The Cradle of Wine - Georgia
By Isabelle Legeron MW
If I say ‘birthplace of wine’ what pops into your head? My guess is maybe France, possibly Italy, or, for those amongst you of a more historical bent, perhaps it’s the ‘Romans’ or ‘Phoenicians’, or a country in the now Middle East.
What if I said ‘Georgia’? As unexpected as this might sound, this ex-Soviet country in the South Caucasus has some of the oldest winemaking vessels unearthed to date and the oldest domesticated grape pips in the world. Indeed, Georgian winemaking history predates our usual historical wine references by a good few millennia. Georgians have been making wine for about 8000 years while Italy, for example, got its first vines a mere 5000 years later. Even Jason and the Argonauts, who landed in Georgia in search of the Golden Fleece are said to have found fountains that gushed wine.
While there is some contention about whether or not the actual birthplace is Turkey (and it’s Mount Ararat near the Georgian border) or indeed Georgia itself, what is sure is that while Turkey’s majority Muslim population turned their backs on wine, wine and all things grape have remained an intrinsic part of Georgian society ever since.
Every region in the country (bar one that is so high up in the Caucasus that grapes don’t grow) has its own particular way of making wine and given the unbelievable variety of climates, these are often unique to the area or indeed village. There are deserts, rolling hills that wouldn’t look out of place with a Heidi or two, Mediterranean-looking scrubland, tropical landscapes complete with kiwis, tea plantations, sunny coastline and the snowy peaks of mountains that tower 5000m above you. But wherever you are in Georgia, wine is part and parcel of life. It’s all about sharing and companionship and is a symbol of the legendary Georgian hospitality, which is said to have met invading armies not with swords but fistfuls of cherries and goblets of wine.
I set off for Georgia in June 2010, on a recce for my new show, THAT CRAZY FRENCH WOMAN… having heard vague whisperings about Georgian wine traditions. But I never expected it to be quite as ubiquitous as it is, nor had I expected there to be enough material to fill our one-hour show several times over. My production team and I were blown away. Grapes still grow in the wild here, vines are carved into the walls of churches, the alphabet is even said to be based on the shape of vine tendrils and literally everyone seems to make and drink wine. Almost every family home I visited had a wine cellar in the basement in which large clay vessels (usually several hundred years old) had been buried underground to keep them cool and are still used today to make the family’s yearly supply of wine.
These huge clay pots, some of which are rumoured to have been as big as houses in days gone by, are called qvevri (or kvevri) and are remarkable, not least because they are the original vessel used for winemaking. This technique while pretty unknown in much of the world actually predates the concrete vats, stainless steel tanks and oak barrels used by most winemakers today. Qvevris essentially look like huge amphorae, but unlike amphorae, which are technically only used for transporting wine, qvevris are used for winemaking as well, and are used for both red and white wine. The whites though aren’t what you’d expect whites to be, they’re not ‘crisp, translucent’ wines. Instead, more often than not, they’re orange because they’re made like reds and so end up tannic, with unusual wild herb aromas and a beautiful golden, amber hue.
Saying that Georgia is underrated in wine terms is an understatement. Traditional Georgian wine is an oasis of difference and personality in an international wine world that is unfortunately today dominated by monotony and a standardization of flavours. Georgia and its wines are still wild and raw and if what you’re looking for is a uniquely real tasting adventure, Georgia will definitely not disappoint.
Isabelle travelled to Georgia with Ukraine International Airlines
To find out more about Ukraine International Airlines visit
To find out more about Georgia visit
To find out more about Isabelle’s adventures in Georgia tune into That Crazy French Woman in Georgia http://www.travelchannel.co.uk/series-info.asp?series=That+Crazy+French+Woman&ID=1493