking a look at the trials and tribulations of a set of twin brothers who are trying to revive their family's kvevri-centric 200-year-old winery. The report can be found here.
As recently reported in a EurasiaNet story and in a post on this blog, the ancient Georgian winemaking tradition known as kvevri (letting the wine age in large clay vessels) is staring to get serious international attention.
The trend has now been noticed by Newsweek, which has just come out with a good story about some of the winemakers outside of Georgia who are now making kvevri wine and about an outfit in Virginia that is using the clay casks to make the world's first kvevri-style cider. From the article:
One of the new Italian converts to qvevri is Elisabetta Foradori. Pouring her rare white, floral wine made from the Nosiola grape, she explains why she loves the qvevri. “My wines find their identity in them so much sooner.” All her production is now in qvevri, even though—don’t tell the Georgians—she too calls them amphorae.
Others have added their own twist to the traditional style. Austrian Bernhard Ott makes a Grüner Veltliner labeled, simply, Qvevri. He picks his chemical-free grapes by hand. He crushes them without machinery. He pours the wine, complete with skins, seeds, and stems, into the qvevri, mimicking the way the Georgians vinify their reds. But instead of marinating his wine for a few weeks, he allows the juice to commingle with its parts for months, resulting in a slight orange color and some gritty tannin. After the wine is finished fermenting, he seals the qvevri hermetically with clay and dirt. He then forgets about the wine. Eight months later, he pries the lid open to find the crud sunk to the bottom. This is extreme hands-off winemaking. “The most pure, clear wine is left when the qvevri is opened up,” he says. David Schildnecht, who covers Austria for The Wine Advocate, calls Ott’s Qvevri “revelational.”
EurasiaNet's ace Georgia correspondent Giorgi Lomsadze recently filed a great report about the resurgence of wine made using traditional clay vessels known as kvevri, which are buried in the ground while the wine ages. His story, with great photos by Temo Bardzimashvili, can be found here.
In order to dig deeper into what Georgians think of kvevri wine, I sent Giorgi a few questions. Our exchange is below:
As often is the case with artisanal things like kvevri, sometimes outsiders have more of an appreciation for it than locals. Do Georgians care much for this type of wine?
Most Georgians believe that the best wine is the one you get from a man in the village, not from a wine shop. So there is an appreciation of kvevri wine. However, it is not as easily available as wines made by big companies. Kvevri wine you either get from a friend or buy in a few specialized shops.
Up until now, was kvevri wine culture being preserved or was it on its way out?
In the Soviet times, the kvevri culture went underground – quite literary. Wineries in Kakheti filled kvevris with earth and fully buried them underground to make way for other types of containers, which were better fit for mass production. Many individual farmers, however, kept to the many-generations-old traditions of kvevri. In a recent trend, wineries started producing kvevri wine as they realize its market potential.
When looking at the total Georgian wine industry picture, where does kvevri wine fit in?
Kvevri wine makes for a fraction of the country’s total wine output as it is mostly produced by smaller wineries and individual farmers. Several large companies started making small amounts of kvevri wine too but mostly to cater to tourist interest. Wine industry analysts are saying that kvevri will not go mainstream, as it is expensive and time-consuming process.