Friday, October 11, 2019

Georgia Wine Tour 2019: Discovering the Birthplace of Wine

Pictures: Georgia Wine Tour 2019: Discovering the Birthplace of Wine

Annette and I spent a week in Georgia, the small country that used to be part of the Soviet Union, located between the Black See and the Caspian See. The area is considered to be the birthplace of wine. Research indicates that wine has been made in Georgia for 8000 years. There are over 500 indigenous grape varieties in Georgia. Traditionally, wine in Georgia has been made (fermented and aged) in amphoras burried in the ground.

This was a group-tour of the Collegium Vini, an association of wine lovers in the Frankfurt/ Germany area, of which we are members. The tour was organized by GEORGIENREISEN. Co-owner Tea Totogashvili was our guide. The focus of the tour was on culture and wine.

Pictures: Georgia

Georgia Georgia is a country in the Caucasus region of Eurasia. Located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, it is bounded to the west by the Black Sea, to the north by Russia, to the south by Turkey and Armenia, and to the southeast by Azerbaijan. The capital and largest city is Tbilisi. Georgia covers a territory of 69,700 square kilometres (26,911 sq mi), and its 2017 population is about 3.718 million. Georgia is a unitary parliamentary republic, with the government elected through a representative democracy.

During the classical era, several independent kingdoms became established in what is now Georgia, such as Colchis and Iberia. The Georgians officially adopted Christianity in the early 4th century. The Georgian Orthodox Church had enormous importance for spiritual and political unification of early Georgian states. A unified Kingdom of Georgia reached its Golden Age during the reign of King David the Builder and Queen Tamar the Great in the 12th and early 13th centuries. Thereafter, the kingdom declined and eventually disintegrated under hegemony of various regional powers, including the Mongols, the Ottoman Empire, and successive dynasties of Iran. In the late 18th century, the eastern Georgian Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti forged an alliance with the Russian Empire, which directly annexed the kingdom in 1801 and conquered the western Kingdom of Imereti in 1810. Russian rule over Georgia was eventually acknowledged in various peace treaties with Iran and the Ottomans and the remaining Georgian territories were absorbed by the Russian Empire in a piecemeal fashion in the course of the 19th century.

During the Civil War following the Russian Revolution in 1917, Georgia briefly became part of the Transcaucasian Federation and then emerged as an independent republic before the Russian army invasion in 1921 which established a government of workers' and peasants' soviets. Soviet Georgia would be incorporated into a new Transcaucasian Federation which in 1922 would be a founding republic of the Soviet Union. In 1936, the Transcaucasian Federation was dissolved and Georgia emerged as a Union Republic. During World War II, almost 700,000 Georgians fought in the Red Army against the Germans. After Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, a native Georgian, died in 1953, a wave of protest spread against Nikita Khrushchev and his de-Stalinization reforms, leading to the death of nearly one hundred students in 1956. From that time on, Georgia would become marred with blatant corruption and increased alienation of the government from the people.

By the 1980s, Georgians were ready to abandon the existing system altogether. A pro-independence movement led to the secession from the Soviet Union in April 1991. For most of the following decade, post-Soviet Georgia suffered from civil conflicts, secessionist wars in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and economic crisis. Following the bloodless Rose Revolution in 2003, Georgia strongly pursued a pro-Western foreign policy; aimed at NATO and European integration, it introduced a series of democratic and economic reforms. This brought about mixed results, but strengthened state institutions. The country's Western orientation soon led to the worsening of relations with Russia, culminating in the brief Russo-Georgian War in August 2008 and Georgia's current territorial dispute with Russia.

Georgia is a developing country and ranks 70th on the Human Development Index. The country is a member of the United Nations, the Council of Europe, and the GUAM Organization for Democracy and Economic Development. It contains two de facto independent regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which gained very limited international recognition after the 2008 Russo-Georgian War. Georgia and most of the world's countries consider the regions to be Georgian territory under Russian occupation.

Wine in Georgia/ Paul Rimple CNN

Six thousand years before Christ turned water into wine, the ancestors of modern-day Georgia were turning grapes into it. It's thanks to these imaginative Stone Age sapiens that today we enjoy Gamay from Beaujolais, Chianti from Tuscany, Rioja from Navarro and Cabernet Sauvignon everywhere from France to New Zealand.

Varietals from the birthplace of wine, however, have remained largely unknown to Western palates -- until now.

Today, Georgian wine is recovering from nearly 100 years of isolation and destruction by a system that industrialized viniculture and institutionalized the practice of making bad wine. The small country -- about the size of West Virginia -- was the chief provider of wine to the entire USSR.
But because the Soviets prized quantity over quality, they mostly cultivated the high-yielding red Saperavi and white Rkatsiteli grapes and put scores of remarkable but low-yielding indigenous vines under the plow.

Although 563 varietals had been recorded, Communists made just seven varieties of wine.
Adding sugar and water to the wine ensured the Kremlin's quotas were met. Villagers also adopted the practice to stretch what little wine they could afford to make.

Traditions lost

Monks in Georgia have been making wine since the sixth century. Their traditional methods are now winning international awards.

"We lost a lot of our traditions," says Vakhtang Barnovi, a retired agriculture engineer from Akhalkalaki, in central Georgia.

"We used to have a 'green harvest,' when we trimmed the weak grapes from our vines so that the bigger grapes became stronger and acquired more sugar. The communists ignored that and just harvested all the grapes, big and small."

When the USSR collapsed, Georgia continued to export plonk to Russia, its main market.

"Everyone knows the Russians will drink anything," says Barnovi, citing a common refrain. If it was bottled in glass, it was bad. Good stuff came in used plastic bottles and jerry cans from friends and family in the villages while some wineries, like Sagarejo Georgia, were in the business of making good table wine for local restaurants.

March 2006 was a watershed moment when Russian President Vladimir Putin put an embargo on Georgian wine, eliminating 90% of the export market overnight.

The idea was to punish Georgia for its Western aspirations, but Putin ended up rescuing the wine industry as the country was suddenly forced to make good wine and look for more reliable trading partners.

"It was a big poke for small and big wine companies," confesses Malkhaz Kharbedia, president of the Georgian Wine Club.

The Rebirth of Georgian Wine

While large wineries expanded their market to China, Central Asia and parts of Central Europe, small, family winemakers began bottling wine for sale. They exploited a niche that no one could compete with; an 8,000 year-old tradition of making natural wines in kvevri, large terracotta amphoras buried in the ground.

"Before 2007 there was virtually no bottled kvevri wine in Georgia," Kharbedia says -- it had stopped in the industrialization of communism.

While kvevri wine only makes up about three percent of Georgia's wine export, it is responsible for 100% of the buzz. Virtually every story written about Georgian wine mentions the kvevri, along with amber wine -- the technique of making white wine with skin maceration. It's bolder and more tannic than conventional whites.

In the West, where it's called "orange wine," it's seen as a new trend. Georgians, however, have been using this method since winemaking began.

There are over 500 indigenous grape varieties in Georgia, many of which are only now being rediscovered and nursed back to life.

The eastern region of Kakheti is a huge grape basket and accounts for some 60% of the country's vineyards. Shida Kartli in central Georgia is an under-recognized wine region that was once famed for producing wine for Georgian kings, whose rule came to an end in the 19th century.

Imereti in the west has a milder climate -- its grapes pack more acid and are typically pressed into wine with no skin contact. Racha, a tiny mountain region is renowned for its sophisticated vintages, despite being the smallest wine producer in the country.

Pictures: Premium Qvevri Wine and Mass Wine Production in Georgia

Wine in Georgia/ Andrew Jefford on a new era for Georgian wine

The country’s traditional wine specialities are culturally fascinating and globally unique (Financial Times, August 3 2018)

On New Year’s Day this year, Georgia and China implemented a free-trade agreement. In Beijing and Tbilisi, glasses were doubtless raised in celebration — as they should have been for a deal that linked the world’s two oldest alcoholic-beverage cultures. Organic residues found in pottery from the Chinese Neolithic village of Jiahu in Henan province furnish the earliest attested traces of consumption of alcohol by our species: the villagers, between 9,000 and 7,700 years ago, seem to have drunk a mixture of wine fermented from either grapes or hawthorn fruits mixed with rice beer and mead. Archaeologists working in Georgia, meanwhile, revealed in November 2017 that the world’s oldest pure grape-wine residues had been found in two Neolithic villages, dating back about 8,000 years. China can claim to have fermented the world’s oldest drink, and modern Georgia the world’s oldest wine.

Thanks in part to the trade deal, China is now Georgian wine’s third-largest global customer, well ahead of the US and individual European importers, and trailing only the traditional markets of Ukraine and Russia. Georgian wine exports are boisterous, with a 21 per cent rise in quantity and a 28 per cent increase in value over the past six months. Much Georgian wine is inexpensive. That’s a plus for China, where wine remains a luxury purchase for most. It’s not, though, the only reason.

“The antiquity is very important,” Levan Davitashvili, the Georgian minister of agriculture and environment, told me when we met over dinner in the capital Tbilisi in March. “I would say that Chinese consumers are very sensitive to traditions and cultures. They are very proud of having over 3,000 years of written history, just as we are proud of having an uninterrupted culture of wine for thousands of years . . . [However], Georgian wines are not cheap compared with many New World and European competitors.”

Well, some aren’t. “Most of the trade to both Russia and China is below $2 a bottle,” says George Margvelashvili, who runs the quality-focused wine producer Tbilvino with his brother Zurab. “That’s not good for Georgia. Because we have been buying quality grapes, we haven’t allowed ourselves to be part of that.” Tbilvino’s ex-cellar export price begins at $3 a bottle for both Russia and China; Russia takes 30 per cent, and China 12 per cent.

Philippe Lespy, a former vineyard manager of Bordeaux first growth Ch Mouton-Rothschild and now chief winemaker for the Georgian Wines and Spirits Company (GWS), says: “People have a sympathy for Georgia. But the good feeling is just a feeling. It’s not enough in commercial terms, when we have competitors who are selling wine at a dollar a bottle. We need to have a standard level and we need to have a grand cru level. Every company should try to produce 15 per cent at a grand cru level, and with those wines we can develop the reputation of the country. Russian consumers are ready to buy Georgian wines at $30 a bottle, which means an ex-cellar price of $10. But growing exports at $2 a bottle is not good news at all.”

What should Georgia’s grand cru (the French term meaning “great growth” or “great site”) wines be? Georgia has lustrous estates of aristocratic origin, such as Château Mukhrani and Tsinandali Estate; quality at both has surged since my last visit to Georgia in 2013, and both now produce elegant, gastronomically subtle wines admirably suited for restaurant fine dining. Outstanding Georgian single-vineyard wines, though, are still rare. Prestige for Georgia tends to attach not to wines of place, but to wines of method— and especially the method of fermenting both red and white wines with their skins, pips and stems in a large clay jar, or qvevri, buried in the earth. After fermentation, white qvevri wines are sealed and left for six months or more, with much smaller additions of sulphur than might be found in conventionally vinified wines. Sounds risky? It is. Therein lies more Georgian controversy.

“This Russian roulette has to stop,” says Koka Archvadze, deputy director of Tsinandali Estate. “Most people agree, but do so secretly.” He’s referring to the fact that the global natural-wine movement has made Georgia its lodestar, championing Georgian skin-contact white wines (which tend to be called amber in Georgia and orange elsewhere) and amphora-fermented wines of all sorts. If made with the care and skill of Giorgi Dakishvili and his son Temur of Orgo, Vita Vinea and Dakishvili Family Selection wines, for example, the acclaim is justified.

Some exported wines of this sort, though, have been defective and fault-ridden, and many of those crafting Georgian wine are unhappy to see the country too closely associated with fashionable but sometimes feral “natural” wines. “You need to have perfect grapes to make good qvevri wine,” says Lespy. “If not, you will just have diseased wine.” The qvevri is a stern test, not a hipster choice. The risk to Georgia’s reputation is one reason why the country now requires compulsory tasting for export wines produced in volumes of more than 3,000 litres. “My personal passion,” says Archvadze, “would be to see traditional-style Georgian whites moving away from qvevri to steel and possibly oak.”

I doubt this will happen, nor would I wish it. Georgian traditional wine specialities are culturally fascinating, eerily beautiful and globally unique. Conventionally vinified Georgian red and white wines, by contrast, have to compete with every other red and white in the world. They have a distinctively Georgian appeal, thanks to regional differentiation and the country’s well-stocked library of indigenous grape varieties: the whites are fresh, blossomy, subtle and haunting, often light in alcohol by today’s standards; the reds (especially those from Saperavi) dark, urgent and vital. But they struggle to outshine great qvevri wines — such as the 2016 Orgo Rkatsiteli. Light amber in colour, with scents of rain on dry earth and with spotless, lightly grippy yet somehow plush flavours, this perfumed, mouth-filling, savoury-sweet nourishment is one of wine’s universal waymarks.

Pictures: Wine Regions and Grape Varieties In Georgia

Qvevri Winemaking: a Unique Georgian Tradition/ Tchotiashveli Estate

The history of Georgian viticulture and wine-making counts thousands of years. This was proved by number of ampelographic, paleo-botanic, archaeological, folk and linguistic sources.

In Georgia, the prints of the grape leaves are found in the layers of the last geologic era. The archaeological excavations found the grape seeds dated to 8000 years back, grape cutting device of the bronze era, wine keeping vessels and many other household tools for wine-making.

Together with other disciplines wine-making has been taught in Georgia already since VIII century at Ikalto Academy.

Today, Georgia is recognized as a cradle of winemaking where the wild species of vine are closely entwined with local indigenous species of vine.

Qvevri is the clay unique vessel, having history of 8 thousand years, which is used for making and storage of wine in Georgia.

The uniqueness of Qvevri is conditioned by the confluence of local natural properties. The mineral and chemical composition of clay, arrangement of sources, climate, the centuries-old passable and improved methods of production and ceramic-burning created Georgian winemaking.

In 2013 UNESCO gave the status of non-material cultural heritage monument to the method of making Georgian wine in Qvevri. It is also the acknowledgement of the fact that Georgia is the eldest cradle land of winemaking.

The method of building Qvevri passed from generation to generation and even today it is made with the use of unvaried traditional technology. In Georgia the Qvevri making is developed in Kakheti (village Vardisubani), Guria (village Atsana) and Zemo Imereti.

The clay used for making Qvevri is mined in high-mountain regions' layers for centuries. The clay that is mined here is rich with gold, other basic metals and lime. Lime is natural antiseptic which destroys harmful bacteria that form about 400 different wine diseases.

Mixing of clay and building of Qvevri is the step-by-step process executed with hands, the final result of which depends on tinman's handicraft. For building Qvevri with the capacity of 1000 liters is needed approximately 2 weeks. Wall construction process goes on with 10-15 centimeter layers, which can be built on one another only after drying of previous layer. The built Qvevri is naturally dried during 3 weeks and obtains primary solidity; afterwards it is moved to special furnace where it is burnt during 7 days and nights keeping temperature conditions. The burnt Qvevri is been hardened. During one month in the result of self-tightening it obtains complete solidity.

Finished Qvevri is placed into the ground in previously picked up and prepared place. In Qvevri that is placed into the ground is set microclimate, in the conditions of which goes on the process of wine fermentation.

The temperature in Qvevri is stable. It constantly preserves the temperature of 13-15°C that is needed for wine fermentation. In it naturally and one after another proceed those chemical processes which in the conditions of wine factory are executed with the use of special equipment and additives. In the course of wine fermentation, it needs to be stirred often, 4-5 times a day. At the end of wine fermentation grape stones, pressed skins and bunches of grapes settle on the bottom of Qvevri. Under the influence of pressure grape stones will be covered with sediments in the result of which grape stones and wine will be separated from each other.

Qvevri wine generally means fermentation, rousing and then aging of concentrated grape juice with pressed skins in certain amount. Making wine in Qvevri on the basis of its own pressed skins is the first indispensable condition of this method. This indispensably happens as in the process of alcoholic fermentation so in the afterward period.

The wine made in Qvevri is absolutely exceptional product. From other wines it is differentiated with the qualities which are characteristic only for it: high energetic value, health-promoting effects and strengthens immunity. Wine is rich with phenol compounds and vitamins of various groups. It is differentiated with the high content of “PP” vitamin which feeds cardiovascular system.

Standing in the mouth of the giant brick-lined oven at the foot of his garden, Zaza Kbilashvili is clearly a man who’s happy in his work. As he entertains a group of wine merchants, sommeliers and journalists with the help of guide and translator Maka Tarashvili, he extols the virtues of the qvervi, the clay vessels used for centuries by Georgians to ferment and age their wines.

Kbilashvili represents the fourth generation of his family to make qvervi. His father was only able to continue the tradition during the Soviet era because their village of Vardisubani was so remote, escaping interference from the state infrastructure, which wanted winemakers to shift to modern techniques to mass-produce semi-sweet wine for the Russian market.

Qvevri Winemaking/ TheBuyer Peter Ranscombe October 1, 2019

...Each qvervi takes about three months to produce, including time for the clay to dry before being fired in the oven, which can hold eight 3,000-litre vessels and can reach temperatures of up to 1,200⁰C. Qvervi makers like Kbilashvili can produce up to 50 each year, using clay from the local forests and beeswax from the army of beekeepers whose hives line the local roads.

As well as his clear pride in the clay vessels he produces, Kbilashvili has another reason to smile – there’s a two-year waiting list for wineries that want to buy his hand-crafted qvervi. Stories of long queues for the containers are told again and again by winemakers throughout the Kakheti region, which produces 70% of the country’s wine.

Companies including Chelti Winery, Tsinandali Estate and Teliani Valley are “planting” or burying more qvervi in their wineries to increase their output. While many producers use a combination of both qvervis and more modern stainless steel tanks and oak barrels across their ranges, the clay pots are still not only a key part of the production process but clearly also a source of national pride for a country that’s been making wine continuously for 8,000 years.

Today, Russia continues to be Georgia’s largest market for wine, with semi-sweet reds flowing across the border, accounting for 30 million bottles from the country’s 50 million export total. Yet qvervis sit at the heart of the expansion of the country’s quality wine sector, with sales to the UK in the first eight months of the year rising by 65% year-on-year to 80,000 bottles.

Part of that growth is due to increasing consumer interest in orange or amber wines, which are made by leaving the skins of white grapes in contact with their juice to impart colour. In Georgia, many winemakers leave the juice on its skins for around six months in their qvervi.

My Take on Georgian Wine

Georgia is located in an area that is considered to be the birthplace of wine. Research indicates that wine has been made in Georgia for 8000 years. There are over 500 indigenous grape varieties in Georgia. Traditionally, wine in Georgia has been made (fermented and aged) in amphoras burried deep in the ground.

Georgia is a small, Christian country with a difficult history. In particular, it was part of the Russian Zsar's Empire. During that period the influence of French winemaking and French cuisine was important. More recently, Georgia was part of the Soviet Union. During the Soviet Union period Georgia was the chief provider of wine for the whole country.This was essentially low-cost mass wine shipped in tanks to all regions of the Soviet Union and bottled there. There was no commercial qvevri winemaking during the Soviet Union period. The commercial sector was dominated by huge stainless steel tanks to produce sweet-style wines.

After the break-up of the Soviet Union and various conflicts between Russia and Georgia, the Georgian wine sector has been adjusting to the new market conditions. The production of inexpensive, often sweet-style wines for Russia and other neighboring countries remains important.

At the same time, the amber wine revolution has discovered Georgia and Georgia has become an important player in the natural wine scene, including in New York, Berlin, London etc. But quevri wines account only for 3% of Georgia's wine exports. Still, they account for 100% of the buzz.

Tradionally, both red and white wine have been fermented and aged in quevris, burried in the ground for temperature control purposes. Basically each family in Georgia has a quevri where they make there wine in this ancient method. Typically, quevri wines are no-sulfur wines with natural yeast only. Whole-bunch fermentation is the rule. 

While the buzz is about the hard-core qvevri winemaking where the grapes are fermented with their skins, pips and stems and aged for an extensive period in a qvevri, you also find winemakers that combine the traditional Georgian approach with modern approaches like aging in barrels or fermenting in qvevris but without skins, pips and stems. 

Interestingly, not once went a winemaker with us to the vineyard and we did not have one single-vineyard wine in Georgia. In general it seems that vineyard issues are on the backburner in Georgia.

Sunday, August 18

Flight from Germany to Georgia

Night: Sheraton Grand Tbilisi Metechi Palace

The hotel was built in 1989 and opened in 1991. The hotel was among a few joint ventures with Western companies during the Communist period. The hotel underwent a mjor renovation in 2014/15.

Monday, August 19: Tbilis

Morning: City Tour of Tbilis

We spent the whole first day in Tbilis. With its dramatic valley setting, picturesque Old Town, eclectic architecture and superb eating and drinking opportunities, Tbilisi is the vibrant, beating heart of Georgia and home to more than one in three of its citizens. Add to that the pull of the city's hipster culture, its techno scene and general air of cool, and Tbilisi is confidently sealing its reputation as the South Caucasus' most cosmopolitan city.

While at first glance Tbilisi can seem both crowded and chaotic, many neighbourhoods retain a village-like feel with their narrow streets and small shops, while the Old Town is still redolent of an ancient Eurasian crossroads, with its winding lanes, balconied houses and leafy squares, all overlooked by the 17-century-old Narikala Fortress. Whichever side of the city you're looking for, you'll discover both on any exploration of Georgia's capital.

Lunch: Pur Pur Restaurant, Amir Shahzeidi: Purpur is a cozy, vintage, rustic restaurant situated in Lado Gudiashvili historic square, in Old Tbilisi. The restaurant is well known for its great food, staff and live jazz music. When I usually think of a good restaurant, I always look for a very modern, clean interior design, great food and service, but from time to time, I walk upon a spot such as Purpur, and I just get impressed solely by the interior design, the location, the feeling of calmness intertwined with a touch of nostalgia, and by the live jazz music. Going to Purpur feels every time like a time machine that moves me through time and space, and lands me in a planet where all my worries are gone. Purpur is one of the more expensive spots in Tbilisi. The food quality is sublime, the coffee is great, the staff are very friendly and fluent in English. Many great Georgian jazz musicians such as Reso Kiknadze (The rector of the Tbilisi State Conservatoire) have frequent live performances at Purpur restaurant.

Afternoon: City Tour of Tbilis

Dinner: Keta & Kote Restaurant , Toradze Street 3 A recently opened Georgian restaurant in Vera, an older area of Tbilisi, is a bit difficult to find. you need or google maps or a friend, who has already been here. The house has been transformed into a large restaurant featuring old Georgian balconies, corbels, wooden spaces architecturally with the interior a mix of modern sensibilities. The restaurant has large courtyard from where you can enjoy a wide, panoramic view of Tbilisi.

Well, the food is amazing here! The chef has a Megrelian surname, so please, Don’t leave “Keto & Kote” without trying Gebjalia & Elarji. They are traditional dishes from the Western Georgian region of Samegrelo, which is where the chef’s family is from. The restaurant also offers a wide diversity of local and foreign wines and homemade lemonades with berries.

The restaurant is very popular and among the very best that Tbilisi has to offer. Calling ahead for a reservation is suggested as it’s often packed with what dinner guests.

Night: Sheraton Grand Tbilisi Metechi Palace

Tuesday, August 20: Culture and Wine in Kartli

Morning: Visit of Mtskheta, the former Capital and Religious Center of Georgia, with Svetitskhoveli Cathedral and Jvari Monastery. Though Tbilisi is a hopping city with plenty to see and do, the nearby city of Mtskheta is a great day trip from Tbilisi. Mtskheta and the neighboring monastery of Jvari are both UNESCO world heritage sites, for good reason.

The Mtskheta area has been occupied since around 1000 BCE, and the inner city surrounding the central cathedral is quite charming with its cobblestone streets and mountainous backdrop. It is also one of Georgia’s oldest cities and its former capital. Mtskheta became a cultural heritage site in 1994.

The cathedral in the center of town, Svetitskhoveli, circa 300 CE-ish, is grand, awe-inspiring, and filled with plenty of beautiful icons to be kissed. There are also loads tombstones to be carefully skirted–or stomped upon, for the more antagonistic souls.

People claim that the cathedral is built upon the burial ground of *THE* robe of Christ. Which robe, I do not know. The explanation further states that a Georgian Jew bought the robe off of a Roman soldier, then brought it back to Georgia. Methinks the Roman was likely laughing all the way to the bank, but for the Georgians’ sakes, I hope his souvenir was worth as much as he paid for it.

There is also a pillar inside the cathedral made of a cedar tree, that is said to have cured diseases and healed blindness when touched.

Jvari Monastery: The monastery is, to put it frankly, in a freaking epic location, and provides an excellent vantage point of Mtskheta and the river around the town, Aragvi. It’s a bit smaller and younger than the cathedral in town, being built around 500 CE.

There are several other historical sites scattered around the city. These include the 3rd-century BC fortress of Armaztsikhe, the 11th-century Samtavro Monastery and, when the water is low, an old Roman bridge crossing the river.

Lunch: Tour and Wine-pairing Lunch at Iago Winery in Mtskheta, with Cult-winemaker Iago Bitarishvili

Iago Bitasivili introduced us to the ancient methode of making wine in Georgia in a qvevri. He showed us his winemaking facilities.

While we were there we could watch him and his team putting new quevris into the soil with a view of expanding his production.

After the tour, we sat down for lunch and were served 3 wines, (a) a white dry Chinuri fermented and aged in a qvevri without skin contact, (b) a white dry Chinuri fermented and aged in a qvevri with 6 months maceration and (3) red Chardaki Saperavi 2016

The Guardian - From Georgia to Lebanon: exploring the best wines of the ancient world (Chad Parkhill, Fri 27 Apr 2018)

Much of the current interest in Georgian wines is owed to Pheasant’s Tears, the winery founded in 2007 by American John Wurdeman and Georgian Gela Patalishvili, which has acted as an ambassador for Georgia’s traditional wine styles. But the real gem of Georgia’s producers may be Iago’s Wine, by the eponymous Iago Bitarishvili, who makes a minuscule 3000 or so bottles per year from only one white grape varietal, chinuri, which he vinifies in qvevri with skin contact (the resulting wine falls somewhere between a grippy white and a very light orange). At the other end of the accessibility scale is Tbilvino, the country’s largest exporter, which produces an array of simple yet delicious wines at pleasingly modest prices.

Iago Bitarishvili: Founded in 2003, Iago’s Wine is located in the village of Chardakhi. The company was the first in Georgia who received the first Bio Certificate in Georgia in 2005. The wine cellar produces 5000 bottles of white dried natural wines per year. At this stage 100% wine produced in the wine cellar exports. 2 hectares of vineyards whose age is 60 years old is one of the best and historically known places on the Mukhran Valley. The vineyard is cultivated in Mtskheta village. Chalk Traditional and ecological methods are used in vineyards, grapes and wine making processes. The company produces wine from one of the best Georgian varieties of grapes in the Chinuri traditional "traditional" queens.


Visit of Cave Town Uplistsikhe

Uplistsikhe (literally, "the lord's fortress") is an ancient rock-hewn town in eastern Georgia. . Uplistsikhe is identified by archaeologists as one of the oldest urban settlements in Georgia. Strategically located in the heartland of ancient kingdom of Kartli, it emerged as a major political and religious center of the country.

Visit of Gori, where Stalin was Born

Joseph Stalin (18 December 1878 – 5 March 1953) was a Georgian revolutionary and Soviet politician who led the Soviet Union from the mid–1920s until 1953 as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1922–1952) and Premier (1941–1953).

Dinner: Tabla Salon in Tbilisi Tabla restaurant consist of two floors: on the first floor you can find the clay oven where they make the traditional Georgian bread, and on the second floor you can enjoy live music in the evenings.

Tabla restaurant made me fall in love with Georgian cuisine. Most of their dishes consist of traditional Georgian dishes, but they prepare them exceptionally well. My personal favorite dish is the roast trout with almond sauce.

Tabla restaurant for me, is the place for family reunions. When my family and relatives come to Tbilisi, I always take them to Tabla to taste real Georgian food. And I think part of this is because Tabla is not only a restaurant, it’s part of Georgian culture: from live Georgian music to traditional interior design. Tabla also has a great variety of Georgian wine, so if you’re not sure which wine goes well with your food, you can always ask the staff for a recommendation. The service at Tabla is great, the staff is professional and always ready to take your order.

Night: Sheraton Tbilisi

Wednesday, September 18: In Wine Country Kakheti

We drove to Kakheti and spent 2 nights there. The eastern region of Kakheti is Georgia’s premier wine-producing area. Almost everywhere you go, you’ll be invited to drink a glass of traditional qvevri brew, and it’s easy to find yourself wandering around in a semipermanent mellow haze. Kakheti is also rich in history: here you’ll find the incredible monastery cave complex of Davit Gareja in a desolate spot overlooking the Azerbaijan border; the vaguely Tuscan-looking hilltop town of Sighnaghi; and many extraordinarily located churches and castles – both ruined and restored – around the charming regional capital, Telavi.


Visit of the Bodbe Monastery St. Nino is an essential figure in Georgia, as she brought Christianity to the land in the 4th century. Bodbe Monastery, located very close to Sighnaghi, is the final resting place of the saint. King Mirian initially built the church over her grave, but it has since been rebuilt and renovated several times.

Visit of Sghnaghi Being one of the smallest towns in Georgia, Sighnaghi is also one of the most charming ones, complete with breathtaking landscapes, cobblestone streets, and pastel-colored houses.

You can visit the Sighnaghi Museum, overlook the picturesque Alazani Valley, walk on the ancient defense wall of the city, or try some local wines at several wineries scattered across the area. And if you are traveling with your loved one, you can even get married at the civil ceremony office that’s open 24 hours a day.

Lunch: Wine-pairing Lunch at John Wurdman's Pheasant's Tears Restaurant in Sghnaghi

Favorite Wineries in Georgia, the Birthplace of Viticulture, September 18, 2018, by Hideaway Report Editor - Pheasant’s Tears: No list of top Georgian wineries dares to exclude this curiously named venture (the name refers to a Georgian folk tale). Georgian winemaker Gela Patalishvili persuaded an American expat artist, John Wurdeman, to found this winery in 2007. It has become perhaps the most famous in the country, notable for its dedication to and promotion of natural wine (made in qvevri organically and with minimal intervention). Its homey restaurant in Sighnaghi is an ideal place to try its excellent wines together with superb local cuisine.

Much of the current interest in Georgian wines is owed to Pheasant’s Tears, the winery founded in 2007 by American John Wurdeman and Georgian Gela Patalishvili, which has acted as an ambassador for Georgia’s traditional wine styles. The Guardian - From Georgia to Lebanon: exploring the best wines of the ancient world (Chad Parkhill, Fri 27 Apr 2018) Pheasant’s Tears is making boundary-pushing wines that constantly raise the bar for what is possible in Georgia. Their first harvest in 2009 included a few autochthonous grapes that had not been commercially bottled for hundreds of years. All of Pheasant’s Tears wines are fermented and matured in the qvevri. The winery is near the medieval hilltop town of Sighnaghi, in the Kakheti wine region.

John Wurdman: Pheasant’s Tears was born out of a love of authentic tradition, and culture and endless creativity. It is more than a winery, it's about songs, cuisine, art, heritage, tangible and intangible. For wine is born out of a confluence of the spirit of a place, its geology, its history, and the emotions of the vitner himself. In the end, a dialogue between nature and man, a fine tension between respect for the past and creating a new experience for tomorrow. Traditions here are seen as the nourishing soul for improvisation and respectful evolution.

Pheasant's Tears: Our wines at Pheasant’s Tears are fermented and aged in qvevri, a unique Georgian vessel used to ferment and store wine.

Qvevri were the first vessels ever to be used for wine fermentation, with archaeological finds dating back to 6000 BC. Qvevriare clay vessels lined with beeswax and completely buried under the ground where the temperature stays eventhoughout the year, allowing the wines to ferment in the natural coolness of the earth.

Pheasant’s Tears qvevrivary in age but, some date back to the mid 19th C. We built our cellar in the vineyard itself to minimize the damage to the grapes in transportation, allowing us to harvest and press before the hot hours of the sun. It is usually a question of hours before the harvested grapes are already pressed and in the cool qvevri.

In accordance with Georgian traditional winemaking methods, the ripest of stems are added to the grape skins, juice and pits, for both our reds and our whites. The maceration time depends on varietal and the size of the qvevri and varies between 3 weeks and 6 months.

Since all of our wines are aged exclusively in qvevri, no flavors are imparted from oak barrels. What some might consider a lack of oak we view as an opportunity to let the quality of the grapes and the resulting wine shine through.

Wine Enthusiast: Pheasant’s Tears Keeps Georgian Tradition Alive
By Ishay Govender-Ypma
Published on January 18, 2019

American artist John Wurdeman is recognized around the world for his paintings and his influential Georgian natural winery, Pheasant’s Tears. His story winds back to when he was 16 years old and became enamored with the region’s polyphonic folk songs.

After studying art in Moscow, he came to Georgia. Now, he promotes ancient Georgian wine tirelessly through the winery and his local restaurants, along with his wife, Ketevan Mindorashvili, who is a polyphonic musician and chef, as well as winemaker and business partner Gela Patalishvili.

What’s the relationship between Georgian wine, food and music?

When we started Pheasant’s Tears Winery and the restaurants, we looked at wine and cuisine as an extension of our ethnographic work. Ketevan was collecting traditional Georgian polyphonic songs, and my paintings [of local scenes] were financing the projects.

Georgian wines form a profound part of life here, and folks use it to celebrate even the ordinary. We have the tradition of the grand toastmasters and the supra [feasts]: Folk music and wine go hand-in-hand with food, a continuation of a very ancient tradition.

What draws you to Georgia?

It’s an ancient culture that’s still alive in spite of great periods of loss. We have an open society that is evolving, taking the wisdom of the past forward with creativity. To share these experiences with visitors, we created a specialized tour company, Living Roots, that delves into the history, winemaking and gastronomy still thriving in the countryside.

What do qvevri—terra cotta amphorae that traditionally were buried underground and used to make, age and store wine—mean to traditional Georgian winemaking culture?

When I met Gela, an eighth-generation winemaker from a farming family, in 2006, he was on a passionate quest to restore what was lost during the Soviet rule…The qvevri method was replaced by stainless steel and plastic barrels. Birds, snakes and bees were disappearing because of the rampant use of pesticides. We were fast losing the art of qvevri-making, too.

Qvevri wines showcase the elegance of the world’s oldest winemaking culture in a way where nature remains in control of the process.

Why do you advocate for natural wines?

Natural winemaking is simply a return to healthier farming and cellar practices before industrialization took place. If we are concerned about the provenance of the food we eat—how it’s treated, grown and harvested—then why not apply this ethos to our beverages?

Afternoon: Visit of the Tsinandali Estate

Favorite Wineries in Georgia, the Birthplace of Viticulture, September 18, 2018, By Hideaway Report Editor - The Tsinandali Estate in Tsinandali: The magnificent gardens and early-19th-century palace of this estate have been beautifully restored, and they merit a visit whether one drinks wine or not. The guided tour of the palace was fascinating. Prince Alexander Chavchavadze (1786–1846) introduced European-style winemaking to Georgia, and the wines produced by his label are delicious to this day. The palace’s basement tasting bar provides a surprisingly contemporary and stylish space in which to try them.

Tour at Schuchmann Wines

The Schuchmann complex consists of a winery and a hotel cum restaurant and spa. Upon arrival in the later afternoon, we had a bit of time to relax on the terrasse with a stunning view of the Caucasus Mountains. We then enjoyed a tour of the winemaking facilities, a seated tasting with Managing Director/ Assistant Winemaker Roland Burdiashvili and dinner. Most of us stayed at the Schuchmann hotel for the night. Some of us Hotel Château Mosmieri, a similar set-up, just a few minutes away.

Burkhard Schuchmann: It was a coincidence that during a transport-industry conference I attended in Berlin back in 2006 a number of colleagues drew my attention to Georgia. Months later I found myself traveling through this country for the first time in my life. As an industrial manager from the world of rail I was quite unprepared for the unspoilt natural beauty that greeted me. I vividly recall how quickly I developed close ties to the country and its people. Driven by my own enthusiasm and Georgian hospitality I dug deeper into this world of wines that have been have been produced here for millenniums.

Captivated by their quality I felt a need to draw attention beyond the boundaries of Georgia to both the traditional Georgian wines from Qvevris and those made to Western standards. For this dream to materialize, a team of enthusiasts was necessary led by George Dakishvili, winemaker and inspiration of the entire project. He is, in fact, the third generation of his family to have embraced the profession. From a tender age closely conversant with winemaking he has over the years, through training and experience, acquired the skills and cultivated the art essential to the realization of the project. His proficiency will put us in a position to create premium quality wines.

Schuchmann Wines Georgia: Georgia – a cradle of wine, the place, where a human grew the grape vine and tasted wine for the first time. During archeological researches in the village “Telavi” 8000 years old grape seeds were found in wine jugs, also ceramic jugs of the same age. This fact shows that winemaking in Georgia is 8000 years old.

To provide a basis Schuchmann acquired 120ha of land of which 60ha are currently under vines. Dark fertile soils offer an excellent basis for viniculture! The oldest vines were planted in 1986.

Two third of the portfolio is represented by Saperavi the leading red variety in Georgia. Deep in color with tannins and dark fruit notes. This grape offers excellent potential to produce great wine.

9 ha belong to Rkatsiteli which represents our main white wine. This variety offers a young, fresh and lively stile of wine.

The portfolio is completed by Chardonnay, Mtsvane, Kisi, Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

Qvevri wines are marketed under theVinoterra line and European-style wines ware marketed under the Schuchmann line.

Dinner: Tasting and Dinner at Restaurant Schuchmann, with Managing Director/ Assistant Winemaker Roland Burdiashvili

Managing Director/ Assistant Winemaker Roland Burdiashvili joined us for the wine tasting.

Night: At Hotel Château Schuchmann and Hotel Château Mosmieri

Most of us stayed at Hotel Château Schuchmann. Some of us stayed at  Hotel Château Mosmieri, a similar set-up, just a few minutes away.

Hotel Château Schuchmann

Hotel Château Mosmieri

Château Mosmieri: Georgia is the world’s oldest winemaking region where it all began some 8000 years ago. Since ancient times love to the wine has been deeply rooted in the cultural values, beliefs and customs of the Georgian people. From here viniculture started spreading around the globe.

Nowadays Georgian wine has again become a real discovery and a genuine paradise for anyone longing for something above and beyond ordinary taste and quality. Apart from its still existing unique technique of winemaking in clay vessels – qvevri – Georgia is home to more than 500 autochthonous varieties of grapes such as Saperavi, Rkatsiteli, Kisi, Mtsvane.

With ancient and modern winemaking equipment these varieties of grapes produce wines with aromas and tastes unknown anywhere else on earth. No wonder that Georgia has become a hot spot for winemaking creativity and palatable discoveries.

At Mosmieri we see ourselves as a driving part of the fascinating nascent story of Georgia’s vinicultural comeback to the international market. As Georgia’s wine future is certainly not in mass production we position ourselves in the premium segment where class is what matters. We are dedicated to use only local grape varieties historically grown in the Georgian region of Kakheti.

Our winery is an integral part of a wine touristic chateau designed in Georgian traditional style with modern elements. It is situated within vineyards and sits on a gentle slope overlooking the beautiful Alazani Valley and facing the snow-capped mountain range of the Great Caucasus. Apart from the wineries there is a large restaurant with bar for 250 persons, facilities for masterclasses (e.g. breadbaking in tone), a nice courtyard with cloister and fountain, a large lounge terrace, a watching tower, a wine store with winetasting area and a spacious storage rooms in the basement. Next to the existing complex we will soon start building a hotel with 23 comfortable rooms and an outdoor swimmingpool.

Our brand is named Mosmieri. In old-Georgian language this word stands for a person who drinks and appreciates wine. Welcome to our club.

Thursday, September 19: In Wine Country Kakheti

Kakha Tchotiashvili: Geographically Georgia is located at the crossroad of Europe and Asia, between the Black Sea and the Kaspian Sea, that greatly influence natural diversity of Georgia and creates wonderful environment for development of original and high quality viticulture and wine-making.

65-70% of Georgian vineyards are gathered in the ancient and unique region for viticulture and wine-making - in Kakheti. The mountain Tsiv-Gombori divides Kakheti region into two parts - inner and outer Kakheti. The Inner Kakheti is located along the gorge of the river ALazani, whereas the outer Kakheti lays along the gorge of the river Iori. The harvests of these two areas greatly differ from each other most probably due to the different c;imate conditions.

The scientists prefer the inner Kakheti area, where the most well known regions of Georgian quality wineries are located. This is the very micro-zone where our vineyards are located too.

Our vineyards are set from 600 to 700 m. altitude from the sea level, where the soil is rich of humus and carbonates. The annual sum of active temperature totals 3000-3500 degrees.


Visit of the Alaverdi Monastery  Alaverdi Monastery is a Georgian Eastern Orthodox monastery located 25 km from Akhmeta, in the Kakheti region of Eastern Georgia. While parts of the monastery date back to 6th century, the present day cathedral was built in the 11th century by Kvirike III of Kakheti, replacing an older church of St. George.

Before touring the monastery, we tasted some Mosmieri wines.

Tour and Tasting at Twins Old Cellar

BBC - My Business: From old cellar to successful winery: Twins Gela and Gia Gamtkitsulashvili came into the world together and they are still inseparable, even in business. They run a complex comprising wine cellars and a hotel, called the Twins Old Cellar, located in the Kakheti region in the eastern part of Georgia. They make their wine in clay vessels called kvevri in accordance with the traditional Georgian method. Today, a monumental kvevri stands outside the hotel building, a beacon drawing customers to the small village of Napareuli. This village, like the rest of rural Georgia, has struggled with poverty over the 20 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union. "There should be 40 to 50 cellars like ours and even bigger here. This is what I want to see in my village and places around here," says Gela Gamtkitsulashvili. "But the problem is our mentality, I think. Many people's minds are still in the Soviet time."

Georgia is famous for its wine among the former Soviet countries. But the industry suffered after the doors to its main export market - Russia - closed in 2006 due to an embargo from the country. Winemakers believe Georgia, with its rich history of viniculture, can make up for lost revenue by using wine to attract tourists to the area.

Gela and his twin had worked as construction engineers during Soviet times. After the collapse the brothers looked into starting their own businesses. "We tried different things from agriculture to distribution, but we had neither proper knowledge of, nor the frame of reference for, private business," says Gela.

The new life for the cellar started 12 years ago, after the twins returned from a government-backed tour of Austrian and German private businesses, where they had seen farms that were far from what they were used to in their village. "When we shared the idea of developing this business with friends, many laughed at us," says Gela. All they had at that time was an old ruined cellar with six remaining kvevri and nearly five more hectares of the vineyard which came into their hands after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Today they have 10 times more space and have to buy grapes from other areas in the region. They now sell wine from 107 of the kvevris.

Tour and Extensive Tasting at Tchotiashveli Estate, with Owner/ Winemaker Kakha Tchotiashvili and Light Lunch at Tchotiashveli Estate Kakha Tchotiashvili is an artisan winemaker with an established marani in the Kakheti region of eastern Georgia. He is focused on reviving ancient local varieties, and makes natural wines according to local traditions. His wines are made without any additives or chemicals in the vineyards or wine making. His wines are all produced in Qvevri; buried clay earthenware amphorae. All are fermented with wild yeast and bottled unfiltered. Kakha is a perfectionist, and he pays special attention to the vines and wines in all stages of vine growing and wine making. This allows him to produce precise and clean flavors from ancient methods. The production is limited, and the winemaker personally inspects each bottle before numbering it and releasing to wine lovers.

Kakha Tchotiashvili: Our company "Satsnakheli" produces 100% of natural, highest quality elite wines. The technology of family wine making passed on from generation to generation together with already traditional dedication to wine making, and our own vineyards located in unique geographic zone, as well as the technological lines produced by the widely known brands and the scientific approach gives us the opportunity to produce premium wines in rather smaller quantities.


Visit of Nekresi Monastery Nekresi is an ancient monastic complex located on the top of a mountain in the Alazani Valley in Kakheti. Many centuries ago there was once the eponymous city of Nekresi, the ruins of which can be seen from the height of the monastery.

The history of the monastery dates back to the times when Georgia was converted to Christianity. In the middle of the 6th century, Abibos – one of the Assyrian fathers also known as Aviv arrived in Kakheti with the aim of spreading and preaching Christianity. Father Abibos founded a monastery, which had great influence over the entire region for a long time. The political and cultural influence of Nekresi spread over the mountainous regions of the Eastern Caucasus. Due to this fact, Nekresi Monastery often became the target of enemy attacks. Father Abibos became bishop of Kakheti and the monastery of Nekresi became his residence. In addition to spreading the faith and teachings of Christ, the monastery was an important scientific and educational center of the region. Here monks studied theology, wrote and copied manuscripts.

Tour, Tasting and Dinner at Martali Wine, with Owners/ Winemakers Nikoloz Bitskinashvili, Nikheil Bitskinashvili, and Thomas Schubaeus

Thomas Schubaeus: Martali Wine was founded in 2016 by Nikoloz Bitskinashvili, his father Mikheil, and their German friend Thomas Schubaeus with the aim of producing high quality organic wines by adhering to traditional Kakhetian winemaking techniques dating back perhaps several millennia.

The company ́s name is derived from contemplations on the art of winemaking by famous 19th century nobleman, poet and politician Prince Ilia Chavchavadze, the „Father of modern Georgia“.

According to Ilia, a „Martali Wine“ is a wine that is authentic, pure and produced in a traditional fashion. Based in the village of Shashiani, Gurjaani Municipality, Kakheti, our Saperavi grapes are grown on 2,3 hectares in the renowned „Papris Mindori“ microzone in the village of Akhasheni overlooking the Alazani river valley and the snowy peaks of the eastern part of the Greater Caucasus mountain range. At an elevation of 400-500 meters above sea level, this area is characterized by soil made up of loam, gravel, alluvium, a bit of limestone, sandstone, and a hot, dry climate with little to no precipitation during the summer months. Our white grape varieties are grown in Shashiani itself, at about the same elevation and on a similar type of soil.

In our wine cellar (Marani), we are using traditional clay vessels (Kvevri) for the fermentation process, during which there is as little outside intervention as possible. The wine has full skin contact, and either half or all the branches remain in the kvevri. After fermentation, it is pumped out, and the vessels are thoroughly cleaned, before being refilled and sealed until December, when samples are taken for quality control. All our wines remain in the kvevri for at least six months. As of now we have produced 2017 Saperavi (Alc. 12,5%), 2017 Rkatsiteli (Alc. 13,4%), and 2018 Saperavi (Alc. 15,6%), as well as 2018 Mukuzani (Alc. 12,5%). Aside from degustations in our 120 year old Marani we also offer traditional Kakhetian feasts (Supra) in our family home ́s cozy yard or factory building, as well as master classes for bread baking, churchkhela-making, and preparing shashlik. We are looking forward to hosting you in Shashiani!

Night: At Hotel Château Schuchmann and Hotel Château Mosmieri

Friday, September 20: On the Georgian Military Highway to the Caucasus

We spent the whole day in the bus driving from Kakheti back to Tbilisi and on to Stepantsminda at the foot of the Kazbegi Mountain, close to the Russian border. We drove through the ski resort Gudauri. At 2300 meters, the Jvari pass was highest point on the trip. North from Tbilisi and up though the Caucasus to the Russian border runs the famed Georgian Military Highway , celebrated by poets and feared by military leaders over many long centuries. It has served as an important link between Europe and Asia since ancient times, though it was only after Russia’s annexation of east Georgia in the 19th century and the subsequent improvement of the track for troop movements that it became known as the “Military Highway”. Today it serves as the best route via which we can enjoy the dramatic scenery, crystal-clear air and indescribable grandeur of the mighty Caucasus Mountains.

Lunch: At Khashi House

Dinner and Night: Rooms Hotel in Stepantsminda This is most people’s destination on the Georgian Military Hwy: a valley town with the famous hilltop silhouette of Tsminda Sameba Church and the towering snowy cone of Mt Kazbek looking down from the west. Now officially named Stepantsminda, but still commonly known as Kazbegi, it's a base for some wonderful walking and mountain biking. What 20 years ago was just a big village has now grown into a sprawling town, with guesthouses and hotels everywhere and tourists arriving by the busload in the summer months. While this may not have added to Stepantsminda's charm, the town's location remains absolutely stunning and it's still very easy to escape the crowds and explore the surrounding mountains and valleys in peace.

Saturday, September 21: Kazbegi Mountain and Back to Tbilisi

Morning: By Jeep to Tsminda Sameba Church at the Foot of the Kazbegi Mountain This 14th-century church 2200m above Stepantsminda has become almost a symbol of Georgia for its incomparably photogenic hilltop setting with mighty Mt Kazbek rising behind it, and for the fierce determination involved in building it on such a lofty, isolated perch. A circuitous new road leads up to the church (return trip by taxi 40 GEL to 60 GEL), but you can walk up to the church in one to 1½ hours from Stepantsminda. The views back over Stepantsminda are incredible.

Lunch: At Hotel Sno Kazbeghi

A few miles away from Stepantsminda.

Afternoon: Tour and Extensive Tasting at Château Mukhrani with General Manager/ Winemaker Patrick Honnef

General Manager/ Winemaker Patrick Honnef was our host. We toured with him the winemaking facilities, followed by a seated tasting of 8 wines, led by Patrick Honnef.

I met Patrick Honnef the first time when he was Technical Director of Chateau d’Aiguilhe, owned by Count Stephan of Neipperg, in Bordeaux.

See:  A Morning at Château Canon La Gaffeliere in Saint Emilion with Owner Count Stefan von Neipperg, Bordeaux

Château Mukhrani

Château Mukhrani: Château Mukhrani is based on the historical tradition of wine-making in Mukhrani region. This is the first and the only true Georgian Royal Chateau, which unites four key components: vineyards, winery, castle and history. In 1512 Mukhrani became the prince’s estate, governed by Bagrationi royal family. Mukhranian wine production was established by Ivane Mukhranbatoni a famous representative of royal family, political and public figure of the 19th century. In 1876, Ivane Mukhranbatoni returned from France with Chateau concept knowledge and since then the history of Château Mukhani’s winemaking starts.

During the Soviet time Château Mukhrani was abandoned and almost destroyed. In 2002, a group of businessmen, Frederik Paulsen, Mamuka Khazaradze and Badri Japaridze laid basis for restoration of the project of Château Mukhrani. Group intended to revive the estate to its former glory and re-establish production at Mukhrani, combining modern and traditional technologies. New investment group aims to create strong international brands, which will serve as a profound representative of Georgian wine on international market.

In 2007, major investment was made in new winery of Château Mukhrani. Now it is equipped with ultra-modern technology and corresponds with ISO 9001:2005 Food Safety and ISO 9001:2008 Quality Management standards.

Along with modern winery, Château Mukhrani Cellar was also reconstructed, returning to unique origin, which has great historical value. Today the cellar is fully reconstructed and stores more than 1000 barrels of wine at constant temperature of 16C.

Since 2007, Château Mukhrani is making wine from grapes harvested in its own vineyards. To make the wine more exquisite and truly unique, winery receives grapes for processing maximum in 15 minutes from harvesting.

Patrick Honnef - Winemaker, Viticulturist, CEO Château Mukhrani

Château Mukhrani: Graduated from Wine Management and Winemaking in Heilbronn, Germany, I spent 11 years in the Bordeaux region and worked as a Technical Director of Chateau d’Aiguilhe for 10 years and was supported by the remarkable wine-consultant Stephane Derenencourt. The powerful Merlot dominated reds of Chateau d’Aiguilhe were regularly noted between 88-92 points, top-scores for a not classified cru of Bordeaux. End of 2013 the challenge to become technical director of Château Mukhrani in the Caucasian Republic of Georgia crossed my way. The huge potential and history of the “Cradle of Wine” is a dream for each passionate about wine.

Today this country is embracing its renaissance of wine culture, combining ancient amphora winemaking (known as Qvevris) and modern international techniques. Be part of this process, rediscover the autochthone grape varieties and reveal their great potential is marvelous.

At Château Mukhrani, we work with hand-picked 102 ha of vineyards, all surrounding the winery, with a low density of plantation, with the objective to grow the best quality grapes, as the base of a great wine. Focussed on rare, forgotten grape varieties and equipped with a beautiful modern winery, we are working to position Château Mukhrani wines in the top range of the Georgian wine culture. Always respecting and learning from the local terroir, we are striving for the finest wines of Georgia. Along this passion for wine, we are working with our team to restore our royal castle and become the leading wine tourism and hospitality estate in the country.

The Princes of Mukhrani

Château Mukhrani: The Princes of Mukhrani (Mukhranbatoni) stem from one of the oldest royal dynasties in the World - the Bagrationi. In 1512 King David of Kartli donated the Mukhrani Estate, dominating the Ksani and Aragvi gorges, to his brother Prince Bagrat. Since then his descendants have left their mark in all sectors of modern contemporary life - political, economic, as well as cultural in the great history of the proud Georgian Nation. Throughout the centuries this fertile land was attractive to many invaders and the Princes of Mukhrani protected it with courage against the various enemies. Sensible and brave warriors - they defended the land brilliantly and courageously. Their knightly nature, diligence and self-sacrifice allowed them to occupy the Royal Throne of the Country as early as the 17th century.


Château Mukhrani: In 1873, designed by French architects, Ivane Mukhranbatoni began construction of the castle that took 12 years to complete. The surrounding gardens were designed by a Versailles gardener. Both castle and grounds captured visitors’ attentions. The huge venue was a cultural centre for the Georgian elite. Ivane Mukhranbatoni hosted many guests including famous Georgian public figures counting writers and poets such as Ilia Chavchavadze and Akaki Tsereteli, along with the Russian Imperator of the time. The castle was famous for its Italian gilded furniture together with the first European parquet in Georgia. The castle’s first floor housed an amphitheater for 150 people, and on other floors were a variety of salons. During its renovation the castle was visited by 81 year-old Tatiana Faberge, descendent of the famous French Jeweler Carl Faberge. She also claimed to be the great-grand daughter of Ivane’s brother. Tatiana has initiated the return of the original furniture that was in the castle during the 19th century. After the renovation the furniture will be placed in the castle’s museum.

Dinner: In a Nice Restaurant Close to the Hotel Mercure

Night: At Hotel Mercure

Sunday September 22: Back in Tbilisi

Morning: Visit of the National Museum of Georgia The major highlight of the impressive national museum is the basement Archaeological Treasury, displaying a wealth of pre-Christian gold, silver and precious-stone work from burials in Georgia going back to the 3rd millennium BC. Most stunning are the fabulously detailed gold adornments from Colchis (western Georgia). On the top floor, the Museum of Soviet Occupation has copious detail on Soviet repression and local resistance to it.

Lunch: At Mosmieri Winebar and Shop in Tbilisi, with Château Mosmieri Owner Joerg Matthies

Joerg Matthies – A citizen of Germany he has been in Georgia since 2009. He fell in love with the country and wine. Joerg is the mastermind and driving force behind the project. He is also the principal owner and general director of Mosmieri.

Mosmieri Winebar and Shop is a brandnew undertaking of Joerg Matthies as part of Mosmieri. Some of us stayed at the Mosmieri Hotel and we all tasted the wines on the bus. The construction of the winery was completed in 2017. There is actually a modern winery using state-of-the-art temperature controlled stainless steel tanks and there is a classic Georgian winery called Marani with 24 big clay vessels set into the ground. At present, the total capacity of winemaking is 160 tons in tanks and qvevri which allows us to produce up to 140,000 bottles of wine annually. For aging we use French oak barrels which we sourced in Burgundy.

Dinner: At Restaurant Funicular

We had our final meal at Restaurant Funicular, offerng a magnificient view of the city and the Kazbegi Mountain in the distance. The Funicular Restaurant Complex is a Tbilisi institution of Georgian history and fine cuisine. This magnificent structure sits high atop Mtatsminda (Holy Mountain) at the top of the funicular railway above Tbilisi. Majestic verandas offer panoramic views of the city below and mountains in the distance. Mount Kazbegi can even been seen on a clear day. Soviet oligarchy once reveled in the splendor of its unseemly location – even building an underground tunnel with a secret entrance.

The complex was originally built in 1905. Having fallen into disrepair, it was revamped and reopened in 2014.The multi-story complex showcases three levels with four separate establishments and a private ballroom.

After-dinner Drink and Night: Mercure Hotel

Monday September 23: Flight Back from Georgia to Germany 

schiller-wine: Related Postings - Georgia Wine Tour 2019: Discovering the Birthplace of Wine (Published and Forthcoming Postings)

Georgia Wine Tour 2019: Discovering the Birthplace of Wine

Tour and Wine-pairing Lunch at Iago Winery in Mtskheta, with Owner/ Cult-winemaker Iago Bitarishvili

Wine-pairing Lunch at John Wurdman's Pheasant's Tears Restaurant in Sghnaghi

Tasting and Dinner at Restaurant Schuchmann, with Managing Director/ Assistant Winemaker Roland Burdiashvili

Tour and Extensive Tasting at Tchotiashveli Estate, with Owner/ Cult-winemaker Kakha Tchotiashvili and Light Lunch at Tchotiashveli Estate

Tour, Tasting and Dinner at Martali Wine, with Owners/ Winemakers Nikoloz Bitskinashvili, Nikheil Bitskinashvili, and Thomas Schubaeus

Tour and Extensive Tasting at Château Mukhrani with General Manager/ Winemaker Patrick Honnef

At Mosmieri Winebar and Shop in Tbilisi, with Château Mosmieri Owner Joerg Matthies

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