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Inspired stories about artisan wine and taste makers.
By L.M. Archer, FWS | Bourgogne ML
Each first Friday of every month through 2016, I’ve invited some of my fellow wine writers the opportunity to join me here on binNotes | red thread™ to share a feature on some rare, obscure, or under-appreciated wine region for which they feel a special passion.
I hope you enjoy their stories as much as I do.
Guest Writer Series | № 2| Sarah May Grunwald on Women of Georgian Wines
This month, I’m honored to turn the page over to Sarah May Grunwald, professor of wine at Ikarus Vocational Academy in Tbilisi, official Georgian wine ambassador, and owner of the wine and food tour company Taste Georgia.
Today, Sarah May shares her feature on the women of Georgian wine, which originally appeared inflight for WizzAir.
Miriam Losebidze. | Photo by Sarah Elizabeth Freeman.
Tea Melanashvili, Marina Kurtanidze – Women of Mandili. | Photo by Sarah Freeman
Women of Georgian Wine
By Sarah May Grunwald – Guest Writer
“Georgia is a country I found myself returning to six times in a year. Each visit allowed me more familiarity, discovery and intimacy. Situated at the eastern end of the Black Sea, in the heart of the Caucasus, this small yet incredibly diverse nation offers extraordinary mountains, ancient cities and monasteries, as well as wine regions, all connected by a rich cultural identity with feet firmly rooted in it an ancient and intense history. Its diversity is why I come back over and over again. The 8000-year wine history that Georgia proudly and strongly boasts makes it endlessly intriguing; it makes it the cradle of wine.
Wine and viticulture are the link Georgians have to the past and to each other. Wine alone has survived substantial fundamental changes, both religious and cultural, it has seen empires and regimes rise and fall, and yet it remains constant. It is the connection of the people to the sacred land. Wine is a celebration. It is honored humbly in all homes, but also increasingly at public wine festivals such as the Tbilisi New Wine Festival.
I attended the 5th edition of the festival in early May 2015. It’s an annual event that that brings over 60 different producers together including family producers, traditional qvevri producers, and larger modern commercial producers. It is a great family-oriented festival that is free to the public. Visitors even receive a wine glass to use for tasting. At its heart, the festival is a great opportunity for Georgians to appreciate and celebrate their 8000-year history, while also providing a chance for outside wine aficionados to taste a huge variety of wines and curious travelers to experience that famous Georgian hospitality. Among the tasting, socializing and traditional performances of song and dance, the highlight is the Qvevri Opening Ceremony. The qvevri is the centerpiece of traditional Georgian wine making and wine storage, and has been recognized by UNESCO as protected Intangible Heritage. The Georgian qvevri is the world’s oldest known wine vessel. It is a terracotta jar with a wide mouth that tapers at the bottom, which is then buried in the earth in a marani, or wine cellar. The qvevri was buried for 6 months right in the middle of Tbilisi. Watching the opening and drinking fresh from the qvevri is a huge honor, and a uniquely Georgian experience.
Three newcomers to the festival are the pride of Georgian wine at the moment: three women who represent the new wave of Georgian wine. Tea Melanashvili, Marina Kurtanidze and Mariam Losebidze are making their own wine, something that has traditionally been reserved for men. I had the opportunity to talk with them about their aspirations and the response from the community.
Tea and Marina established Mandili winery in 2012 after finding great inspiration in other international female wine makers. Both women explained that they wanted to make a wine that was both Georgian and also conveyed the essence of being made by women. They chose the mtsvane grape because they both really love wines it results in and they were able to buy grapes from very healthy vineyards. They weren’t alone in the process. They had the help of friends and encouragement from fellow qvevri producers. In fact, they did not experience any kind of negativity in the tight knit wine community in Georgia and have only had encouragement from their colleagues and friends. Their wine not only represents a huge shift for women, it is extremely well made and delicious.
In the nearby Ateni Valley, 25-year-old Mariam bought grapes and made her first vintage in 2014 using organic Takveri grapes. The wine is made in the traditional Georgian way- in qvevri. At 25, Mariam is an inspiration to young Georgian women with wine-making aspirations. Like the Mandili ladies, she wanted to make a wine that expressed both herself and the region. The wine community has been very encouraging of her, and the wine is fantastic. A well-made, fresh, fruity, complex mineral driven wine that dances on the tongue. She has aspirations to expand production and buy her own vineyards.
These three women mark a change in Georgian society that is embracing modernity while firmly holding onto its traditions. Wine is a sacred culture shared equally by all in Georgia. Wine-travel gives guests a unique opportunity to embrace and connect with a most authentic branch of Georgian culture, and it allows the visitor to taste the deep history backing the values of life shared by all Georgians. The annual Tbilisi New Wine Festival brings this culture together in the heart of the capital city, Tbilisi. I’ve already started packing for the 2016 edition.”
Image: Sarah May Grunwald.
Story and photos reprinted by permission of author, Sarah May Grunwald.
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