Research Project

Méthode Kartuli – Natural wine made in Kvevri according to the traditional Georgian method.

1. Background

Wine production and consumption have played important roles in human societies for more than six thousand years. Nowadays, wine is a popular and highly consumed beverage worldwide and is considered a key product on the food market. Until 2004, worldwide wine consumption increased steadily by 0.7% to 236.96 million hectoliters per year and represented a growing market. Especially China led the way in growth terms, increasing 14.7% to 13.28 million hectoliters consumed, while Russia and Romania showed 16.9% and 14.9% growth respectively. Australia and New Zealand consumed 43.6 million hectoliters and 7.7 million hectoliters of wine respectively. Europe alone accounted for 53.37% of the world wine consumption.

However, the development from 2004 to date clearly indicates that wine consumption remains almost unchanged. The International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV) said that about 266.7 million hectoliters of wine were produced in 2007, 6.9% less than in the previous year, while consumption was almost unchanged, 240.6 million hectoliters in 2007. About 7.899 million hectares of land was given over to wine production in 2007, down from 7.908 million a year before. The sharpest production decline has been in Europe where the European Commission wants sweeping changes to wine policy – including cash incentives for producers to dig up their vines – to finally drain the European Union’s lakes of wine surplus.

This mass production of wine was possible because in the last decades industrialization of the beverage market and the wine-making process has encouraged the practice of inoculation of yeasts to standardize wine fermentations. With this practice, wines with more reproducible and homogeneous aroma and flavors are obtained, though lacking particular distinctive characters.

Change of Trend

Besides the worldwide enduring trend of organically produced food, one of the most important developments on the food sector is the marketing of high-priced, high-quality food with a specific indication of origin, such as Prosciutto di Parma, Jamón Serrano, olive oil from Greece, or German asparagus. In wine industry, there is also a high interest in manufacturing products with unique characters typical from a specific region. For several years, a growing interest in the agriculture and food industry to produce exclusive products with distinctive features has taken place. Especially wine producers and grape growers are seeking for unique attributes to differentiate their products and reach excellent qualities. To achieve high prices on the wine market, the indication of the wine-producing region, the year of vintage, the vineyard location and the cultivation method (e.g. “barrique”), furthermore, the usage of less pesticides and a sustainable production etc. are crucial factors. On the pursuit of suitable oenological methods for the production of wines with authentic characteristics, traditional methods are of current interest.

In this context, the retrieval of ancient traditions offers renewed and unexplored perspectives. “Méthode Kartuli”, the Georgian method to produce wine, is though to be the ancestral original wine-making method. The oldest archaeological evidence of grape cultivation and grape fermentation in clay vessels dating from about 5,000 BC was found in the South Caucasus, currently Georgia. The procedure would have been spread from there to Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece and the rest of the world, and refined over the centuries. Likewise, the name of the obtained product would have evolved from “ghvino” to “vino”, “vin”, “vine”, “wine”, “wein”, etc.

Méthode Kartuli

In the traditional Méthode Kartuli, wine is produced by carrying out spontaneous fermentation with the grape indigenous flora within clay vessels – Kvevries – buried in the ground. The fermentation takes place in a slow and natural way, without addition of either sulfite or yeasts. The Kvevries remain sealed during the period of fermentation, which can last several months. Due to differences in the grape varieties, grape flora and the lack of control on the process, variations on the progression of the fermentation and development of off-flavours may occur. As a consequence, special know-how is needed when using this technique in order to attain wines of good quality. Although this Kartuli method is still used by some Georgian farmers, outside Georgia only a reduced group of winemakers is exploring it and achieving excellent wines and awards. This small group of producers using Kvevris for wine production could already demonstrate that their wines are highly successful on the market, showing a high-quality level proven by wine experts, sommeliers and is therefore mentioned in several wine magazines and wine guides.

The Kvevries play an essential role in this particular wine-making process. These giant vessels with special and distinctive shapes are made through a complex and particular craftsmanship. Georgian pottery craft is millennia old and would have given rise to the best earthenware artefacts according to archaeologists. However, the Kvevries craftsmanship is in extinction in Georgia. Only five people in the whole country are able to make them, and they have no apprentice to preserve and further develop this skill.

Despite being the oldest wine-making method in the world, the traditional Méthode Kartuli is in danger of disappearance due to the fact that the knowledge about this method is restricted to the Eastern part of Europe so far. At present, this method is less known in the Western world, and even in Georgia, there is a serious lack of young people learning and preserving it. This initiative congregates wine producers and scientists from different areas who are concerned about the loss of this tradition. Our aim is to study, characterize and promote the original Georgian wine-making method and to avert this big cultural threat and educate Georgian people on the protection of this wonderful inheritance.

2. Purpose

In Méthode Kartuli, the production of good quality Kvevries and the achievement of successful spontaneous wine fermentation require special knowledge and skills. Therefore, we intend to research, preserve and bring to market Kvevri wines made by the ancient Méthode Kartuli. In doing so, we aspire to contribute to the knowledge on ancient wine-making traditions, the preservation of the Kvevries craftsmanship, and the perpetuation of the 7000 year old tradition of Georgian wine-making. To achieve this, a multidisciplinary group has decided to collaborate together. This group comprises of ethnologists, involved in researching the history and the culture of Kvevri wines, scientists, undertaking the chemical, microbiological, molecular biological, and oenological research of Méthode Kartuli and its practical implementation; winemakers, exchanging their experience in the production of high-quality Kvevri wines to get premium exclusive products with supreme market potential and high profit opportunities; and marketing experts, promoting Kvevri wines worldwide as a premium and exclusive product.

3. Objectives

  • Study of the original Georgian wine-making method, history and culture
  • Optimization of the production of Kvevri wines through cooperation between wine producers and scientists
  • Education of Georgian young people on the preservation and the manufacture of the traditional Kvevri crafts
  • Explore the possibilities of using this method in other countries, with different grape varieties and climatic circumstances
  • Promoting Kvevri wines worldwide as a traditional and genuine premium product

See Appendix for further details.

4. Involved Institutions

  • Xeloba Kartuli, NGO Society for Preserving Traditional Georgian Craftsmanship
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology, Fraunhofer IME, Schmallenberg/Aachen, Germany
  • Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle, Germany
  • University of Halle, Germany
  • University of Telavi, Faculty for Food Technology, Georgia
  • University of Ljubljana, Biotechnical Faculty, Department of Agronomy, Slovenia
  • Universidad San Sebastián, Facultad de Ingeniería y Biotecnología, Chile
  • Grape growers and wine producers from Georgia, the EU and non-EU countries
  • Representatives of the Georgian Church and Schavnabada Monastery, Georgia

5. Steering Committee

To guarantee the project success, a steering committee was established by integrating scientists and non-scientists.

Xeloba Kartuli, NGO – Society for Preserving Traditional Craftsmanship

Kostava Ave. 2 App. 22
3200 Rustavi, Georgia
Email: info@kvevri.org
Web: www.kvevri.org

Steffen Hansen (Director)
Handelshaus Hansen
Connoisseur UG

Kleine Ulrichstraße 29
06108 Halle (Saale), Germany
Tel: +49 345 1712943
Tel: +386 31 666678 (Slovenia)
Email: info@handelshaus-hansen.de
Web: www.handelshaus-hansen.de

Dr. Wolfgang Händel (Director)
Unternehmensberatung

Fuchsbichl 62
82057 Icking, Germany
Tel: +49 8178 9060-87 (Germany)
Fax: +49 8178 9060-88
Mobile: +49 172 6092205
Email: Wolfgang@Haendel-Icking.de

Dr. Björn Seidel (Food Chemist, Scientific Project Leader)
Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology

Auf dem Aberg 1
57392 Schmallenberg, Germany
Tel: +49 2972 3023-30 (Germany)
Fax: +49 2972 3023-19
Mobile: +49 172 2739062
Email: bjoern.seidel@ime.fraunhofer.de
Web: www.ime.fraunhofer.de

Appendix – Scientific Research Topics

I. Grape Varieties and Growth Techniques

  • Identification of suitable grape varieties for Kvevri fermentation
  • Analysis of the soil composition and development of roots in grape plants
  • Characterization of grapes and wines obtained, using different grape cultivation techniques

II. Microbiology and Indigenous Flora

  • Analysis of the wine-making process when using wild or cultured yeasts in the fermentation process
  • Assessment of the variations in cellar microflora, terroirs and the grapes’ microflora
  • Identifying parameters which influence the wine quality especially regarding the Kvevri method
  • Relation between time of skin contact and aroma complexity, wine colour and tannins
  • Assessment of the wine-making temperature when using Kvevri and its effects on wine quality

III. Oxidation Processes During Fermentation

  • Validation of the material used for Kvevri
  • Analysis and assessment of the complete process during wine-making with the Kvevri method by using biochemical, molecular biological, chemical and aroma analysis
  • Identification of the influence of the honey wax, the used material and the surrounding soil
  • Assessment of the permeability and microoxidation capacity of Kvevri

IV. Georgian History, Culture and Society

  • Georgian wine-making history with special attention to kvevri wines
  • Georgian ethnical peculiarities with regard to wine production and consumption
  • Research for possible previous experiences of wine-making in clay vessels in South America

Practical Endeavours

  • Support preservation of Kvevri handicraft by providing better working conditions and students interested in learning this art from experienced Georgian handicraftsmen
  • Use of Méthode Kartuli for production of white and red wines, using Georgian autochthon grapes
  • Use of Méthode Kartuli for production of wines in other countries and climates, such as Slovenia, Italy, Germany, Switzerland
  • Explore the possibility of experiences with Georgian wine-making practices in Chile and other “new world” grapes and terroirs