Notes from Georgia, i

7 September 2017

Brief impressions from the a weeklong wine trip I took to the Republic of Georgia this summer, hosted by Wines of Georgia.

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Pictured: Keto Ninidze’s first wine. Keto’s a university-trained philologist, social activist & wine writer, one of Georgia’s very few female winemakers, and she moved out west from the capital just last year to Martvili, in Samegrelo. There are a lot of hazelnuts here—it’s a cash crop—and the soils are predominately limestone. Her husband Zaza works with the national parks service (I am paraphrasing—I don’t know the official name, but it’s involved with natural wonders & attractions in the area like the Martvili canyon) and also makes wines under his own label.

Keto’s much smaller winery, which just received its qvevri, is in the home, at cellar level, with a dress on a hanger in the center column. It’s named (“Oda”), the word for the traditional wood houses of the region. They’re two stories, with the front door on the second floor, approached by an outdoor staircase & an elaborate balconey. Next to the house are her baby vines, one and two years old.

Ojaleshi is a variety (actually there’s two, unrelated to one another) whose name roughly translates to ‘sun-lover’—it used to be trained up persimmon trees. The Soviets encouraged its planting for sweet red wine. Here, instead, she’s made a direct-press white in stainless steel. (She didn’t have qvevri yet, and it’s purchased fruit as her vines are growing.)

The Georgian characters on the top of the label read, “TERROIR VS TERROR”. The woman on the right is imprisoned in the sort of typical Soviet-era drinking glass old men in the countryside fill to the brim & toss back.

There’s a tension in natural wine, maybe a useful dialectical tension worth exploring, between its traditionalism (“I’ll make wine the way my grandfather did”) & its progressivism (“I won’t use chemicals the way all my neighbors do; I’ll experiment with aging vessels & technique; I’ll make wine even though in my grandfather’s day people like me didn’t”). I think it’s one that Keto inhabits consciously, and it’s one that we should think about as wine professionals who sometimes fetishize the traditional or the premodern.

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