About Georgian Wines
Wine lovers have a lot to thank Georgia for. It is widely believed that this is where wine production first began, over 7000 years ago. In fact, our word “wine” is derived from “gvino” – the Georgian word for wine. Archaeological remains suggest that as early as 4000 BC grape juice was being placed in underground clay jars, or quevri (also known as kvevri), to ferment during the winter.
The vine is central to Georgian culture and tightly bound to their religious heritage. It is common for families throughout Georgia to grow their own grapes and produce wine. Feasting and hospitality are central pillars of Georgian culture, and traditional banquets are presided over by a toastmaster, or Tamada, who proposes numerous toasts throughout the meal, and ensures the wine flows liberally.
Georgia is a land famed for its natural bounty. These days there are over 500 species of grape in Georgia, a greater diversity than anywhere else in the world, with around 40 of these grape varieties being used in commercial wine production. Conditions are well suited for viticulture: summers are rarely excessively hot, winters are mild and frost-free. In addition, the mountains around the vineyards are full of natural springs, and rivers drain mineral-rich waters into the valleys. All this means that Georgian wines have a reputation for being exceptionally pure.
Around 150 million litres of wine are produced each year in Georgia, with around 45 000 hectares of vineyards under cultivation. There are 18 Specific Viticulture Areas (a local analogy of the Controlled Appellations of Origin) where the grape variety, planting density and yield per hectare is controlled by Ministry of Agriculture, and where the grape yield per hectare is limited to 8 tons.
Georgia’s wines fall into several zones: Kakheti and Kartli in the east, and Imereti, Samegrelo, Guria, Ajaria, and Abkhazia in the west. By far the most important of these is Kakheti, which produces 70% of all Georgian wine. The map below shows where these can be found, along with the most important Specific Viticulture Areas.
As interest in natural and artisan wine making increases, a great deal of attention has recently been falling on Georgia’s ancient tradition of quevri wine-making. This method of wine-making dates back over 7000 years, and the Georgians are currently seeking to give it special protected heritage status through UNESCO. Quevris are not the same as amphora – firstly, they are much larger, and are buried in the ground up their neck, to preserve a stable temperature. Secondly, the entire wine making process takes place within the quevri – initial fermentation right through to maturation, with the fermenting grape juice often being left on the skins and even grape stems to produce wines of exceptional flavour and complexity. Quevris are used differently in different areas of Georgia, often depending on the climate of the region. As the regions get hotter the more skins and stems tend to be fermented with the grapes – if stems were left in the wine in the cooler regions it would produce wines that were far too “green” and harsh.
Installing quevris at the winery
Quevris once buried in the ground
One of Georgia’s other great wine making traditions, which one cannot help noticing when coming across these wines for the first time, is its semi sweet wines, which appear in both red and white varieties. The Georgian Wine Society stocks a number of these wines, including the famous Kindzmarauli, the less well known but highly regarded varieties of Ojaleshi and Pirosmani, and the magisterial Khvanchkara, the favourite wine of one of Georgia’s most infamous sons, Joseph Stalin.
Traditionally, medium sweet wines were produced in the mountainous areas where, due to climate and soil conditions, late harvest and early winter prevented fermentation and the wine stayed sweet. This type of wine was therefore generally used for local and quick consumption, because in spring, when the temperature rose, the wines tended to re-ferment and spoil. Nowadays, famous Georgian semi-sweet wines such as Kindzmarauli and Khvanchkara tend to be created within temperature controlled fermentation tanks at the winery to preserve their higher sugar content.
There has never been a better time to bring Georgian wines to the UK public. New levels of investment in the Georgian wine industry mean new and fabulous wines and grape varieties are continually emerging from the country, whose wines deserve to be in the cellars of any serious wine devotee. We hope you enjoy them.