Georgia is considered by many to be the birthplace of wine, and its history can be traced back over 8000 years when the people of the South Caucasus discovered that if wild grape juice was buried in a pit over winter, it turned into wine. This led to Georgians cultivating grapes and burying clay vessels, or kveris, to create wine - sometimes for as long as 50 years for a true vintage. Archaeologists have found these kveris in a huge variety of different shapes, sizes and styles, often with a highly skilled level of craftmanship, highlighting how much wine was revered by ancient Georgians. Kveris are not just a piece of Georgian wine history, they are still used in Georgian wine production today (see below) and this process has been given heritage protection status by UNESCO.
Recent History of Georgian Wine
The recent chapter in the country’s wine production is as fascinating as any other period in its 8,000 year history. In the days of the old Soviet Union, whilst Ukraine was known as the breadbasket of Russia, Georgia was known as the wine cellar. The country would export over 80% of its annual wine production to satisfy the needs of thirsty Russians, and quality was considerably less important than quantity. This all changed in 2006 however, when Russia imposed a crippling embargo on Georgian wine. Georgia was forced to look to the west for potential export markets, and its vineyards began to focus more on quality and marketing, adapting their production techniques to suit new western tastes. Today Georgian wine is stocked by British supermarkets such as Marks and Spencer, and is becoming increasingly popular in the United States and Europe, particularly the northern European states. This has been further aided by the 2014 free trade agreement between Georgia and the European Union removing trade tariffs on Georgian wine.
Georgian Orange Wine
Whilst Russia resumed importing wine in 2013, Georgia is understandably reluctant to rely too heavily on its fickle neighbour, and continues to focus on quality wines. There are 18 winemaking regions and the country is home to over 400 varieties of grape – more than anywhere else in the world. Georgia’s most famous wine is so-called “orange wine”, which is essentially a white wine made in a similar way to a red wine, with the grape skins left in contact with the juice for much longer than normal, up to six months.
Tourism in Georgia
It is not just the wine industry which is currently undergoing a boom, tourism is also benefitting, and we have seen an increase in visitor numbers to Georgia of 20% in 2015 compared to 2014, with wine playing a major part in this increase.
“Through wine and food, people are becoming more familiar with Georgia, and are wanting to visit themselves to see the vineyards, taste the wines and enjoy the delicious Georgian food,” says Wild Frontiers Founder Jonny Bealby.
“It’s a beautiful country with stunning mountain landscapes, a proud hospitable people and a long and fascinating history, dating back to the legend of the golden fleece. And of course the food and wine is a huge draw, with the white, red and orange wines, breads, olives, walnuts and cheeses.”
Wild Frontiers are the UK’s leading expert to Georgia, offering riding holidays, walking holidays in the Svaneti and Caucasus mountain ranges and a number of group tours and tailor-made holidays throughout Georgia. Check out our Georgia Tours and Holidays and discover the wonderful world of Georgian wine for yourself?