When archaeologists last year found traces of winemaking on 8,000-year-old pottery shards in Georgia, the tiny former Soviet republic claimed the crown as the world’s oldest wine producer. We see a revival of the culture behind it. Wine writer Lana Bortolot (Dining and Drinking) informs us on Forbes.
‘It was an affirmation for many long-standing fans of the country and its winemaking tradition, which is ancient and, at the same time, a grassroots movement. Georgia’s hallmark is white wines that stay in contact with their skins, stalks and pips for months and further ferment in huge clay amphorae (qvevri) buried in the ground. It’s a trend that’s caught on elsewhere in the world, but its deep roots lie in Georgian culture.
“What’s happening now is a revival,” says Alice Feiring, author of For the Love of Wine: My Odyssey Through the World’s Most Ancient Wine Culture. A natural wine advocate, Feiring has long traveled in the country, and her 2016 book—a love letter to Georgian people and traditions—charts the modern (re) discovery of the wine culture and some of the struggles to remain true to its heritage.
“Almost everyone has a taste for their grandfather’s wine: that is their emotional truth and the wines they all respond to,” she said. “So even though they’re getting conflicting messages about what the rest of the world wants—clean wines—it’s really the skin-contact and complex wines that people crave.”
Noel Brockett, director of sales at the Georgian Wine House in Washington, D.C., who attends industry events dressed in a chokha, the traditional long woolen coat adorned with ornamental silver cartridges worn by Georgian men, says wine culture runs deep in the country.
“There’s something very particular about how Georgians love wine,” he said. “It’s a little eccentric but then you start looking into it and once you do, you’re truly amazed—it’s such an integral part of the culture and everyday life.”
Traditional winemaking in Georgia has always been a home endeavor, infused with history, religion and mythology, and references dating to the fourth century. An oft-told legend relates how soldiers wove a piece of grapevine into the chain mail protecting their chests, so when they died in battle, a vine sprouted not just from their bodies, but their hearts.
“Even where we think a culture like France or Italy is so wine-centric, Georgians just take it to a whole different level—much deeper than what we’re exposed,” said Taylor Parsons, an Los-Angeles sommelier, who has visited Georgian wine country three times.
Simon J. Woolf, author of the newly released “Amber Revolution: How the World Learned to Love Orange Wine” a book that devotes a large discussion to Georgian wine, agrees.
"One of the most important things about Georgian wines is that it’s a window into a culture that most of us as Westerners simply don’t have," he said.
Despite boasting 8,000 vintages, Georgian wines have come onto the world wine map only recently—thanks in part to the amber-wine trend, growing interest in natural wines, and improvements in the vineyard and winery.
“Georgia needed to change at the same time that these other things were trending,” says Master of Wine Lisa Granik, who serves as market adviser to Georgia’s National Wine Agency.