Wine harvest in Georgia

The great wine of Kakheti, Georgia!

Wine, glorious wine!

The Georgians will tell you; they were the first to make wine. It is true that wine, grapes and all paraphernalia related to wine-making are omnipresent in the Republic of Georgia. The evidence is everywhere. Ancient markings on churches and monuments, on tombstones, wrought-iron decors of all kinds, horns in which to savor your favorite, grapes growing on every balcony, some with incredible grape stock so large you wonder how old it can be, grapes on every market stall, it is for sure that you cannot disassociate wine and the Georgians.
harvesting rkatsiteli in Koda
However, present him with his favorite and national dish, a steaming dish of khinkali, and he will instantly grab a beer... It does go better with ludi, I agree..
On the planet of wine below, you see Koda's rkatsiteli grapes having been through the wringer. How will this wine be in a year? Only time will tell..

Harvest is upon the Georgians once more. Will this particularly dry summer bring a superb wine? No doubt! Families who share rows of grapes in the countryside are getting organized to gather together and cut the grapes. Soon, Tbilisoba will happen and churchkhela will be made, dipping strings of walnuts hazelnuts and other goodies in tatara, a mixture of grape juice, flour and sugar. Msvadi, bbqs will be roasted on the coals and accompanied by a great deal of wine. All will be processed, and in the end, you will drink a super Saperavi or a Rkatsiteli, or make a toast with a shot of Chacha. Then, the long winter will start..the qvevri will be full of the golden or red liquid resting until it comes to maturity.
harvesting grapes in Koda, Georgia
Planet Rvino...
Grapes will be put through the wringer in this!
Rkatsiteli grapes will become a great honey-colored wine

All over Georgia, the harvest is being organized. Soon we go to the region of Kakheti and experience the flavors, the sights and the delicious result!

But first...Koda-oba.                                                                                                                                        

In Koda, the ancestral village of the, a plot is tended by the members and grapes are collected for the year's supply of wine. This was an extremely dry year, and only about 100kg of grapes came out of the 6 family rows. The grapes are never watered, and this year, they suffered from the extremely dry weather. More grapes will be purchased to add to this year's poor harvest, in order to have enough homemade wine for the coming year.
It's family business!
Beautiful honey color!

The grapes are put through a wringer to crush them, put into a barrel for a week, then the liquid is drained, and put into large bottles. The skins are left in the barrel and sugar is added. After a few days, when it ferments and bubbles, the pulp is used to make the powerful chacha, white if plainly distilled, or a golden brown when kept in an oak barrel after distillation. It is then called cognaki, or Cognac, and resembles the French Cognac
The grape juice in the large bottles is emptied and filtered several times, to remove the pulp that would make the wine less pure. It is then allowed to rest. 

The rkatsiteli grapes give a golden hue to the wine. No sulfates are added, it is pure wine. .
That is one traditional method. But of course, the method of keeping the wine in a qvevri differs a bit.

Let's go to Kakheti and see how it's done!
In Katheti, as well as in all other places in Georgia, wine is being processed in q'vevris, and in barrels. The traditional way of keeping wine in q'vevris is getting a boost these days, as it it particularly prized by tourists, and so contributes not only to the pleasure of the visitors, and to the national heritage, but also the economy in general. 
Grapes being brought to
Khareba Winery, Kakheti

A marani prior to the filling up stage
and a beautiful Georgian to boot!
At the Twins Cellar, in Napareuli,
each of the 100 + qvevris is being filled
with up to 6 tons of pressed grapes
A marani  is a set of q'vevris that are literally buried in a trench, then held straight and then covered with soil.
This pulp is what is left after
the distilled "chacha" has been made.

The marani looks like a cellar, where the wine caskets are below your feet! It is quite impressive to see how the caskets are filled to the rim with the wine! Others wait to become chacha and the smells of the grapes skins in fermentation fill the room. In Napareuli, in Kakheti, the Twins Cellar, a rather small organization compared to huge competitors in the region, turns out 280 000 liters of wine per year.

The Khareba Winery, a local winery also referred to as Gvirabi, because it stands for "tunnel", holds an immense reserve of wines, mainly kept in barrels and other massive vessels from the soviet age. A little dark to take good pics in there, but a great place for tourists! In this picture, you see one of those great big vessels. The wine is actually carried in the pipes that you see going down the tunnel. It is impressive. The only drawback is that the wine tasting here is made of ...European wines!!  
Remnant of the Soviet era.
A great wine vessel..
You can buy their wines close to Irakli II place in Tbilisi, where they have a wine-tasting room and no doubt at the winery... 
In the gvirabi, you will see a variety of ancient and modern tools used in wine making, as well as some of their wines. It is definitely a must-see! This is not the q'vevri method, however!

Napareuli's winery is interesting in the way that it is set-up. I do not recommend staying there, simply because the food and lodging were average in quality and above average in price, and the mosquitoes brought on in the chacha making season were awful. The rooms are situated right above the marani, and they smelled of alcohol. Touring the museum can be of interest. Disregard the poor English translations, for the information is actually quite good. 

Visualize the fermentation process
in Napareuli Twins Cellar.
Don't leave home without it!!

Coming soon on this blog:
The Bounties of Kakheti!

Abanotubani, a sulfurous experience...

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Grab your towel, we're going abanotubaning! Well, maybe not..

It's the year. I only made it to the door last year, and chickened out..This year, I am going to do it! Bath AND massage, please!
Only a week to wait...
Then, I will go eat some pilminis, right next door!
Abanotubani is a strange and inviting place to any foreigner in search of exotic pleasure and relaxation. 
But the ongoing thought in the Georgian population is that it is a place for prostitutes and ill-happenings. So, a Georgian woman who respects herself would not be caught dead there... I am having an ongoing discussion with my georgian family about even entering the dreaded place..and a woman does not enter alone, I am told. It remains to be seen if my towel will be even slightly moist with sulfurous waters.
All this, however, is a part if the culture and it explains why the majority of Georgians have never entered the place. With less than a week in Georgia, time is running short. To be continued..or not
A pretty view of the Abanotubani neighborhood.
The great steam vents in Abanotubani

Sulfur baths....Should be interesting!

This would be the place.

Now, you don't see that everyday..

Steam vents and balconies. What else could you ask for..
Come on it! The water is fine!!
Beautiful door...

What a great sight!

Needless to say, my towel is dry! Darn it anyway!

Alaverdoba, Tbilisoba, Koda-oba, fun-oba!!!

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Time for some solid fun!
Chuamta fountain, on the way to Kakheti.

This fall, I am making the rounds to Alaverdoba and Tbilisoba, the first weekend in October. I may even include my own, Koda-oba, as we will be going to check out the happenings in the vineyards in Koda, Tamazi's home town. The grape harvest will happen sometimes in the next week in the family's plot.
-oba is the ending added to any town that is having a festival. Alaverdi, so Alaverdoba, Tbilisi, so Tbilisoba.
Mainly, it is related to the grape harvest, but it can be a cheese festival too, any festival, really..and for Alaverdoba, it is also mainly a great religious festival. Alaverdi is well known as one of the main centers of religion in Georgia. The monks in the Alaverdi Monastery have also been growing grapes for centuries. You can see old qvevris still in front of the monastery commons.

Kakheti is one of the best known wine-growing regions of the Republic of Georgia, and a wonderful place to admire the surrounding mountains, but it not the only wine region in Georgia. In fact, you will find vineyards and wineries all over Georgia, with dozens of different types of wines. Not all are processed in clay qvevris either. Many wineries use barrels and process their grapes as Italians and French companies do.

So, are you ready for a little wine?
vineyard in Koda, SW of Tbilisi

Ready for the picking!

The grapes are held by strands of corn silk
 In Koda, rkatsiteli grapes make for an amazing golden glass of wine.

going from grapes to wine in the cellar. Tbilisi 2009.
According to the owner, this is called
Chala..Looks like Saperavi to me..

The golden honey color of the wine
 is famous in Georgia
home brew of tchatcha..

Flashback, Tbilisoba 2009. A taste of what is to come this year.

Food is everywhere. Msvadi, or bbq, send smoke throughout the Charden district. Bread is baking in the tonay, and churchkhrela is getting prepared. A paradise for the senses..

A mixture of grape juice,
 sugar and flour, pelamushi is a great dessert

Preparation of tonis puri, or
bread in a tonay

Heating the tonay for baking

Beautiful display of Georgian fall products

In the Abanotubani district,
dancing groups gather. Here, a group from Azerbidjan.
Let the music begin!

Great displays of culture, dancing groups, singing groups, and joy all around! What fun!

Flashback Alaverdi 2013:
How will this peaceful retreat become a great wine festival, I don't know. I just know that it holds a special place in my heart..

Alaverdi Monastery, Kakheti region, Georgia
Alaverdi, with its silence, its bees and its mountains. Quiet solitude for this ancient and holy place..Now, let's add a little wine and see what it becomes..

Well, Alaverdi was so calm, that we began to wonder if the Tourist Office had deceived us..It seems like it was going to happen, that day, or this day, and so we showed up and it was empty..but gorgeous, as usual.
Beautiful Caucasus Mountains
It turns out that the dates for Alaverdoba differ greatly, since they refer to a series of masses in the church. Leave it to me to think that it was going to be a very cool festival with cars lined up and maybe Mickey showing up..This is when you remember that not everything that is planned to happen in Georgia will automatically happen at the given date..Tomorrow is ok too...So, just as Alaverdi was still, admittedly beautiful, it was empty, and Tbilisoba, which was set to happen on October 5th, is now set to the 25th! Taking time or not being in a hurry is a science, and I was never a great science student..

...on to Tbilisoba 2014 !
Thanks to my little friend, Luka, we will not go without pics of Tbilisoba. As Tamazi and I took the plane home to France, Tbilisoba was being prepared. It turned out to be HUGE! But the basics were here..You judge for yourself!
Dancing, singing, laughing
and joy all around!

rvinos kalaki, or "wine city"
The Georgian answer to the Beer Garden..
 The basics were there: wine, pelamushi, or tatara (the difference, I was told, is one is made with flour and the other with corn flour.) For a great recipe, follow this link to pelamushi.

pelamushi galore...

A creamy-crunchy Georgian snack!
Churchrela can be then dipped in it, or...tatara can be eaten just as is, as Luka shows us, with a sprinkle of ....nuts, of course!! What a fun treat!
Socks were here to sell, no doubt much, much,
much more expensive than in the metro entrances..

Churchrela, and tsabli, or chestnuts,
also strung out! A new one on me...

Mystery liquid..Honey?
Very possible...Wine? Also very possible..

Here is a live Queen Tamar, or Tamar Mepe, "King Tamar",
because she was such an important figure.
Behind her, you see Metekhi. 

A hot approach to the

No, they are not boots!
Here, is wine all the time! Pretty cool!
 And here, bottle holders. Quite cool, don't you think?
It went on into the night, as you see from this view way up
on the fortress of Narikala!

The State Silk Museum in Tbilisi. Abreshumis Muzeumi. The Silk Road revisited.

The silk worm/butterfly

The Silk Road is famous for, as we know it...the transfer of great silk to the West..These caravans left China and went to all parts of Europe and Asia to sell their goods. A better term would really be the "Silk Roads", for there were many. To the west, to Europe, but also to the South, to the Middle East, etc..
The Silk Roads were very active in the Middle Ages, and today we call them trading routes, remnants of the great age of caravans and trading in Asia and Eastern Europe. The products may be computer chips and crude oil, we no longer carry them on camel backs, but the idea is the same.

Trading spices from the East in Europe

Georgian carpets in Tbilisi, Georgia

It is evident that the Silk Road merchants carried more than silk. Spices, carpets, tools, jewelry, ideas... and who could forget Marco Polo and the great noodle/pasta controversy. Italian? Chinese? A mixture of both? Either way, we love macaroni...
So, people traveled great distances and came in contact with other civilizations. They came home and told of their travels, showed their goods, and gave ideas a new twist. They rested in caravansarai, such as the one on Kote Afkhasi Street in Tbilisi, and shared their adventures. Then they continued their journey and brought news of China, of Siberia, or the Middle East or, of the great food prepared by those kartvelis. You have to wonder whether or not khinkali were also brought from China, or was it the opposite?   :)

Back to silk...
Georgia did for centuries have its own flourishing silk agriculture. The silk worm was unfortunately decimated by a disease from the west, called Pébrine, in the 1860's. 

The Caucasian Sericulture Station was born in 1887 in Tbilisi, as an effort to revive the ancient knowledge of silk making, with extensive plantings of tutta, the silkworm tree, morus alba, commonly called the mulberry, and many buildings needed for that culture were built around the site of the present museum.  

As described on this site, webpage of the State Silk Museum, it was ...
The many silk butterflies
"the desire of the Russian Empire to make a typical colony of Georgia and thus turn it into a market for the industrial produce of the metropolis and a supplier of raw materials...with the development of such fields in Georgia that were non-existent in Russia. 
The Agricultural Society, the Sericulture Station, the Phylloxera Committee, the Cottage Industry Committee and the Local Agricultural Organization were founded with the purpose to develop sericulture, horticulture, tea-growing and other fields of agriculture."

The State Silk Museum of Tbilisi is right next 
to the great sports center called Dinamo. 
Its address is: 6 Tsabadze Street. 
Its phone number is: +995-32 234 09 67.

If you were to walk Aghmashenebeli Avenue from the old neighborhood with the beautiful old balconies, through the newly restored part, visiting Park Djanzug Kakhidze on the way, and continued walking to the other end of Aghmashenebeli, a walk I highly recommend, you would then be heading straight to the State Silk Museum. A wonderful and cool environment after such a long walk, but absolutely a very interesting place to visit. 
Spend some time admiring the building on the outside first. It is incredible in its details. The little park out front is quite unappealing, but the museum makes up for it inside. It may appear old and dusty, but there are treasures to see and lessons to learn..I promise!

The beautiful façade of the museum!
Although it is difficult to get the door to open, ring the bell yet again, and once you get the person in charge to guide you, you will be led into a great space. The staircase is punctuated with carvings of silkworms and silk butterflies in different stages of growth. The building is absolutely incredible, although it is in great need of repair. It does house the Embassy of Lithuania, which explained why the guards at the door were somewhat careful in opening the door. 

Marqueterie floors in the museum
The library is incredible!

The building was erected in 1892 and is a beautiful example of architecture, inside and out. It is considered an important national heritage. It was designed by a Polish-Lithuanian architect, Alexander Szymkiewicz, who lived in Tbilisi at the time and can be thanked also for a variety of other building designs, such as the Rustaveli Theater. His present to Georgia has been returned by housing the Embassy, isn't that fun? 
spinning the silk
Only the main building remains. The cocoon house, the silk spinning and reeling mills, the nursery are all gone, unfortunately. 
Inside are tools for harvesting tutta, or mulberry leaves, spinning tools, cocoons of all kinds, and shapes, silks...
We were thrilled to have a private tour. Not many Georgians have been or know of the existence of this museum, but it certainly is a great teaching tool.
The mulberry is a fast growing tree, but does not make a great addition in your yard. It drops leaves everywhere, and droops. However, it is of major importance for the worms, who are very voracious. We were amazed to see the size of some of these worms, and the care needed to obtain a good cocoon. The mulberry wood is a good wood to make musical instruments, as well as other instruments of all kinds, and there are many beautiful examples of this in the museum. 

Cocoon strung to dry
Musical instruments
made out of mulberry wood

It is unfortunate that silk is no longer made in Georgia, for the sample of last centuries displayed in the museum reveal magnificent works of art. It is nowadays difficult to find silk items made in Georgia, since, once again....China has taken over the market! You can't say things don't go around in this world, right?

wooden blocks used to print on silk
Georgian woman doll
with example of silk and silk lace

A new garden variety of "merchant travelers" has come alive recently, globetrotters interested in discovering the true natives, their customs, their everyday lives, their history and their civilization, away from tourist busses and major tour operators. That is the only way to befriend our fellow humans. 
This museum speaks of their toils, their troubles, and their accomplishments. A truly interesting site!

Visit our website for details!