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Qvevri Winemaking an Intangible Heritage of Humanity

Buried qvevri at Iago's Wine in Chardakhi, Kartli, Georgia

The the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has added the ancient Georgian winemaking process to their world heritage list according to Georgian News TV and decanter.com. We traveled to Georgia in September and had an opportunity to harvest Rkatsiteli grapes and make a wine in a qvevri. The process requires cleaning and sanitizing the qvevri, an earthenware winemaking vessel buried underground. After the qvevri is sanitized, the crushed and destemmed grapes and juice were added to the qvevri. That was it, nothing else. We did not add yeasts, yeast nutrients or any other winemaking products. We will return to Georgia in the spring and open the qvevri. We are anxious to see how the wine turns out.

The winemaking technique of making wine in qvevri is ancient, several thousand years old. Wines have continuously been made in Georgia for 8,000 years. Today, many families make wine in qvevri that are buried outside their home. Some wineries are also making wine in qvevri. A cellar containing several qvevri is called a marani. Qvevri come in different sizes ranging from a few liters to thousands of liters. The qvevri that we are making wine in holds about 75 liters.

The status of being on UNESCO’s world heritage list is very important to Georgians and the ancient winemaking technique. There are few qvevri makers left in Georgia. We met two of them. Hopefully there will be interest in making qvevri and more young people will pursue qvevri making. Also the UNESCO listing should spark interest in this ancient winemaking process. We are most impressed with the white wines made in qvevri. I personally like bold tannic red wines. When I discover a bold tannic white wine it is like a gift from God. In the Kakheti region of Eastern Georgia, white grapes are put in the qvevri and remain usually until March. During this time, the wine is extracting tannins from the skins and seeds. Some winemakers may add some of the stems. The resulting wine is often a dark gold to amber color. Those we experienced were floral and had dried fruit tastes with bold tannins.

The ancient art of winemaking in qvevri has expanded beyond Georgia’s borders. We tasted a qvevri wine in Croatia and qvevri wines are also made in Italy, Slovenia, Armenia and the United States. We have traveled to and written about over 1,000 wineries in North America, Europe and Oceania. The most unique land we traveled to is Georgia and they also have the most unique and ancient winemaking practices. Our visit provided the motivational spark to write our third wine book, “Georgia Sakartvelo: the Birthplace of Wine.” The book is ready to be sent to the editor and we hope to have it published early in 2014.

We congratulate Georgia and UNESCO. The art of qvevri making and qvevri winemaking are surely an intangible heritage of humanity.


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