Georgia! The birthplace and cradle of viticulture and winemaking. Where Europe meets Asia and bordered by the Black Sea to the west, Russia to the north, Turkey to the south, and Armenia and Azerbaijan to the east.
Eighty percent of the county is mountainous, most notably the Greater Caucasus range, with Mount Skhara at 26,626 feet and 12 others over 13,000 feet. The country enjoys wonderful sources of fresh water with 25,000 rivers as well as the massive barrier of mountains to protect from the cold air from the north. The constant influence of warm air from the Black Sea provides a relatively mild climate perfect for grape cultivation. It’s the history that drew us to Georgia, and what a history!
Chronicles of Georgian Wine
6th millennium BC– In the 6th millennium BC viticulture and winemaking were taking place in Georgia, as evidence by recent archeologists’ discoveries south of Tbilisi of grape pips from that time. Their characteristics were identical to those of Vitis Vinifera Sativa (the common grape vine).
6th-5th millennia BC– Ancient clay wine vessels were discovered in the same area that could have been the precursor to the Qvevri. Chemical analysis revealed deposits of calcium salts of tartaric (wine) acid that could only be the result of the presence of wine or grape juice. Additionally, grapes are depicted on the ancient clay vessels, belonging to this period.
5th-3rd millennia BC– Grape pips were found in a gorge of the river lori, among the monuments of the Mtkavari-Araxes culture from the early Bronze Age.
4th-2nd millennia BC– Early Bronze Age and Late Bronze Age relics indicate the development of various forms of small-sized Qvevri-type vessels.
2nd millennium BC– Grape pips were found in Late Bronze Age dwelling in the village of Dighomi near Tbilisi. This finding was particularly important because it was the first time that wine and table varieties of grape pips had been found together.
2nd-1st millennia BC– A great number of cutting knives, vessels, and other items related to viticulture and winemaking from this period have been discovered in almost every part of Georgia. Archeologists see this as a period of transition to extensive viticulture.
7th century BC– During the Early Iron Age, modern forms of Qvevri were created, as can be seen in a flat bottomed Qvevri found in an ancient settlement near Rustavi.
6th century BC– Many Qvevri from this period have been found in both Eastern and Western Georgia. Western and Eastern Georgian vessels differed greatly from one another in terms of shape, manufacture, color, and decoration.
3rd century BC– From this time the bottom of Qvevris became progressively more pinched so that they could bear the weight of the earth around them, and they became larger. It is presumed that the practice of burying Qvevri up to their necks began in this period.
Beginning of 4th century AD– Georgia was converted to Christianity and as a result both wine and vine acquired different meanings in cult service and public arrangement. From the early medieval period onward, the famous triad – the Church, vineyards and irrigation channels – formed a small administrative unit with theocratic powers.
10th-13th centuries AD– This was the Golden age in Georgian viticulture and winemaking. Besides the development of grape varieties, many wine cellars were built.
From 16th century AD– As an end came to Mongol invasions, Georgian viticulture was able to revive. New wine cellars were built and trade with neighboring countries resumed. Wine appellations, such as Bolnuri, Khornabujuli, Kondoluri, Atenuri, and Gavazuri appeared in contemporary accounts.
18th century AD– European writers, and the Georgian Vakhushti Batonishvili in his ‘Description of the Kingdom of Georgia’, mentioned Georgian wines. He referred to wines from Akhmeta and Manavi as well as describing wines from Kartli, Imereti, Guria, and Samegrelo, where wine was said to be made in large quantities and often exported.
1820-30’s– Classical European winemaking methods began to be introduced. By the end of the 1830’s, thanks to the efforts of Prince Alexander Chavchavadze and those of the Russian viceroy, Mikhail Vorontsov, Georgian wine came closer to matching the quality of European wine, and the first European-style wine cellars were established in Eastern and Western Georgia.
1830’s– The first producers of Georgian brandy (formerly referred to as “Cognac”) appeared.
1835– Alexander Chavchavadze took a 20- year term loan of 1 million roubles to build an underground wine cellar in Tsinandali and also installed a distillery, fresh Qvevris and barrel workshop.
1840-50’s– Scientific studies of Georgian varieties of grapes began with their identification and classification. The first description of Georgian grape varieties was published in Paris and Lyon in the 1870’s.
1850’s– Georgia suffered greatly from vine diseases such as blight and mildew, which reached their peak in the 1880’s. Vine phylloxera continued to spread in the second half of the 19th century.
1870’s– Prince Ivane Mukhranbatoni built a huge wine cellar in the village of Mukhrani, and, his wine was very soon exported abroad, winning many prizes. The first Georgian sparkling wines were produced and began to be sold widely. Iacob Zubalashvili and Jacob Marr began the first serious production of Georgian cognac.
1882– In Kakheti, the famous Georgian winemaker Zakaria Jorjadze took Georgian winemaking to a higher level by combining traditional and modern technologies. He built a special building to house dozens of traditional Georgian Qvevri as well as oak barrels in which he would age European-style wines.
1884– David Sarajishvili started the first Georgian cognac company in Tbilisi and opened his factory in 1888.
1880’s– The first Georgian branded wines – ancestors of modern PDO wines – appeared in local foreign markets. Tsinnadali had been produced by classical methods since the 1830’s, but appeared labelled on the market only in 1886.
Beginning of 1990’s– Georgian wine industry expanded rapidly, with hundreds of different varieties being produced throughout the country.
1918-21– Wine cooperatives and community businesses were further developed during the brief period of Georgian independence.
1922– The first Soviet winemaker unions and cooperatives were founded. In 1926, the owners of more than 80% of the wine companies were one-man businesses.
1929– The government agency Samtres was established, which began to take over the entire winemaking industry in Georgia.
1930-1940’s– Georgia was producing approximately 60 varieties of wine, 12 of which were based upon local, traditional technologies.
1950– First steps were taken towards Soviet industrialization of Georgian wine production keeping only 16 varieties of grapes for wine, dropping the names and reviving the old system of labelling by number.
1962– 10th OIV International Congress of Viticulture and Winemaking was held in Georgia. Many enterprises were being rebuilt or renovated.
1960-70’s– Soviet style mass production took over completely, heavy-cropping hybrids replacing many varietal vines. The damage done to Georgia’s wine industry was long-lasting.
1985– During the years of perestroika, a ‘dry’ law was passed in the Soviet Union with wholesale destruction of vineyards including many in Georgia. This crisis for Georgia lasted into the 1990’s.
1993-99– A new epoch in the history of Georgian winemaking began. The country’s first commercial, modern wine cellars appeared (such as GWS- Georgian Wines and Spirit Companu, Teliani Valley, Tbilvino and Telavi Wine Cellar) aided by several years of excellent harvests.
Since 2005– Organic and biodynamic winemaking and viticulture began to develop in Georgian appealing to the markets of Western Europe and the US.
March 2006– Russian announced a trade embargo on Georgian products. Fortunately, as a result of the subsequent improvement in quality, Georgian wine found other markets.
December 2013– UNESCO registered the Qvevri on its List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. -Georgian Wine Association
In 2009 a group of 16 international businessmen founded Friend’s Cellar and Chateau Nelkarisi in the Kakheti region. Situated at the base of the northern and one of Georgia’s most sacred and historic sites, the 16th century Nekresi Monastery, still in operation today. In addition to being home to the winery and newly planted vineyards, the property winds up the mountainside with a mystical forest where archeologists are presently uncovering ancient ruins from the 5th century and tombs of saints.
The Friends have spared no expense as they seek to produce the very best wines possible.
Led by general manager David Tsintskaladze, they have hired Georgia’s foremost authority in wine Gogi Dakishvili to assist with vineyard and cellar management. Giorgi Solomnisvili, is the winemaker and Moses Ezhishvili the Agronomist. We have had the pleasure of spending time with each of them and their passion, precision, and dedication to producing the highest possible quality of wines could not have been more evident.
We at Montesquieu are thrilled to partner with this extraordinary project of immense historical and cultural value. Most importantly, we are deeply pleased to introduce America’s wine lovers to our new Friends!