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Published: September 30th 2017
Geo: 41.9195, 45.4708
Being renowned for wine, both its current-day production and its long and storied history, any visit to Georgia would not be complete without a visit to one of its wine-growing regions to sample a few of the many wineries. It's always interesting to see how different countries approach oenotourism, especially in the former Soviet Republics, simply for the novelty of wine actually being produced in these countries.
If you had been raised on a steady diet of Cold War-era propaganda, you'd think that former Soviet Republics only produced potatoes, vodka, and KGB agents. Who would have thought that in a place like Georgia, evidence of wine making has been found that dates back to 6000-8000 BC, and that this country is believed to be the birthplace of wine? Georgians are proud of their wine making history, and rightfully so - producing good wine is certainly prestigious, and while there are so many countries that produce some truly excellent vino, only one country could claim to be the birthplace of the stuff.
It's nice to see how Georgians still embrace their traditional method of producing wine in massive qvevri, clay pots that are buried underground, even though the larger
Fun-Loving Monks ...
... much like Belgian monks, Georgian ones love making their own alcohol, in this case wine. The guys at the Alaverdi monastery are quite industrious, also growing peaches and trying their hands at olives.
Georgian producers also employ more modern techniques to produce European-style wines in stainless steel tanks and oak barrels. So far, Georgian wine hasn't been overly complex, and has been perhaps even a tad bland, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing.
There is definitely a very drinkable quality to wine produced in qvevri, which is quite nice during this recent heat wave, and also makes it easy to chug an entire glass after a toast! The wines are smooth and because of their simplicity, seem to pair well with any of the excellent salads and grilled meats you'll typically find on the Georgian table. So other than the odd bottle of wine tasting like vulture piss, there's very little not to love about the wine here!
Today's little tour through the Kakheti region included the obligatory monastery stops, but after seeing way too many of these, it's the wineries that mattered today. In fact, when setting up the tour with the driver, I was told that the typical Kakheti tour includes mostly monasteries and historic sites, with only two stops at wineries - that simply wouldn't do, so I flip-flopped the two, instead opting for four wineries.
Of course, after the first
Cable Car Wellington
winery stop, whose tasting included a full glass of red and a full glass of white, the plans had to be tweaked a little bit. At this pace, there was no way that touring four wineries would be possible! It turns out that subsequent wineries only offered a more standard sample size of one to two ounces, so hitting up all four wineries would have been possible after all, except for the fact that I quickly grew tired of visiting them. Though today started out on a high note, the subsequent visits became more and more tedious ...
The first stop was by far the best, at the Twins Wine Cellar - the smallest operation of the three, the focus here was more on the traditional production using qvevri, and it had a much more personal feel to it. Even better, they had an excellent wine museum explaining the traditional Georgian method, and included information on how the qvevri are actually produced, something that is becoming a bit of a dying art.
The second stop was at one of the larger wineries in Georgia, and was still decent - I ended up being the only person on the tour, so it retained
a bit of a personal feel to it. But the final stop was by far the worst, even though it was the largest and nicest winery of the three. It seems that the Khareba Winery is all about the style over substance, with its sprawling and impressive grounds, complete with fountains and a tower.
Even the gourmet restaurant was disappointing - way too expensive for what you received, with food of very poor quality. Perhaps it was because there was a large VIP event taking place, but my food took forever to prepare and was pretty crappy. However, that wasn't even the worst part of the experience - the tour itself was atrocious, having had to wait almost 40 minutes for what ended up being about a two-minute tour followed by a two-minute wine tasting.
I thought it would have been a great experience, having learned that there is a network of tunnels beneath the winery - despite it being only a fraction the size of the ones found in Moldova, could this be a bit of the experience that I had missed out on at Cricova? It definitely was not, especially when the tour is delivered in a wham-bam-thank-you-maam style,
... are apparently quite common in Georgia - you can see the damage that has been done to this monastery.
where the tour guide couldn't wait to get rid of me. After the tour, the driver even told me that nobody wanted to give me the tour, as a few people were actually fighting over who would get the dishonour of leading me around the tunnels for two whole minutes!
All in all, touring through Jacket's wine region was worthwhile, though a bit disappointing. The original plan was to taste as many wines as possible, and to pick up a bottle at one of the three stops today. But I wasn't really all that impressed with any of the wineries and decided against it. As famous as Georgia is for its wine production, I've come to realize that the most enjoyable aspect of wine here lies in the social interactions associated with it.
My favourite memories of Georgian wine are of drinking way too much of the homemade stuff over delicious and massive home-cooked meals, while sharing stories and toasts with fellow travelers from all over the globe. They include a night of wine drinking with a bunch of Italians over dinner, of mistakenly receiving a bottle of red instead of white wine, and all of us saying "It's OK, we'll
quickly drink it all and then have a bottle of red after!"
Perhaps that's the real reason why I decided against bringing a bottle of Georgian wine back home with me, even though it's become a bit of a tradition. Picking up a bottle of vino and cracking it open with friends after returning home, hoping to bring back some memories and resurrect a little bit of magic from the associated trip, is always a fun thing to do. But that simply is not possible in this case - all the magic of Georgia can't be bottled up and taken home, as it can only be enjoyed here ...
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