Many people enjoy drinking wine without having any idea about its origin and history, which in fact obtains its individually strong and deep philosophy in every corner of the world. Some people consider Greece to be the birthplace of wine and some believe it is Rome, but according to the basis of scientific and archaeological research that is not true.
The basic written source “Oxford Companion to Wine” (Jancis Robinson, 1994) declares that the history of the wine tradition finds its roots in the fertile valleys of South Caucasus, now the country of Georgia:
“The seeds of what seem to be cultivated grapes (which differ in shape from the seeds of the wild variety) dating from about 6000 BC have been found in Georgia, …” (Rod Phillips, 2001: A Short History of Wine. London)
Already at that time the ancient people of South Caucasus had discovered the mysterious transformation of wild grape juice into wine by leaving it in clay vessels called Kvevri, buried in the ground. This knowledge was then slightly developed and refined over the centuries.
Kvevries are special vessels for making wine. The production and consumption phases have been developed over thousands of years to the present time, and Kvevri still maintain the same importance in wine-making as ever before in South Caucasus.
Many Georgian families unchangeably and strongly follow their rich culture of making wine. They own special places called Marani beside their houses, with different sizes of kvevries buried.
Kvevries are believed to be the best earthenware artifacts discovered by Georgian archaeologists. In fact, the Georgian craft of pottery is millennia old. Ancient artifacts reflect and clearly define the high skills of Georgian craftsmen in whose hands water, clay and fire turned into the fusion of the giant vessels of exceptional beauty reflecting the all-time history of this ancient culture.
The knowledge and skills of wine-making in Georgia were widely acknowledged in the ancient world. Many outstanding figures of the antiquity, such as Appolo of Rhodes, Strabon and Procopious of Caesaria mentioned Transcaucasus and specifically the territory of Georgia in their works as the land of the first known cultured grape varieties. It was also from here that the wine and traditional method of wine-making in Kvevri were spread further to Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece and the rest of the world. Vessels similar to Kvevri were found in the Roman Empire, where they were called “Dolium”, in Greece “Pithos” and in Spain “Tinaja”. Even the modern English name of wine is believed to derive from Georgian “Ghvino” (“Vin”; “Wein”; “Vine”; “Vino” …)
The special love of Georgians for wine is not accidental. It was strongly encouraged specifically in the 4th century AD by the spread of Christianity in Georgia by St. Nino from Cappadocia (Constantinople). She illuminated Georgia with Orthodoxy with her cross made from vine stems, tied up together with her hair. Most of churches still maintain the decoration of wine ornaments. Thus the cross and the vine obtained a special place in the psyche of Georgia.
Despite having the oldest wine culture in the world, modern times have not been so kind to the Georgian wine tradition. If in the past an average farmer carefully treated his grapes, this radically changed in Soviet times. Under intensive Soviet rule, the Georgian wine sector could no longer concentrate on traditional ways of wine-making and it became a mass-production industry, thus degrading and almost erasing from people’s minds the necessity of strong culture. Less attention was paid to quality and more to mass-production for the huge Russian market. But nothing is everlasting and accordingly, from the ruins of the Soviet Union, Georgian wine began to regain its powers and evolve further based on knowledge passed on from the ancestors’ golden hands.
Today, wine once again holds a central place in every Georgians’ life, and generally the whole Georgian culture. One can find many farmers in different wine-making regions in Georgia producing their own wine, and enjoying particular pleasure in seeing guests tasting it.
Most wine-producers outside Georgia have no idea about Kvevries and the traditional way of making wine, only those that started to research the roots of wine and found the old traditional way of wine-making in Georgia. They became aware of the advantages of this method and kvevries and started to change their philosophy of making wine.
It’s no secret: their wines are so good that year after year they receive the highest awards. For instance, one wine producer from Friuli Venezia Giulia always achieves the highest possible classifications of “TRE BICCHIERI” in Gambero Rosso – vini d’Italia. Moreover, in 2007 he was elected as the best wine producer of the year in Italy by the same institution.
This shows how significant these traditions are, even in the modern world and it makes our work, to preserve the art of making Kvevries as part of the traditional Georgian method of wine-making, so important.