Lords of the Drinks

Georgia, home of the oldest wine tradition in the world


Traditional qvevri (Georgian amphoras) hidden in the ground of the old city of Mtskheta in Georgia.

It’s still not really sure which people or tribe discovered the great invention of wine. However the oldest civilization that is known for it’s wine drinking were not the Romans or the ancient Greeks, but the Georgians. Say what? Yes that country in the Caucasus between Russia and Turkey. We told you about their cure for hangovers, now let’s talk drinks. Since it is here that the oldest remains of wine making were found. And still Georgia has a great wine culture with species that are found nowhere else in the world.

Let’s have a look at the history first. There is no argument among specialists that the oldest remains of wine making were found in Georgia. In typical clay vases called qvevri’s archeologists found the remains of grape seeds. They say the oldest ones go back to 6.000 years B.C. These qvevri (or kvevri) are still being used in Georgia to make wine. Where in Western Europe grapes ferment in wooden barrels, Georgians till recently always stuck to their traditional clay vases. The qvevri are almost completely buried in the ground and sealed with a wooden cover. For a good fermentation process, and therefor good wine, the cool ground in these basements is essential. These days almost all Georgian wine makers switched from the ancient style to modern technology. Otherwise it would be hard to compete with wines elsewhere in the world.

And it’s not only the process that makes Georgian wines special. The country in the South Caucasus has an enormous variety in grape species. There are about 500 different kinds, most of them go way back and only grow in Georgia. Wine is one of the biggest export products, but of course not all kinds leave the country. If you can buy wines outside of Georgia you are likely to stumble across the Saperavi (red), Mtsvane and Rkatsiteli (both white) grapes.

All through history Georgia and wine have always been inextricably connected. The writings of the famous Greek poet Homer also mention the great wine quality of this region. And it’s even said that the curly Georgian alphabet was made to look like vines. To give you an example we spelled the Georgian word for wine ‘gvino’ here: ღვინო. Wine can also be found in other cultural expressions like music, poetry and architecture. It even plays a large part in the Georgian Orthodox Christian church. Since before Christianity in Georgia many pagan rituals were performed with wine the conversion to Christianity couldn’t go well without picking up on that.

In communist times Georgia was – together with Moldova – the wine cellar of the Soviet Union. With it’s massive vineyards on the borders of the  long Mtkvari river and many other regions the Caucasus state nowadays produce about 130.000 tons of grapes a year. No wonder there’s still a massive wine culture. It has an almost sacred meaning to Georgians and should not be drunk at any occasion. The wine is a symbol of Georgian culture and should therefor be cherished.

Well, I bet you are quite curious where to find these bottles and actually you probably can. At least in the Western world many bigger cities have at least one Russian store that sells also Georgian wine. And through internet they’re also not that hard to order. However, in our opinion there’s nothing like tasting not only the wine, but also the culture it represents. And when visiting Georgia you won’t have to stick to 2 or 3 brands. Consider this our holiday tip for the summer. Gaumarjos!

Micky Bumbar

See our article on the World’s largest wine cellar in Moldova

Check out more articles on history or mythology