The best foods were those marvelous clay oven breads, the odd wild capers marinated, the dumplings, the carnelian cherry juice, the vivid Matisse like colors of the table, the fresh herbs on the table for munching instead of chips, buffalo milk cheese, the feral tasting honey, the bean soup and the pickles. I couldn't bring myself to taste the river fish that looked too dead (look closely in that water photo.) I didn't see one piece of cake or cookie. This seemed wrong. I guess I'll have to go back.
And the wines? I loved the best of them. Favorite grapes of their over 500 native ones are for the whites, Kisi, Chinuri, Rkatsiteli, Mtsvane. For the reds, Saperavi and Shavkapito.
The reds often have a gritty tannin I rather enjoy. Some descriptors? Prune, plum, spice, brick. The whites were; begonia, waxy, bee, rich, honey, spearmint. Instead of what we're used to;wines with oak and wines in steel (or cement or..) here the qvevri wines are; those fermented on their skins and those pressed off their skins. So you get one version elegant, one version full throttle, but still either or are expressions of the grape without added wood flavors.
On the night at Pheasant's Tears I was forced to drink from the wine bong, one of the traditional 'drinking vessels," not sure what exactly the purpose was except that perhaps these contraptions predated Zalto glasses.
But bong aside, what was it about the wines that touched me? John of Pheasant's Tears summed it up this way, "There is no ego here. The winemakers job is to deliver the year's work in the vineyard directly into the bottle."
to Manavi to Nikoladze's
to Our Wine and to this 95 -year -old man who cultivated vines he found from wild grapes and rushed to That Crazy French Woman and me to show us the wine he made from them.
The truth of what John said, the comment about these wines made without ego, struck me; here in the wines was a humble quality. Yet, while lacking ego, were filled with husbandry pride. Of course, I can see it crumbling as winemakers eye qvevri wines from Friuli selling for $120, while theirs are mostly under $30. I can see the ego coming.
But right now, the wines have this purity. Even if they change as they seek higher price points and perhaps with that, more technology and reaching for more conventional flavors, I will enjoy this very moment, of their wine emerging; delicious and innocent.
The week of my visit, Americans in the wine industry were popping up like weeds. MWs, MSs, and even on the last day, at the last lunch, I was stunned to see Clark Smith, the winemaker/technician/consultant/teacher who founded the company Vinovation. He was part of this group of tastemakers who were brought over as a consulting arm as Georgia prepares to bring their wines to the western world. I admit my first reaction was one of protective mother. I wanted to defend the country against MOX and revese osmosis. I had a difficult time hearing him reflect on the wines, and their flaws and their need for tannin management. Of course, that group was taken to see more industrial wineries as well, the kinds of which add things to their wine in their desire to be more commercial. Those were not my focus.
Whether or not he had a come to Jesus moment over there or not, we hadn't talked, I did hear that he softened and embraced the wines for what they were, simply pretty. In an email from a friend I head, "He said he was brought over to make suggestions, but felt that he had nothing to teach but a lot to learn."
If that is true, then Georgia is magical indeed. I look forward to talking to Clark about his experiences, his impressions, and why he had a lot to learn.
I'll leave Georgia for now, and get on with the rest of life and posts, but I wanted to leave you with one scene from the conference.
There was scientist from Germany who was studying yeast. She made the oft parsed statement that a wine made with only native yeast will be more complex than with commercial, but it will be more problematic because the bad yeasts might take over.
There was a flurry of noise from the audience , but one arm shot up before the other, he was the oenologist for the Alaverdi monastery. This man who bore something of a resemblance to Gorbachev, stood up. He was wearing traditional garb, a sword resting on his hip. As he started to speak his voice shook with emotion, he accused her as a heretic, "Are you saying that G-d did not provide the grape with everything it needed to make wine? There are no bad yeasts."
I'm not much for religion. I ran from it decades ago. But I was struck, and continue to be struck by the connection the clergy of Georgia has with wine and natural winemaking. Perhaps it is a reacition of being on the other side of the Caucasus mountains where wine is forbidden. When the Muslims pulled up the vines, the Georgians planted them. There is is more than just wine, but an expression of life and freedom. France and Italy and Spain yes, all of those great countries have wine embedded into their life and culture, but Georgia was the first time I saw wine as a connection to their lifeline.
(For more of a Georgian Diary with good bits of detail, visit Tony Aspler's blog.)