Travel Georgia and Learn about Georgia’s Wine Culture
When thinking of wine, several places come to mind: France, Italy, and Napa Valley California, among others. The Republic of Georgia, however, has a tradition of wine making that dates back nearly 8,000 years and continues to today.
In March of 2011, it was discovered that Georgia actually has the longest history of wine production in the world. In the tiny village of Shulaveri, clay jars that date to 7000 to 9000 BC were discovered to have wine residue. Even more impressive were traces of tree resin used to preserve the wine and prevent bacteria from growing so that the wine could be stored-proof that they were making wine, not just storing grapes. These storage containers were buried to keep the wine cool and preserved. People from the Neolithic period would not likely be considered wine connoisseurs, but they somehow managed to figure out how to extract resin from the right tree just around the same time agriculture was being developed-no small feat!
While there is no doubt that the methods of wine production in Georgia have changed drastically over the last 8,000 years, one thing has remained consistent: great grapes! Because of many factors, including the influence of the Black Sea, mild seasons, and plenty of natural springs to keep vineyards irrigated, Georgia has all of the best conditions for producing grapes. In fact, there are over 400 varieties of grapes grown throughout Georgia, though less than 10% of these are selected for wine production.
Most of the grapes in Georgia are grown on small, traditional farms. Horse drawn carts are still commonly used around the vineyards during harvest. A great deal of wine is also made on these small farms. This wine will not be found bottled and shipped to restaurants or wineries, but is made a part of Georgian culture in a much more personal way. Georgians are known for their supras, or feasts, that include friends, family, and acquaintances. Supras are held regularly and for a wide range of events, but each one is considered a “special event.” One such reason is that a wine that has been stored for anywhere from a few months to a few years is ready for consumption. Friends and family are all invited to partake, and of course sing the praises of the newly minted wine.
While the traditions in Georgia are strong, the modern advances in wine making are also a part of Georgian wine culture. Many large vineyards and wineries exist throughout the country and these companies are making it a priority to let the rest of the world know about their wines. Many Georgian wines are available in specialty markets throughout Europe and North America.
The varieties of wines are nearly countless, but one may find the choices outside of Georgia more limited. For example, Saperavi is a dark red wine that is actually so dark it appears to be black. Known as “paint” in Georgian, this red wine contains a higher alcohol content than many and can be aged for up to 50 years! Rkatsiteli is actually the third most grown grape in the world. The wine is technically “white,” but looking at the color it is best described as amber. Both of these wines are extremely common (and popular) in Georgia, but finding them in your home country may prove to be difficult.
If you are planning on teaching in Georgia as a part of the TLG program with Reach to Teach, be prepared to have wine put in front of you almost daily! Georgian people are extremely hospitable and our teachers’ most common report is how much food and wine is put in front of them every time they sit down-and if they are standing, they are handed a glass and asked to sit! Be prepared to drink a lot of wine in the country where wine production originated!