Georgia is one of the places of vine domestication, perhaps the oldest, and witnesses its presence in a relatively small area of dozens of autochthonous vines (more than 520), whose history has been lost in the mists of time. In the land of ancient Colchis, wine has always had decisive identity connotations, as shown by the archaeological finds and the flourishing trade that the Phoenicians gave life to and named the corner of land between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea “Land of the wine”. In the local iconography, the Tree of Life is a bare tree intertwined with vine plants. And to confirm the strong bond with the land, here the vines take the name of the territories and municipalities of origin. Besides being a symbol of Christianity, in Georgia wine is above all a symbol of the banquet, that is the form of sociality that characterizes the Georgian culture and that is centred on the figure of Tamadà: the pater familia, the one who praises wine.
In what is believed to be the cradle of vitis vinifera, the primordial mother of all vines, we continue to consume wine produced in amphora (kvevri in Kakheti and in Kartli or churi and in Racha), a practice that is 8,000 years old and that almost disappeared in the rest of the world colonized by the vine. Prototypes of kvevri can be recognized in the large clay jars found in the Neolithic settlements of southern Georgia (Sulaveris-Gora, Chramis Didi-Gora) and in the amphorae produced in the southern Caucasus in the III-IV century BC.
Today these amphorae can still be found in almost all the country houses of the Georgian wine-growing regions, where they serve to produce wine for consumption, but the large winegrowing cooperatives, born at the time of the Soviet Union, when Georgia was the wine tank of the Russian republics, and surviving the collapse of the Union, now favor more productive vines and more modern and conventional technologies. For this reason, since 2008 the regions of Khakheti and Imereti have been protected by the Slow Food Presidium, in collaboration with Cammino Autoctuve and The Biological Farming Association Elkana.
It is also a costly and problematic technique: considerthe difficulty of washing a similar clay tank after the fermentation, totally sunk into the ground and accessible only through a small opening. Even the production of amphorae requires a very demanding work, which requires precision, patience and great physical effort (they are shaped by hand without using the potter's lathe and, after drying, they are cooked in special ceramic ovens) and currently there are only five potters in activity.
In eastern Georgia and particularly in Kakheti, wines are traditionally made in ground-floor or basement rooms, with large stone walls and with small windows or without windows at all, in order to keep the most constant temperature (marani)inside. In western Georgia, where the climate is milder, the amphorae are buried directly in the "open-air" soil in the orchard or in a part of the courtyard shaded by trees or under an open canopy (chur-marani).
The grapes are crushed barefoot and the flower must is collected on the bottom of a wooden or stone basin, where it is poured through a hole into expressly prepared kvevri. The large amphorae are thus filled and buried so that even the orifice of the neck remains below ground level, to allow first the fermentation and then the aging of wines, both white and red. The practices are slightly different depending on the local traditions: in Imereti, for example, in the north of the country, the wines go in the amphora without peels, while in the area of Khakheti fermentation and aging on peels are practiced. After two months the wine is poured again into another clean amphora, where it ripens for another 2 or 3 years, but it can happen that it ripens even for over 20 years. Despite the hermetic seal, the porous clay walls of the kvevri allow a slow oxidation of the wine and a limited evaporation. Therefore, every fifteen days, the level is checked and, if necessary, it is topped up, so that the amphora is always full to the rim.
The wines deriving from the maturation in amphora and from the different local practices give life to unique wines, very enduring, with a relatively high acidity, rich in numerous aromatic compounds.