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Delhi Wine Club
Qvevri Wine Making Tradition of Georgia

Posted: Thursday, 16 October 2014 11:52

Wine and Food Travel: Qvevri Wine Making Tradition of Georgia

Oct 16: Qvevri wine-making has been practised for centuries in Georgia where there is currently a surge in popularity after this traditional form was given the UNESCO Heritage Status last year, with other countries like Italy, France, Australia, Austria and Germany now evincing interest in their use, writes Subhash Arora who visited several wineries in Georgia using qvevri and feels that the good winemaking practices are equally important even after their 8000 years of usage

Click For Large ViewNovices might quiver at the thought of not knowing about Qvevri wines of Georgia or find it queer that such old techniques are still in use despite modern technology innovations. These are wines made traditionally for 8000 years, using amphora-like clay vessels buried in the ground to ferment the juice keeping the skins and pips intact. They are also used for ageing and storing wine.

Click For Large ViewGeorgians do not like to describe these egg-like clay vessels as Amphorae which were used millennia after the qvevris were conceptualized by them by the Romans who also used them for transportation and were generally kept above ground. The qvevris have a well-defined shape and proportion, which has changed marginally over the centuries based on the experience of the winemakers who have been passing the art from one generation to the next. The oldest qvevri discovered 8000 years ago is being displayed in the National Museum in Tbilisi and looks quite different from the ones being used today.

Qvevri can vary in size normally from 10 kilos to 10 tons of grapes and even above, though 4 tons seems to be the most commonly used size.  A winery would normally have several sizes depending on their requirements. The shape of qvevri has changed marginally over the last several centuries. Qvevris are produced in certain regions and villages only and there is shortage of craftsmen since making qvevri is a highly skilled job.  They are not made from moulds but the qvevri master who knows the constituents including height, width, thickness and shape, gives the form.

Winemaking with qvevris

Click For Large ViewSlightly crushed grapes complete with stems and pips are put into the qvevri where the natural fermentation starts naturally in the next 2-3 days and continues for 2-4 weeks. Punch-down of the cap is done usually twice a day during alcoholic fermentation. Red wines are separated from the skins and stems but whites are left with the skins and stems. A 2-3 inch stone lid is used to cover the top, which allows a small amount of oxygen in. Malolactic fermentation starts spontaneously soon afterwards. In spring, the fermentation qvevri is opened and the wine transferred to a fresh and clean qvevri for storage until bottling or it may be bottled right away.

White wines made in this process have an amber colour and develop nutty shades of flavour of almond, walnut or even dried apple. The long maceration in contact with grape seeds also adds the tannins that have the nourishing anthocyanins. Georgians call leaving the wine on the skins as ‘leaving it with the mother’ and believe that wines made in qvevris have more soul.

Twins Wine Cellar

Click For Large ViewTwins Old Cellar in Napareuli Village in the Telavi district in Kakheti region has an interesting museum dedicated to the parents of the twins- Gia and Gela Gamtkitsulashvili. This winery is a must-visit for any wine tourists to Georgia and visiting  Kakheti to the east of Tbilisi for the precious information about the history of qvevri, followed by the process that has been captivating the world of late but has been routine with most Georgian families who have a few qvevri in their house for wines for self consumption or to be gifted to their friends.

Dedicated to their father who was arrested by the Russians controlling the country at that time and whose winery they snatched and closed and which was returned to them after Georgia became independent, the brothers have set up  a qvevri museum.

Gia is so passionate about the qvevri winemaking that he quit his job and is now full-time at the winery, even expanding the operations - the sudden spurt may have something to do with his decision. Like everywhere else in Georgia, there has been a sudden boom in the qvevri wines after the Heritage Status granted to the traditional process by UNESCO last year.

Click For Large ViewThey have made an outdoor room-sized qvevri which is the most easily recognizable part of the winery from a distance. It can be reached by a ladder. The interior feels like one is standing inside a huge qvevri. The clay walls are marked A, B, C, D showing levels of internal activity as wine juice ferments and the solids reach the bottom of this curved vessel resembling the qvevri. They own 107 qvevris which they have put in use already by restoring the almost-lost tradition.

They currently are adding more qvevris and making an underground tunnel that will connect the museum with the winery outside. They may not be in a position to export for a while- at least to India but they  seem to have  a very successful business model for the wine tourists with a few rooms that can be rented by those interested to spend time in this region. To contact them write directly to or

With renewed interest these clay fermenters are now being produced in the United States. There have been several people experimenting with similar vessels in Italy, Austria, and Chile too. But the qvevris in Georgia are attracting bigger crowds every day. To them, they are like religion.

Although they are known to work without any damage for decades, they are not discarded even if they are no longer useful, but are placed in a garden, leaning against the walls respectfully.

Qvevris produce wine which is more earthy and fuller in body and flavours, especially the white wines. ‘Acquired Taste’ is the word most apt for these wines. But for those looking for a change or wine with a personality- wine with a soul, qvevri wines offer an exciting option. Unfortunately, despite the old wine laws and Georgians claiming to have the oldest appellation system in the world, there is no uniform style of displaying through a common symbol indicting that the bottle has a wine processed in qvevri. It may or may not have been processed in oak

With the increased interest in the process, Georgians would do well to come to an agreement- this could also help in branding the process.

Subhash Arora  

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