Thursday, June 27, 2013

Georgia's wine tourism future lies in showcasing its uniqueness

by Sharon Parsons

27.06.2013. A tour of the Eurasian country of Georgia was an opportunity to explore the enotourism or wine tourism potential of its wine regions. Here are some observations based on our experiences in Georgia. Georgia should not try to offer what you find in other winemaking regions of the world. Georgia's enotourism potential lies in showcasing what it has to offer the wine world. Georgia has much to offer that is very different from what you will find elsewhere. This includes (1) an extensive wine history, (2) a qvevri wine making tradition, (2) the celebration of wine and food through Georgian feasts or supras, and (3) Georgian wines made from indigenous grapes.

Georgia’s 8000 years of wine making history makes it is one of the oldest wine making regions in the world. In fact Qvevri wine making dates back to 1011AD to 4000BC, with viticulture in Georgia dating back to 6000BC. Qvevri (kvevri) wine making is a traditional wine making process that is still used in Georgia. What is unique to this wine making process is the use of a large earthenware vessel (qvevri) in which the wine is made. This natural wine making process involves the use of large clay pots, lined with beeswax that is buried in the ground.

Georgian feast or supra

What we encountered in Georgia was not only qvevri wine making but also the rich tradition of the Georgian feast, or supra (a traditional banquet feast). It is a Georgian tradition to have a toastmaster at such gatherings. Usually a toast is accompanied by a song or verse. Georgians truly know how to celebrate with wine and food. In fact Georgian food and wine are best observed at a supra.

Wines from indigenous grapes

Georgia makes great wines using international grape varieties however, what would intrigue most tourists is something different. Georgia has many wines produced from its over 400 indigenous grape varieties. If we add to that natural wine making process associated with qvevri wine making there is even a broader appeal.

The Georgian wine trail

Any Georgian wine adventure will most likely start and end in Tbilisi. A must visit is the Georgian National Museum where you will see a display of historical qvevris. Throughout the remainder of our travels in Georgia we also saw how qvevris are used in today's wine production.

After a Tbilisi morning tour we had lunch at the Azarpesha Restaurant (2 Ingorokva Street). Although we had heard of a Georgian feast, or supra little did we know that we would get such an introduction. Over lunch with Luarsab, his wife and their Georgian friends we discovered that in Georgia wine, food and song are one. This was a perfect introduction to Georgian qvevri wines and a Georgian supra.

Georgia, one of the oldest producing wine regions in the world, produces a great diversity of wines. While it is known for its qvevri wines Georgia also produces non-qvevri wines as well. In Tbilisi one example is Sarajishvili Winery, famous for its brandies. Another example is Bagrationi Wines that has been producing sparkling wines from Georgian indigenous grape varieties since 1882.

Chateau Mukhrani recently opened a wine studio in Tbilisi. Later while traveling through Central Georgia we visited Chateau Mukhrani, which was being rebuilt. Originally the chateau was built in 1878, as a residence for Prince Mukhrani of the Bagrationi royal family. In addition to the winery Chateau Mukhrani includes a restaurant and hotel.

Eastern Georgia's Kakheti wine region, one of Georgia's best-known wine regions, appears to be the best developed area for wine tourism. Our first stop was at Schuchmann Wines Chateau in Kisikhevi, Telavi. After a tour of the qvevri room we did a wine tasting with the winemaker, Georgi Dakishvili. Our Schuchman visit was also an opportunity to see how qvevris are used in modern wine making.

Later we arrived at Chateau Mere, a Telavi Bed and Breakfast. We soon to discovered Chateau Mere Time, a time to experience Georgian hospitality over wine, food and music.

Next day our first stop was at Alaverdi Monastery where wine making began in 1011. Alaverdi Monastery Cellars provides a glimpse into the past history of qvevri wine making. During our visit we did a wine tasting and toured Alaverdi Monastery Cellars where today you will see modern qvevri wine making.

The hospitality was super hot on a cold mid-November day when we arrived at Shumi Wine Company. At Shumi we had an inviting lunch, sampled wines and listened to Georgian traditional polyphonic songs.

Our day ended with a visit to Tsinandali Palace. Tsinandali Palace was once the home of the Chavchavadze family, one of Georgia's most fascinating families. Today Tsinandali Palace is a museum, with a long history of producing wine. The highly regarded dry white wine Tsinandali is produced there. We toured the palace and did a wine tasting before we were treated to a traditional Georgian dinner. It was however, no ordinary dinner. It was after all a Georgian supra. This was our last #EWBC wine activity in Georgia before returning to Tbilisi. We experienced the rich tradition of the Georgian feast, or supra many times while in Georgia. During our travels we discovered that Georgians truly know how to celebrate with wine and food. So it was fitting on our last evening in Georgia that it was supra time at Tsinandali Palace.

Future of Georgian wine and enotourism

Georgian wines have always been popular in Russia. However, this all changed when Russia banned the import of Georgian wines. The ban left Georgia looking for new markets in the United States and Europe. A recent article by Lucy Shaw, Drinks Business noted that Russia lifted the ban on Georgian wines being imported. Both the recent lifting of the ban and the development of new markets means the future for Georgian wine looks good.

Georgia is already a must for hard-core wine enthusiasts. While in Georgia we were fortunate to be introduced to Georgia's wine making history, qvevri wine making, Georgian supra and wines made from indigenous grapes. All of this points to a great potential for the development of future enotourism. You will find more on our Georgian wine experiences at Spaswinefood, or you can visit my travel column at the Examiner.

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