Georgia is a small country on the far eastern edge of Europe beyond Turkey and nestled under the massive Greater Caucasus mountains. Although the country is fairly small its climate varies enormously, ranging from semi-tropical on the Black Sea, to semi-desert-like conditions in the east of the country, and from temperate in centre, to alpine in the mountains.
The Georgians seem to have been settled in their current location since time immemorial and their language is extremely ancient. The earliest evidence (grape seeds and tartaric acid residues in pots) dates Georgian wine to the early Neolithic era. It seems likely that the first wine was made here around 10,000 years ago when the first pots were made and it was from here that the grape vine started its journey around the world. The Georgian wine culture has been continuous here ever since. It really is the ‘cradle of wine’.
Indeed some of the wine is still made in Amphorae (Qvevries) that are buried underground in the ancient manner. This small country has at least 520 identified native grape varieties. (It is believed that before Phylloxera, there were as many as 2500).
Georgian wine used to largely be sold in the old Soviet Union where it had the reputation of being the best wine available. Massive wine plants were built and particularly under Stalin, wine production soared. The Industry was hit hard by Gorbachov’s anti-alcohol drive and all but collapsed when Russia embargoed Georgia’s products in 2008. Since then, the situation has stabilized, other Eastern European wines have increased imports, and some of the best Georgian wines have started to appear in the West.
The majority of the vineyards are in the east of the country in the Kakheti and it is largely here that the traditional Amphora or “Qvevri” (pronounced “Quevri”) wines are made. A reasonable amount of wine is still made in clay pots, that are buried underground. So, the quality of these wines is uneven but that can be put right and is no reason to stop doing this. The craft of making qvevries that dates back over the millennia, now rests in the hands of 3 old men. Here the Georgians have already taken action, under the leadership of the Church, they have founded a school of traditional winemaking and the studies will include the manufacture of qvevries.