Georgia: The birthplace of winemaking

Angela Youngman


Deep in the heart of the Caucasus is a long-forgotten wine region that is steadily recapturing the attention of wine lovers everywhere. Drinking wine from Georgia is like stepping back thousands of years, for this is the birthplace of winemaking.

8,000 years of winemaking

It was over 8,000 years ago that grapes were first grown for winemaking in this area and nowadays there are over 500 varieties of indigenous grapes still in use. These varieties represent nearly one-sixth of all the world’s grape varieties and include many totally unique endangered versions. Saperavi and Rhatsiteli are among the most important grape varieties found throughout the country, while other popular ones include Aleksandrouli, Chkhaveri, Ojaleshi, and Otskhanuri Sapere.

Traditionally in Georgia wine producing was totally male dominated. This is now changing as Christine Deussen of WinesGeorgia.com explains, “There has been an entire revolution in Georgia’s wine scene thanks to the embargo Russia put on Georgian wine imports in 2006. The Georgian wine industry had to largely transform itself, resulting in a new generation – almost ‘breed’ – of winemakers, in particular those that focus on low-intervention wines.’ This is an era of artisan producers creating some of the most innovative, distinctive and unique wines in the world.

Georgia is proud of its wines and rightly so. It is the only country in the world which has the longest unbroken tradition of winemaking. Even the words for wine – vin, vino and wine – are believed to originate in the Georgian word gvino. 

Regional wines

Although vineyards can be found throughout the country, by far the biggest number is found in Kakheti which has become the primary winemaking region. Both white and red wines are produced using a variety of methods including conventional European methods, the traditional Georgian method of fermenting wine in clay qvevris as well as various hybrid combinations. There is a thriving Organic wine sector, with companies such as Alapiani Winery using traditional dry farming grape varieties without filtration or chemicals to create the wine. At the Alaverdi Monastery, monks produce red and white qvevri wines within ancient wine cellars built hundreds of years ago.

Many of the Georgian vineyards also produce a very unique alcoholic drink known as Chacha. This is a type of brandy or vodka, created out grape pomace, with the residue left after making wine. Only one distillation is required within a traditional copper or stone zoad. Every version has a distinctive taste but all have a very high alcoholic content for example Qilipa’s Chacha is 49% alcohol and is aged in oak barrels and filtered with coal. While most wine producers will have their own versions of Chacha, visitors to Tbilisi can discover the vast range available in the only Craft Chacha shop known as Chacha Corner. Typical brands include Armazi Distillery, Khirsi Monastery, Tanini, and Tibanni 52 Degrees.

Vineyards to visit

Visitors are spoilt for choice when it comes to deciding which Georgian vineyards to visit. The choice is enormous. By far the easiest regions to reach are Kakheti, Kartli and Imereti according to Christine Deussen of WinesGeorgia.com. She recommends the Schuchmann vineyard in Kakheti as this is overseen by one of Georgia’s top winemakers and produces both European and qvevri style wines. Chateau Mukhrani in Kartli is also worth exploring as they also make qvevri and European-style wines. It has been producing wine here since the 1800’s and also has a really nice restaurant. Within Imereti, Baia’s Wine is worth a visit. A family based business, it also includes a hotel, restaurant, and produces delicious qvevri wines.

Obtaining the help of a guide is recommended when searching out more remote wine growing areas, as GPS doesn’t always work and roads can be tricky to navigate. Christine has no hesitation about recommending the Natenadze vineyard in Meskheti as a place to try something different since Giorgi, the winemaker, aims to ‘rescue’ and use grape varieties said to be ‘on the edge of distinction’. He even knocks on cottage doors to take cuttings from people’s vines. Some of the wine he produces is made from grapes produced by 400 year old giant vines he found growing wild in the woodlands.

Over in the Samegrelo area, the Oda Family Winery is highly recommended. As Christine explains, it is unusual because both the husband and wife make wines under separate brands. Apart from discovering the stunning wine being produced here, visitors can also enjoy a great outdoor restaurant with food produced within Oda’s smokehouse. 

Travelling in Georgia

The main international airport used by travellers to Georgia is based at Tbilisi, the capital of the region. In order to reach the various vineyards, hiring a car is the best option, unless you have booked on one of the many guided wine tours operated by various tour operators. Apart from the vineyards, there are many other attractions worth visiting including the botanical garden in Batumi, the city of Mtsketa which is one of the oldest cities in Georgia while Tbilisi itself has a stunning hilltop Narikala fortress as well as many medieval churches. The countryside is extremely picturesque, ranging from flat farmland to high mountains of the Caucasus. 

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