(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: ChateauMukhrani.com|
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|
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.)