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

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