Thursday, April 21, 2016

Day Four of Georgian Wine Tour – Kakheti Region, Tsinandali Palace and Khareba Winery

(March 2016) I awoke at 6:30am in the large four-poster bed on the top floor of the Hotel Mere castle. A faint light was beckoning beyond the long curtains and I knew dawn was rising over the Caucasus Mountains. Jumping out of bed, I pulled back all of the drapes that covered the floor to ceiling windows, then threw open the doors to step out on the balcony that ran around three sides of my tower room. Then I caught my breath in wonder!  The view of the long range of snow-capped Caucasus Mountains was magnificent, with the rosy fingered dawn caressing the tops of the peaks.

View from My Room

Over the next hour, I sat perched on my sofa drinking a cup of coffee and watching the light play over the face of the mountains. The colors changed from a dusky purple to a pale peach and pink, and then took on the full glow of the sun to dazzle and dance off the blazing white snow. The contrast of the blue sky and the green Kakheti Valley below filled with vineyards made it even more breathtaking. I knew I was experiencing one of the highlights of my life in that view.

The Sofa View From My Room

Grabbing my camera, I took some photos as well as a video (see above).  Then threw on some clothes and took a walk through the property and down to the main road so I could see the complete view.

View of Caucasus Mountains from Hotel Mere Swimming Pool

White Blossoms of Spring With Snow-Capped Caucasus Mountains

Visiting Tsinandali Palace and Historic Cellars

After a delicious breakfast, we left Hotel Mere around 9am and drove thirty minutes to Tsinandali Palace. Built in 1835 by poet, Alexander Chavchavadze, it is a beautiful Italian style palace with graceful arches and white iron filigree.  The large gardens that surround the palace are beautiful and peaceful to walk in.

Tsinandali Palace and Gardens

Tsinandali was not only a center for music and culture in the 1800’s, but also the site of a historic winery and cellars.  A special white wine was made there, and the family collected wines from around the world.

We were invited to tour the historic cellars, which like many of the old properties in Georgia, are currently being renovated.  We were impressed with some of the old bottles in residence, including Chateau d'Yquem, but were told that it is suspected that most are not drinkable anymore.

The Historic Cellars of Tsinandali Palace

Masterclass on Old Saperavi Wines at Tsinandali Palace

After the tour, we were escorted into a nearby building where we enjoyed a masterclass and tasting of old saperavi wines. This was led by famous winemaker, David Maisuradze. He was fascinating to listen to, and showed us an interesting chart of how wine production in Georgia had fluctuated during the Soviet era. We were impressed with many of the wines, and realized that saperavi, with its huge tannins and high acid, has a good aging potential.

David Showing Us Grape Production Chart Before and After Soviet Period

After the tasting, David escorted us on a tour of the vineyards. The day was beautiful, with blue skies, fluffy white clouds, and a bright sun. It was delightful to be in the still barren vineyards with the breadth of the Caucasus Mountains serving as an amazing backdrop. Again, we were told how lucky we were to see the mountains, because they are often covered by clouds.

Kahketi Valley Vineyard with Caucasus Mountains

 After the vineyard tour, we had a delightful buffet style lunch and enjoyed trying “chacha.” This is not only the name for the grape skins, seeds, and stems that are placed in the qvevri to make wine, but also the name of Georgian grappa. This is because they use the left over “chacha” from the qvevri to distill and make the high alcohol drink called chacha. It is produced in many flavors, including some with fruit and flowers.  

Photo of Chacha -- Georgian Grappa

Visit to Khareba Winery

After lunch, we boarded our vans and drove to KharebaWinery.  On the way, we stopped to look at several vineyards, and also encountered a flock of sheep. Arriving at Khareba we were welcomed by a group of polyphonic singers, and were invited to cook food over an open fire.  We also had a great tasting and an amazing supra (see this post for details).

Flock of Sheep With Old Monastery on Hill Top

Two Hours Sleep and Then Off to the Airport

We arrived back at Hotel Mere around 11pm, and I spent the next hour packing before jumping into bed for a couple hours sleep.  My bedside phone rang at 1:30am so I would have enough time to dress, drag my bags down three flights of stairs, and stumbled into the van. We then drove two hours over the windy mountain roads back to Tbilisi, arriving at the airport around 4am. 

As predicted the airport was swarming with people. All of the restaurants and shops were open, and I had time to do some last minute shopping and get rid of my GEL currency. The flight home was fine, because I was able to fly business class on Turkish Airlines, which is as delightful as Turkish delight candy.

The jet lag, however, was not as enjoyable, as I had to go to work immediately when I returned home, and it took me 10 days to fully recover from the 12 hour time difference. It also took about the same time to lose the 3 pounds I gained in Georgia from eating all of their delicious food.  A trip of a lifetime, and I want to go back!

Members of Our IMW Georgia Wine Tour Group on Last Day

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Day Three of Georgian Wine Tour – Kakheti Region, Alverdi Monastery Cellars, Schuchmann Winery and Winiveria

(March 2016) After far too little sleep again, we checked out of our hotel in Tbilisi and boarded two vans to climb over the mountain to the Kakheti Valley – about a two hour drive from Tbilisi. The further we climbed in the mountains, the twistier the road became. Soon snow drifts appeared on the side of the road, and when we reached the top of Gombori Pass, we were surrounded by snow, so we stopped to take some photos and have a snowball fight.

Twisting Road Over Gombori Pass in Georgia

As we descended towards the Kakheti Valley, where 70% of the vineyards are located, we saw our first glimpse of the magnificent snow-capped Caucasus Mountains rise in the distance. They towered over the valley below, like a big white comforting wall, separating Georgia from Russia on the other side and protecting the vines from cold winds.  I had no idea how huge they were, or how impressive they would appear at over 15,000 feet tall.  We learned later that we were fortunate to see them so clearly, because they are often obscured in the clouds.

First Glimpse of Snow-Covered Caucasus Mountains - Over 15,000 Feet Tall

Ikalto Winey Academy – Oldest Winemaking School in the World?

Our first stop was the Ikalto Winey Academy, which began in the 6th century (see other post). It is located in the foothills just before you descend into the long Kakheti Valley, filled primarily with vineyard, wineries, and several small towns. The main one is Telavi.

Amazing Visit and Tasting at Alaverdi Monastery Cellar

Alaverdi Monastery is outside the town of Telavi and surrounded by vineyards. The director is Bishop David, and he is assisted in the operations of the massive estate by a group of five monks.  They manage the vineyards, orchard, church, visitor center, and make and sell wine.

Alaverdi Monastery, Kahketi Valley, Georgia

The church was actually started in the 6th century, but was destroyed over the years in a series of wars.  Most of the buildings now were built in the 11th century, and their motto is "since 1011." It is a beautiful collection of old stone buildings, including an ancient winery complete with qvevri cellar as well as some modern stainless steel tanks.

Entrance to Alaverdi Monastery

Bishop David and the monks welcomed us as we walked through the massive gate into the walled compound of the monastery. It was a warm sunny day, and the pink and white blossoms on the fruit trees were just coming into bloom.  There were small patches of vineyards dotting the expansive grounds, and the Bishop told us they had 104 different grape varieties planted.

Pink Blossoms on Fruit Trees at Alaverdi Monastery

First we were given a tour of the ancient church that had withstood so many attacks over the years.  It is slowly being renovated.

Bishop David in Front of Church at Alaverdi Monastery

Next Bishop David motioned for us to follow him into the winery and the monk in charge of the winemaking explained how they make wine in the ancient qvevri method (see other post).  He explained that the process of winemaking was very spiritual to them and connected to God.  He said the “golden wine from the qvevri is the sunshine of God….., the qvevri is like the womb of Mother Earth, and each spring she gives birth to the Baby Wine around Easter time.”

Winemaker Explaining How they Make Wine in Qvevri at Alaverdi Monastery

Afterwards we were ushered into a large room near the front of the complex where we were treated to a beautiful tasting of four qvevri wines.  All were exquisite with great texture and unique personality:

2014 Alaverdi Monastery Cellar Rkatsiteli Republic of Georgia - orange color, subtle nutty nose. On palate spice, hazelnut, white pepper, and savory notes. Very textured with medium-high acid.  60 gel ($26US)

2013 Alaverdi Monastery Cellar Rkatsiteli Republic of Georgia - golden orange, dried apricot on nose, spice, nutty. Even more textured. Very dry, higher alcohol than 2014. Can use with any food.

2011 Alaverdi Monastery Cellar Saperavi Republic of Georgia - opaque black. Earthy nose with complex black fruit, earthy savory on palate.  Big textured, tannic.  Like St. Estephe in a warmer year. Semi-sweet at 10 gpl.  My favorite! 80 gel ($35US)

2013 Alaverdi Monastery Cellar Saperavi Republic of Georgia - opaque black. Mixed berries on nose, black liquorice and herbs, which carried through to palate. Very concentrated, tannic and tight. Needs more time.  

Wines We Tasted at Alaverdi Monastery

After the tasting, we were allowed to purchase wine and other products made by the monastery, such as honey, souvenirs, and hats made by local women that several of us bought.  It was a brilliant tasting and afternoon. In my opinion, if you could only visit one winery in Georgia, this would be it!

Showing off our Hat Purchases at Alaverdi Monastery

NOTE: When I returned home, I was delighted to find I could buy their Rkatsiteli at K&L in San Francisco for $25. I also learned that the 2010 was listed as one of the Top 100 Wines of 2013 in Wine Enthusiast, receiving 92 points.

Lunch and Masterclass at Schuchmann Winery

We finally made it to lunch at 4pm today, and when we arrived at Schuchmann Winery, we fell upon the long table spread out with delicious Georgian food like a pack of wolves.  Fortunately the owner, Burkhard Schuchmann, was understanding and he welcomed us with gracious hospitality, allowing us to eat before he explained his story.

Lunch at Schuchmann Winery

And his story was truly inspiring.  He explained how he had visited the Kakheti Valley in 2006 and instantly fell in love with the country, the people, and the wine.  Therefore he decided to invest in the industry, buy an old winery, remodel it, and today it is an incredible place to visit, including a delicious restaurant, a tasteful hotel, and a spa on the way. The view of the Caucasus Mountains from this winery is also stunning, and I would enjoy staying here on a return trip.

Burkhard stated that the winery now produces around 1.5 million bottles and exports to 20 countries, with Russia, Kazakhstan, China and the Ukraine as the largest markets. He explained that this is because traditionally they have always purchased Georgian wines. I was surprised, to learn however, that they are also exporting wine to the US because it has a population of 5 to 6 million ethnic Georgians.

Schuchmann Winery & Vineyards   Photo credit:

After speaking, Burkhard introduced us to his CEO, Nutsa Abramishvili, who was a brilliant speaker and described how well the winery is doing in terms of wine tourism.  She also described the expansion with the new hotel and spa.  I was very impressed to find a Georgian winery with a female CEO.

Master Tasting on Qvevri Wines at Schuchmann Winery

After an excellent lunch, we were invited to tour the winery with winemaker, George Dakishvili.  He explained showed us their qvevri cellar and explained their winemaking practices, then escorted us into a tasting room for masterclass on qvevri wines from around the country.  It was a stunning tasting, made more so by the sun setting over the Caucasus Mountains in such streaming glory that we all jumped up from the table and ran outside to take photos.

Sunset Over the Caucasus Mountains, Georgia

Dinner at Hotel Mere Hosted by Winiveria Winery

We finally arrived at our hotel and checked in around 7pm. Hotel Mere is an unusual (some in our group described it as bizarre) castle creation filled with antiques and funky art. It has a whimsical charm that I fell in love with. The first room I was assigned to in the new wing didn’t have curtains that closed, so I asked for another room and they said all they had left was a room on the very top floor of the castle. With thoughts of Cinderella and her attic in my mind, I followed a nice young man who was carrying my suitcases, up three winding flights of stairs (there is no elevator).

Lobby of Hotel Mere

After jiggling the old iron skeleton key around in the lock for several minutes -  making me wonder how I would ever open and close the door myself - he ushered me into a three room suite with a balcony running around three sides. I immediately ran to the windows (which had nice long curtains), and pushed opened the door to step onto the balcony and the night sky. I knew the massive wall of the Caucasus Mountains were breathing out there in the dark night air, and I couldn’t wait until the morning when I could open the curtains and see them.

Dinner at Hotel Mere

After hurriedly unpacking, I went back downstairs for our 8pm happy hour and dinner. Everyone was having gin and tonics at the bar, so I joined them – a refreshing drink after a long day of wine tasting. Dinner was a jovial affair with many amazing Georgian dishes – as usual! – and more wines to taste. The tasting was hosted by Winiveria Winery, which makes a collection of tasting wines featuring an attractive horse label. It was a truly delightful evening!

Winiveria Wines at Hotel Mere

Monday, April 18, 2016

Day Two of Georgian Wine Tour – Visit the Kartli Region and Chateau Mukhrani

(March 2016) After only about six hours of sleep, it was time to get up, grab some breakfast and jump on the bus to drive about one hour north of Tbilisi to the Kartli wine region. This is one of the oldest wine regions in the country, and is well known for its limestone soils and windy evenings, that promote fresh acids in wine.
Hilltop Monestery Taken From Bus Window

Guramishvili Historical Wine Cellar

The drive was beautiful along a winding river, with views of ancient hilltop monasteries in the distance. Our first stop was Guramishvili Marani with its famous historical wine cellars. The word, “Marani,” means “winery or cellar” in Georgian.

We started the day with a masterclass on unusual and endangered wine grape varietals, and the appellations in which they are grown.  Afterwards we took a tour through the historical cellars, which was our first time to see a “marani” with “qvevri” buried in the ground. Over the course of our trip to Georgia, we learned there are several methods to make wine in qvevri.  (See this post to learn how).

Guramishvili Marani Historial Wine Cellar
 We also saw several satsnakheli, or the wooden troughs carved from a single piece of wood.  These were (and still are in some cases) used to stomp the grapes so the juice will flow into the qvevri.  The purpose of a satsnakheli is similar to a Portuguese lagare, but looks different (See photo).  They can also be made of stone, or a stone pit dug into the ground.

Satsnakheli to Stomp the Grapes

 Scientific Research Centre of Agriculture

Our next stop was the Scientific Research Centre of Agriculture, where they are conducting research on endangered grape varietals.  We were able to view some of the vineyards where they are growing these grapes.  The weather had turned very cold though, and with a biting wind, it was challenging to walk into the vineyards with the wind whipping snow off of the snow-capped mountains in the distance.

Vineyards at the Scientific Research Center

Fortunately they soon took us inside to a small snug room for a winetasting of the endangered grape varietals.  It was fascinating to taste the new wine, because the research center had simply pressed the grapes and made wine in tank with a neutral yeast.  In this way, we were able to taste the purity of the grapes, and distinguish the characteristics of these ancient varietals. Truly fascinating!

A Supra Lunch and Walk Through the Vineyards and Cellars of Chateau Mukhrani

After a short bus ride, we approached the grand entrance of Chateau Mukhrani, established in 1876 by Ivane Mukharanbatoni, a descendant of the Bagrationi Royal Family. Trained in winemaking after studying in Bordeaux and Champagne, he returned to his native Georgia and introduced new technologies into the ancient winemaking practices of his country.  He also built a beautiful white stone chateau that has been renovated over the years.

Chateau Mukhrani - Photo Credit:

The property was originally given to the Princes of Mukhrani by King David of Kartli in 1512. Ivane was descended from this line, and inspired by his visit to France, began constructing the chateau in 1873.  The first bottling of his new wine was in 1878.

Fittingly the current winemaker has also been trained in Bordeaux, Patrick Honnef, who also serves as CEO. Patrick welcomed us with open arms (literally) to the chateau and ushered us into their restaurant for a magnificent supra lunch.  As it was nearly 3pm, we were starving and happily fell upon the many delicious appetizers spread out on the table, including the irresistible Georgian cheese bread, spinach balls, yogurt dips with fresh cucumbers, olives, roasted eggplant, salted salmon, and cabbage rolls.  As usually with a supra, dishes continued to flow from the kitchen non-stop with roasted veal and sturgeon for the main course, and it was impossible to believe that we also had to eat dinner just a few hours later.

Supra Lunch at Chateau Mukhrani

Patrick conducted the wine tasting during the lunch, which was an excellent idea as the wines matched with the cuisine perfectly.  All of Chateau Mukhrani’s wines are 100% estate.  They are a medium-sized winery in Georgia, producing around 400,000 bottles annually with 87 hectares of vineyards.  They export 60% of their wine, mainly to Russia.  Patrick explained that because they are a premium and luxury priced winery, and most Georgians drink home-made wine, they export a large percentage.

Winemaker Patrick Honnef at Chateau Mukhrani

All of the wines were well-made and delicious.  Two of my favorites were:

·         Chateau Mukhrani Saperavi Dry Red 2013 – mixed berry, spice and earth with velvety tannins
·         Reserve du Prince Goruli Mtsvane 2013 – medium bodied, complex, with pear and rich oak, butterscotch and vanilla.

 After lunch we toured the vineyards, but the howling wind chased us quickly back to the cellars.  It was interesting to see the combination of many new stainless steel tanks, as well as the ancient cellars where they still make wine in qvevri. Patrick was very helpful in describing the different methods to make wine in qvevri (see post).

Vineyard at Chateau Mukhrani
New Modern Cellar at Chateau Mukhrani

I also had a chance to talk to the hospitality people here and was impressed to learn they have over 15,000 visitors per year.  The Chateau also hosts wedding and other large events. The restaurant, called Royal Cellar 1878, which specializes in ancient Georgian cuisine, is well regarded and lures in many who want to taste authentic food, paired with delicious wines in a beautiful environment.

Renovated Historical Cellars of Chateau Mukhrani

Photo in Historical Cellars of Winemaking in the 1800's

Here is a video on wine tourism produced by Chateau Mukhrani

Supra Dinner at Bagrationi Cellars

That evening we had a supra dinner at Bagrationi Cellars – yes, a mere three hours after we had finished the massive lunch at Chateau Mukhrani! (See post here.)

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Dinner at Bagrationi Cellars – A Sparkling Wine House

(March 2016) After about a 50 minute drive from the Kartli wine region, we arrived back in Tbilisi to visit the famous Bagrationi Cellars, known for their sparkling wine production. Established in 1882 by Georgian Prince Ivane Bagrationi-Mukhraneli, today they produce around 2 million bottles of sparkling wine made in the traditional method of secondary fermentation in bottle.  In addition, they also produce 1.5 million bottles of Charmant.
Entry Hall at Bagrationi Sparkling Wine Cellars
During the Soviet era, the winery was taken over as a Soviet project and produced millions of cases of sparkling. Indeed the winery cellars are massive, with many empty tanks and sections. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the winery was languished for a while until acquired in 2006.  Now they are trying to bring it back to its previous glory.

After entering the impressive lobby, which looked like a palace, and climbing the curving horse-shoe shaped stairway lit by chandeliers, we were each handed a glass of sparkling wine when we reached the top.  The CEO welcomed us, speaking through interpreters. He guided us through a tasting of four sparkling wines made with traditional varietals, and reasonably priced at below $10US. 

Tasting at Barationi Sparkling Wine Cellars With CEO

My favorite was the 2013 Bagrationi Rose Brut, made from the red Georgian grape called Tavkveri (the hammerhead grape).  Made in the traditional method, it had a soft berry nose, a creamy palate with delicate mousse, and a crisp acid and refreshing finish.

My Favorite was the Rose Brut Made From the Tavkveri Grape

After the tasting, we were escorted on a tour of the massive cellar, with so many empty tanks and rooms.  It was a little bit depressing, and also startling to see how huge it had been as an operation under Soviet rule.  The last room we visited was where they still have two old women who do hand-riddling – several thousand bottles per day. For the rest of the production, they use gyro-palates for riddling, with an average of 19 months again in bottle and one month riddling before disgorge.  The charmat wines are, of course, made in tank. When I asked about wine tourists, they said they only receive around 2000 visitors per year.

Massive Tanks in Cellar of  Bagrationi 

After the tour, we sat down to the largest supra dinner we had encountered yet.  It was truly a grand affair with multiple courses, including several small “complete” roasted pigs.  Numerous bottles of exquisite, unusual, and expensive wines decorated the table, including what I was told was Stalin’s favorite, called Khvanchkara, a slightly sweet red from the Racha region. A truly amazing dinner that I’m sure added at least two pounds to all of us.

Table Set for Supra Wine Dinner at Bagrationi Cellars in Tbilisi, Georgia

Roast Pig Served at Supra Dinner
Delicious Food and Wine at Supra Dinner

Saturday, April 16, 2016

How to Make Wine in a Qvevri – Traditional Georgian Winemaking

(March 2016) Before visiting Georgia, I had only heard the word “qvevri,” but had never actually seen one, except in photos.  Though may people mix them up with amphorae, they are different.  A qvevri is used to ferment and age wine, and is buried in the ground.  An amphora is used to transport wine and is not buried in the ground.

Qvevri That Have Been Removed from Marani (Cellar Where They are Buried)

The other interesting thing about qvevri is they come in many different sizes.  Most hobby winemakers in Georgia (this includes many people who live in the country and make wine in their backyard) use a small qvevri that is easier to manage and clean. Commercial wineries, however, use different sizes, with the standard size being 1850 liters, we were told by one winemaker. “If the qvevri is larger than 2000 liters,” he said, “it is difficult to control the temperature during fermentation.”

Qvevri Buried in Ground in a Marani (Wine Cellar)

Two Methods to Make Wine In Qvevri: the Ancient and the Modern Method

At each winery we visited, the winemakers described the process they used to make wine in qvevri.  I documented these processes, and discovered that, in general, there are two main methods: the ancient traditional method and the modern method.

The most important issue for success in both methods is ‘physiologically ripe grapes with ripe stems.”  Since the wine macerates on skins, stems, and seeds for such a long time, it is critically important to have healthy ripe grapes – otherwise, the resulting wine is bitter and tannic.

The Ancient Method
(Described by winemaker at Alverdi Monastery)

1)     Select ripe grapes in vineyard
2)     Transport to winery and place whole clusters with stems in satsnakheli, and stomp by foot.
3)     Put juice and all of chacha (stems, seeds, skins – which are referred to as the “mother”) into a qvevri.
4)     Leave 15 to 20% space in the top for primary and secondary fermentation. Do not add yeast or anything else. The whole process is natural.  CO2 protects.
5)     At end of ML, top up with topping wine and close qvevri with a clay lid. Then heap dirt on top of it, and sign of cross if religious.
6)     Leave wine in qvevri for around 5 months for white grapes and 1 month for red grapes.
7)     When done*, gently transfer wine to clean qvevri for aging, using a small dipper on a long rod. Do NOT disturb chacha in the bottom of the fermenting qvevri.  The wine naturally filters itself, and all of the seeds, skins, and stems fall to the bottom.
8)     Sometimes the wine will still be a little sweet.  This is OK, because that is what nature intended for the year.
9)     Optional: sometimes add 26-27 ppm sulfur (which is natural) after ML.

* Obviously we asked when they knew the wine was done for white grapes. The answer we received was “It is according to the moon, usually the 2nd phase of the descending moon. It is when Spring comes, and the temperature and birds tell you.”  We asked for further clarification, and were told “It is usually around Easter; the first half of April at the latest.”

Winemaker at Alverdi Monastery Near Qvevri Covered with Dirt and Sign of Cross

White Vs. Red Grapes

When the wine is removed from qvevri with white grapes, the color is a golden orange and the wine often tastes like dried apricots and nuts – similar to sherry in some respects, though not as oxidized.  The acid also seems crisp and well-balanced with these wines, suggesting that the indigenous grapes and yeast create a harmonious beverage. Bishop David described it as “Golden wine filled with sunshine.”

Red wine grapes, on the other hand, are much more tannic; therefore, it is only kept in the qvevri with the “mother chacha” (skins, seeds, stems) for one month.  If it is kept longer, then is loses its beautiful ruby color and becomes too tannic.

Bishop David explained that the qvevri is similar to the “womb in Mother Earth,” and that each Spring “the baby wine is born, and we thank God and celebrate.”  To the Georgians the process of winemaking is the same as giving birth. The Bishop continued, “The tiny baby wine emerges from qvevri and gives you a sign of what it will be when it is grown up.”

Winemaker and Bishop David near Ancient Qvevri at Alverdi Monastery

The New Modern Method of Making Wine in Qvevri
(Described by winemakers at three other wineries)

The major difference between the ancient and the modern method is the ancient methods uses 100% of the Mother ChaCha (stems, seeds, and skins) for fermentation, whereas the modern method uses a smaller percentage and no stems. Following is the method for white grapes:

1)     Pick ripe healthy grapes in vineyard.
2)     Destem and slightly crush grapes. Add a small amount of So2.
3)     Let soak overnight, and then separate juice and skin
4)     Put small amount of skins in bottom of qvevri, and then add the clear juice on top.
5)     Ferment with natural yeast and allow to go through natural malolactic fermentation. Cover with clay lid.
6)     Check on wine occasionally to see how it is progressing. Take samples and measure.
7)     After ML, slowly rack clear wine off the top and transfer to clean qvevri, top up, add a little So2 if needed. Cover with clay lid.
8)      Age for 6 months.

NOTE: The modern process for making red wine in qvevri is similar, but the wine is only left on chacha for one month. In actuality, red wine making in Georgia is not that different from red wine making in other regions of the world, because the wine is usually always fermented on the skins. The difference is the use of a qvevri for a fermentation vessel, and the addition of stems and seeds sometimes.

Qvevri Cellar at Schuchmann Winery in Georgia

Winemaking Process by Region

We were also told that the qvevri winemaking process is determined by the region.  In the Eastern portion of Georgia where it is warmer, it is called the Kakheti process and uses 100% of the chacha.  In the Western region of Georgia, where it is cooler and the grapes are not as ripe, they only use about 20% of skins and no stems.  This is often referred to as the Imerti Process.

Cleaning the Qvevri

We were very interested in learning how to clean the qvevri, because they are buried in the ground and it is not possible to move them to clean. Though they are lined with beeswax when made (see video on how to make qvevri below), it would still be very difficult to clean them without using a modern pump.

Again, we were told there are two methods: the ancient and the modern.

Ancient Method to Clean Qvevri – add herbs and hot water, then use a cherry bark brush to scrub sides and bottom of qvevri.  Dip out water and repeat process until completely clean. To insure cleanliness, it is customary for the person who is cleaning the qvevri to drink the final portion of water. This is quality control to the extreme!

Modern Method to Clean Qvevri - Use citric acid or a lime solution with water. Pump out, and then repeat until clean.  Leave top open to air out and dry.

Schuchmann Winemaker Demonstrating Cherry Bark Brush to Clean Qvevri

Unesco Approves Qvevri Process as “Intangible Cultural Heritage”

It may not be surprising that this most ancient method of winemaking, with “the longest maceration in the world for white wines” was approved by Unesco as an
Intangible Cultural Heritage.”

Also the process of making a qvevri is very time-consuming, and we were told that there are currently only 2 master qvevri makers left in Georgia. This is why the Georgians are trying to get funding to create a new school at Ikalto Academy (see post) to teach this ancient craft.  Bishop David told us that the demand for qvevri is escalating, especially outside of Georgia. Currently the cost to build a qvevri is about one euro per liter, ranging from 500 to 3000 euros per qvevri.  If you look at the amount of work that goes into creating one, this seems quite inexpensive (see Unesco Video)

Historical Qvevri of Different Sizes at Alverdi Monastery