(I realize there's more to say about Georgia, so here is the first of the next two postings)
The title, the First International Qvevri Conference, with its main characters, a prophet and an ex-cave dwelling Bishop, could have been a Borat movie. But this conference I attended in Georgia in September was no joke, but a fascinating examination of an ancient wine culture that make beautiful wines for a drinker in any century.
I was lucky to hang out with the Prophet, who had an apocryphal tale to tell.
Before Jonathan Wurdeman was a prophet, he was an art student in Moscow who came to Georgia to visit, bike and to paint.
He fell in love with the landscape, the polyphonic music and just moved. Then he fell in love with a singer enmeshed with folk traditions. Deeply, profoundly. She wouldn't marry him until she had Bishop Davit's blessing.
The bishop on the site of what he hopes will be a winemaking school
One day, when the cherry blossoms had burst she took him to see her Bishop. He went up to the mountain and came back 40 days later. "Well?" she asked.
It was all good. If our Prophet would go to see the Bishop once a month to talk about art, yes, the two could marry and start a family. Turns out they would also talk about wine.
It seemed as if a greater force had called him to this tiny spot in Georgia to find his home, family and destiny. One day, while the fruit was heavy on the vine, quietly painting he was approached by a farmer carried on an eagle's wingspan. Would he help him save a vineyard and the old winemaking traditions? They gave birth to Pheasant's Tears. And this is one reason, that John Wurdeman, with his fluent Georgian, which is mesmerizing, almost hypnotic delivery was a fine translator for language and tradition.
So, there I was, soaking the Georgian fall, stuffed with khachapuri while waiting for the flock of sheep to cross the road. I was pondering the various, very pretty and very stable wines made without sulfur. I asked John how it came to pass that the tradition of making sulfur-free wines survived through Soviet industrial rule, he told me, "Sulfur is still associated with the devil."
That's John, with his hands on his US agent, Chris
The mythology aside, John and the Bishop's synergy was greater than the sum of their parts and were able to convinc USAID to fork over money to fund the conference, having convinced the powers that wine has a greater tourism draw than let's say steel. So that's how I came to the conference, to give my own little spiel and to taste beautiful wines, eat colorful food and meet people not afraid to look you deeply in the eyes.
The Alaverdi Monastery, where the conference took place