Perhaps my grandfather was from Georgia instead of the Ukraine. The food, the colors, the people, all seemed so familiar, the kreplach were my grandmothers, it was all like the vein in my arm. Whether there was a link there or not, Georgia in the shadows of the Caucasus mountains, burrowed under my skin.
I was asked to come and give a talk at the First International Qvevri Conference, which could have been some Borat joke. It was to be hosted by the 6th century Alaverdi monastery and their wine loving, ex-cave dwelling bishop Davit with the help of USAID and the owner of Pheasant's Tears (I'd written about the wine in the past) John, two out of those three folk are mythic characters in their own rights. Not a joke. Extremely real.
I wasn't sure I had anything to pitch in to the conversation, but I was game to try.
The truth was, I've seen qvevri in Austria but I really wanted to see them in their home land and to see if there was any good wine there. I've had Pheasants Tears....liked. Where there others?
So, let me tell you some of the experiences starting with here.
Entering the former Republic of Georgia is akin to stepping through the wardrobe. Flights land at 3 in the morning and one flies out of the country at 4. It's like dropping acid, but the whole high is just the country, the food, the people, the shadows of the mountains. But first the color. I have never seen more colorful tables. Bursting with saturated color.
After getting an hour of sleep, I got on the bus, usually horrific, would rather get into my own car. But this was okay, I gave myself into the group experience and relaxed.
We hit a restaurant and had bean soup (more on that later) then off to an experimental vineyard with many of the 520 indiginous grapes. The to Iago, whomade stunning wine. But I couldn't help but cynically wonder, did he do this for every honored guest? Dust off the qvevri, pry it open, give you a taste, the guests leave, he tops off the vessel, seals it up again? e. But let's for a moment think that this was truly the first time he opened this particular qvevri, made in the 2010 vintage.
The wine? Delicious. The grape was all Chinuri, a little chenin-like apple funk, extremely pure and lively. Juicy. This was a wine both thirst quenching and complex. My first wine of the day, the first qvevri on their home turf.