First, where is Racha? Northwest of Georgia (no, not Atlanta). Not far from Imeriti. Gorgeous. Rich in terroir; iron, carbon, granite, slate, marcasite, quartz, limestone of all colors that is crawling with ancient crustaceans. The place is a raw nerve of terroir.
Yet the mountainous, pulse-stoppingly beautiful highland-like region is gravely under-utilized and way too poor. This, Georgia's smallest wine region with no bottle-ready wine maker currently on the market--is a land in need of champion. No foreign star winemaker such as Raul Perez/Telmo Rodriguez is on the horizon. Given my prejudice about wine, this is a good thing.
But some of Georgia's best, committed to making wine close to nature--like Imertian Ramaz Nikoladze, or Kartlians Niki Antadze and Iago Bitarishvili or Khaketian Gela Patalishvili--could help some of the home talent wanting to come to local and foreign tables, if they had the luxury of time. But right now these local superstars are also struggling to make a dream happen-- as all were born in Soviet times when there no dreams were allowed. Because of this, despite the need for greater infrastructure (it's getting there) it's an exciting time for these wines.
Georgian wines--the great ones-- are in demand. France, Italy, London, Japan and increasingly New York are importing, drinkers are buying. Japan is super-nuts over wines from this country, orange, white and reds. Buyers / importers are begging for magnums. But it's not so simple. The guys here are forced to deal with issues few winemakers from acclaimed territory have to: Can they afford the bigger bottle? Even if some of the above are lucky enough to have indoor flushables, can they afford the different corks? These excellent vignerons, the small ones (average 2,000 bottles) and not super young--no one is under 35--a good dose are way over 50 are under-financed. One winemaker when he started risked his father's wrath when he sold a beaten down car to buy a new qvevri. Every decision they make is weighed very heavily. Yet show up to taste unannounced in any region and the table will soon be laden with at the very least, katchapuri (cheese stuffed bread), tomatoes and cucumers, salty cheeses, little salads, boiled or cured meats-- more often than not all made from their own animals. This is living sustainability. Hospitality in this country defies the pocketbook -- serving guests is their mission, joy and victory.
In my Georgian stay I learned lessons. One of them was at the benefit of spending days in the western region relying on outhouses. I know this is a sensitive issue for my generous hosts and I hope they can forgive me, but I felt fortunate for the experience and want to write about it. At first I felt incompetent. I didn't knowing how or where to wash my hands, how to shower or how to brush my teeth and was too shy to ask. Approaching the litte house on the fringe in the growing day's heat made me confront the meaning of civilization. My initial reaction was familiar: watching the dentist inch towards me with a sharp tool. I knew I would get used to it. There were strategies. I coated the outside of my nostrils. (Thank you jasmine solid scent from Mandy Aftel.). I came to see walking outside in the middle of the night as an adventure. Mostly I felt in my bones how lucky I was that back on Elizabeth Street I had a pull-chain toilet in my apartment five floors above. I also became painfully aware of my city-girl spoiled life and marveled at how those can not only cope but do so with no complaint and under-stated strength. It made me think about stupid frills I count on, the lipstick, the change of clothes, the electric toothbrush, the short hop to my water closet from my bed.
There are other third world and emerging countries trying to rebuild. But here is a big point of difference. Georgia might be the only top wine country where many struggle to make their wine under such conditions. For example: I've seen 'wineries' here, without easy access to water and manage inventive solutions to bring water in. Yes, that is changing and that will change. But the bottom line is the best of the wines are clean, lovely, energetic, complex, vibrant and additive free. The best winemakers have a passionate love of nature and an understanding of it. They are its guardian. Is it a miracle or is it just that they found the magic way to make wine with truly as little intervention as possible and still present us with something salubrious and delicious.
In my short stay I began to see the truth that ...
one can tell alot about the quality and care of wine based on the way one cares for their house.
The wine from this man, was lovely. The red was gamay-like, and he said he'd never sell it--it is merely for friends and visitors.
Buying and drinking Georgian wine is not merely a privilege and a delight, it's a Kickstarter campaign with a great reward program.
More about this in the August issue of The Feiring Line (If you dare. Some of the material will indeed be scatalogical.)