Wine Lovers Will Be Delighted
Wine is a central part of Georgian life and the tradition of qvevri wine making has even been added to the UNESCO’s world intangible heritage list. Grapevines love the climate in Kakheti along the Alazani river valley and most vineyards can be found around Telavi but they can be seen all over the region. Wine lovers will be delighted that some of the wineries in and around Telavi have opened their vineyards to independent visitors to sample their excellent wines (but expect to pay a fee) and tour the grounds.
Visiting a Family Winery
We were lucky, the family of friends of ours from Germany own one of Gerogia’s largest and perhaps the most successful winery (for privacy reasons I will not mention the name). While we were not able to visit their vineyard near Telavi, we were given the chance to visit part of the wine cellars and watch the process of cacha being distilled in front of our eyes in a small village near Tbilisi.
First, Meet the Kittens
Jerome had agreed with his friend to spend another day together and to spend the afternoon at Tbilisi Sea. However, before heading to the reservoir we were invited to explore the nearby wine cellar and offices. Jerome and his friend had another ulterior reason for visiting the winery, little kittens were born and Jerome was eager to see them. The cats were kept in an empty pool on the winery’s grounds and after we had admired the tiny, fluffy creatures we were shown around the buildings.
The Modern Wine Cellar
In the wine cellar we discovered modern machinery to fill the wine bottles and cool rooms where crates of wine and liquor bottles were stored. We were then led into the heart of the wine cellar, an extensive area packed with large metal vessels. Modern stainless-steel tanks had replaced wood and concrete after Georgia’s independence, holding the grape juice until the liquid matured and aged sufficiently to then be filled into bottles and sold on. Jerome and his friend enjoyed climbing up onto the narrow walkways above the wine barrels, like they had done between the caves at David Gareji.
Traditional Georgian Clay Bottles
Under the roof of the building we found a vast storage room, filled to the brim with traditional, old, but empty, clay carafes, the original Georgian wine bottles. Interestingly shaped and beautifully decorated, they used to provide a worthy vessel for the heavenly drink but sadly have become unpopular due to the high production costs, each bottle was hand made, and clay also had delivery and packing issues compared to glass. According to our friend, the clay bottles were designed by the owner, her father, a man of many talents, besides making great wines. I immediately fell in love with the carafes and was overjoyed when I was gifted a few to take home, they now proudly stand in our apartment, I use them as flower vases and candle holders and they remind me daily of our travels through Georgia.
The main floor of the building, housed the offices and a meeting room, where prospective buyers are offered a complimentary wine tasting. We were in awe of the owner’s office and neighbouring small laboratory on our little tour. Stepping back in time, we were transported back to our school days by entering the lab room. The 1970’s style decoration and equipment, originally from East Germany, strongly reminded us of past chemistry lessons. Even now, despite years of experience in winemaking and many medals, viticulturists (winemakers) constantly try to perfect their wines and experiment with tastes and notes in sherry and the local cacha.
Exploring the Offices
The owner welcomed us warmly in his office filled with personal mementos, pictures painted by Jerome’s friend and her sisters and his collection of string puppets, designed and fabricated by himself of course. The room’s wall was padded, reminiscence of offices from politicians in the Soviet era and lined with awards for his alcoholic grape juice. Sadly the owner of the winery did not speak any English and our friend had to step in as a translator her grandfather’s words for us. I am sure he could tell many hour long and exciting stories about his life in Georgia and wine making.
After touring the main buildings we sat down to sample the wines. I had to be careful to not drink too much, I still had to drive! Chris and our friends however were delighted to have a few glasses despite it being early afternoon! The owner explained the differences of the red and white wines to us and did you know they even have orange and of course rose wines in their wine selection? Chris seemed impressed by the quality and taste of the wine, as it is rare to drink Georgian wines in Germany or England. In fact most of their wines were exported to Japan and China, plus of course north to Russia, with China presenting an increasing demand of Georgian wines.
Qvevri, Clay Wine Casks in the Underground
To finish the wine tasting, we wandered out into the garden. There we had to mind our steps, minding the holes in the ground, where the qvevri (large sealed clay casks) were buried in the earth. A group of local women sat below a blue tarpaulin sheet, mashing plums through a sieve into a bucket underneath, its juice would then be used for the cacha (local liquor). It was fascinating to watch the women at work and chattering away.
Nearby a distillery was set up for brewing cacha, tiny drops of the clear alcoholic liquid dripping straight into bottles. An employee of the winery welcomed us and immediately offered Chris and me a glass filled with the alcohol. I refused but Chris sampled the Georgian spirit and again was surprised by the smooth taste, confessing it tasted almost better than most brandies he sometimes enjoys to drink. I think he would have happily drunk more of the local booze and I had to tear him away, otherwise we would have never reached Tbilisi Sea for a swim!
Thanks for an Exciting and Fascinating Visit
The kids were still engrossed with the kittens and Jerome was totally in love with the ginger tomcat, he would have smuggled him back to England given the chance! After promising them to briefly return that evening we said goodbye and thanked the family of the winery for our exciting and fascinating visit.
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