For many wine lovers, Georgia is the ultimate bucket-list destination. Known as the ‘Cradle of Wine,’ the country’s rich history (over 8,000 vintages produced) has deemed it as the birthplace of fermented grape juice. Last month, I found myself seated at a café in Paris, when I unexpectedly received an invitation that I couldn’t refuse. The planned voyage was five days in eastern Europe’s winemaking mecca with three other wine professionals, travelling across the country to taste, see, and experience. Although I knew I’d be exhausted post-harvesting in Burgundy, this was an offer I couldn’t pass up. I last-minute accepted, and two weeks ago from yesterday, found myself on a flight to Tbilisi, the country’s bustling capital city.
Due to other prior engagements, I reluctantly had to cut my trip a day short, but the memories made within a short 96 hour period were some of the best in my life. Friends and family have been incessantly curious as to what the wines, food, and lifestyle were like over there; here’s a quick roundup of some of my personal highlights from four days in viticultural paradise.
As Americans, we’re accustomed to drinking wines that are predominantly fermented and aged in either stainless steel or oak. Georgia’s ancient winemaking techniques call for the use of quevris, which are clay terra-cotta vessels stored underground to ferment and/or age wine. These porous vessels allow for an exchange of oxygen, as is the benefit from aging in oak, without the imparted flavors of oak on the wine. Quevri wines are unique– and sometimes hard to understand at first, if not accustomed to the taste– but once you taste through a few, you’ll never want to go back.
COMMUNICATING WITHOUT WORDS
For those who know me, I’m lucky enough to have four solid languages under my belt. However, Georgian is not one of them– though in western Europe, this didn’t pose a problem at all. At dinner one night, I sat across the table from an older gentleman (seen above in the red and white plaid shirt) who didn’t speak any English. However, between gestures, facial expressions, and lots of wine, many laughs and beautiful moments were shared. By the end of the night, he hugged me tightly and kissed the top of my head, disappointed to see me go. I was reminded that with wine, it’s all about the emotions– words aren’t always necessary.
WHO RUN THE WORLD
In the entire country of Georgia, the number of women making wine can be counted on less than two hands. I had the extreme pleasure of meeting Baia, a beautiful woman in her early 20s, shaking things up in western Georgia. Her small vineyard covers just 1.5 hectares, but boy is she doing something fierce with it. Last year, she won the national prize for ‘Best Farmer,’ followed by receiving funding from the Obamas to further educate women on the practices of organic farming. Badass is an understatement.
ALL IN THE FAMILY
Meeting Zaza and Keto was an epic experience as well. Both husband and wife create funky natural wines that are oozing with life– though not together. Each spouse has their own winemaking project, though remain completely and utterly devoted to the ambitions of the other. Keto’s Naked Ojaleshi promotes a strong message, depicting a beautiful, naked woman in touch with nature and her natural being, alongside an image of the same naked woman ashamed and trapped in a cage. The text above reads ‘terroir vs. terror,’ a statement made to express the continuous suppression of women in Georgian society. Message aside, this wine may have been my favorite bottle from the entire trip.
Chacha, the infamous spirit distilled from leftover grape pomace, has been known as the backbone for insane nights and unforgettable stories since the beginning of production. Let’s just say I had my fair share, too…
As a vegetarian and certified picky eater, meal time on press trips can be the bane of my existence. Not in Georgia, though. Soft, pillowy breads, endless varieties of creamy, salty cheese, grilled vegetables, earthy mushrooms… the list goes on.
When a tasting at Pheasant’s Tears alongside celebrated winemaker John Wurdeman is scheduled, you know it’s going to be good. When said tasting is followed by dinner at one of his restaurants, even better. One of his restaurants included a little decorated room, full of traditional Georgian relics and garb. When I (half-jokingly) asked if I could take the garb off the wall and wear it to dinner, his response was ‘why not?’ This may or may not have been a wine (ahem, cha cha) induced request. And it was granted. The look on the elderly Georgians’ faces as I strolled through the restaurant wearing said piece was absolutely priceless.
Every winemaker, business owner, museum curator, food preparer, had a heart of gold, full of hospitality and the desire to make our experience unforgettable. I arrived to Georgia with zero knowledge of the culture, language, or way of life, and left with countless stories, a few pounds gained, and a handful of new friends. Will I be back anytime soon? Definitely.