Sunday, June 17, 2012

Kakhuri Ltd. – a tale of two cities

by Robert Linkous

When Archil Dolmazashvili, Commercial Director for Kakhuri Ltd., was growing up in Telavi, it had a sister city … Napa! Thereabouts is the overflowing heart of California wine.

The sister city reached out for three students to come live with host families and attend high school. Requirements? Knowledge of English would come in handy. Dolmazashvili and two fellow students were on their way.

Mid-1990’s. The host family lived at the city of Napa’s outskirts. Out back, a landscape of pastoral farmland. The Napa Valley wine boom rumbled inaudibly in the distance.

Fast forward to spring 2012 andTelavi, with a city center in the midst of massive reconstruction. Even the faintest murmur of a coming boom would be drowned by the groans and tremors of heavy machinery.

But at the edge of town, Kakhuri, founded in 2000 by Dolmazashvili’s winemaker father and two colleagues at GWS, all three division heads, advances. Until 2004, when they purchased their facility in Telavi, they did their winemaking at other wineries in Kakheti. Even as late as 2006, when Russia threw a curveball in the form of a trade embargo, they were reduced to selling some of their most prized vineyard land.

But nowadays it looks as if Kakhuri is up and on its feet – or off and running.

In the winery mammoth Soviet-era tanks have been infiltrated by sparkling high-tech equipment from Western Europe, while in an unimprovably dank subterranean cellar eight French oak barrels from Seguin Moreau patiently await vintages when they will be joined by dozens of others.

More impressive, however, is the bottling machine from Fimer in Italy. It can fill 1000 bottles in an hour … no big deal. What is enchanting is the rhythm that it fabricates.

“Chah … chichichichichichi … chah … chichichichichichi …” Rap music? No, much better! Not nerve-racking, but soothing: white noise for the oenophile. If only the crew can be taught a few nifty dance routines, Kakhuri is on its way to becoming a music video maker’s mecca.

Yes, on the Kakheti wine route, Kakhuri is the latest adventure. It has gone public, and thrown wide its gates. Just inside them is a spanking new visitor center with all the indispensable amenities.

Where others might have put manicured lawns there are two pretty little vineyards. Also in the mix is what Dolmazashvili calls a “traditional Georgian corner,” with five qvevris, an 18 foot long satsnakheli, a tone for baking shoti, and a grill for the open-air roasting of mtsvadi. Barbecuers, start your engines.

Elbowing the traditional corner is a 75 foot wide wine tasting house, itself complete with traditional dйcor, large tables where parties of wine lovers can gather, sip, or carouse, and an ample bar from which to serve them whites and reds well worth the journey for the tasting.

The 2010 Kisi (10 Lari; all prices approximate), for example, joins tropical fruit aromas with flavors of peach and nectar, bolstered by crisp acidity on the finish. It can stand in for good Spдtlese, and is better priced, without accounting for the expense of a jaunt to Germany.

At the recent New Wine Festival “people kept coming and coming and coming to taste it again,” Dolmazashvili reported of this crowd pleaser.

The 2010 Tsinandali (10 Lari), meanwhile, a blend in which Rkatsiteli (80-85%) and Mtsvane were crushed together (“blended in the vineyard,” said Dolmazashvili), is just as ripe, and smacks of pear and vanilla. The 2011 Kakhuri White (10 Lari), on the other hand, all Rkatsiteli, was matured in stainless steel but traditionally fermented on the skins, imbuing it with deeper color and an intriguing herbal character.

In reds the 2010 Saperavi (12 Lari) at present is both accessible and promising; with its rich polished tannins and concentrated mid-palate of blackberry and a dash of Saperavi red pepper, it has what you look for in a young wine. And the 2011 Saperavi (12 Lari) is even more exuberantly fruity … strawberry, cranberry … leaving it on the quaffable side for now, though with time it will settle down to more dryness and nuance.

Another Saperavi, the 2008 Napareuli (12 Lari) is engaging on the nose, toasty, reminiscent of roasted marshmallows, and that follows through on the palate, where chewy tannins and notes of buttered toast may conjure up memories of Tempranillo.

The 2005 Mukuzani (12 Lari) is a more evolved Saperavi. Its peppery piquancy is still there, but there is also a smoky, raisiny component, in the mold of a serious Valpolicella.

And just to show that Saperavi can speak in more than one voice, there is the 2011 Kindzmarauli (10 Lari). Relatively low in alcohol and high in agreeability, this semi-sweet low acid red smacks of cherry and strawberry and grows even fruitier on the finish.

Last year Kakhuri exported some 80% of its wine, mostly to Ukraine, but the Georgian market is on the upswing. Furthermore, Dolmazashvili has high hopes for the United States, his former temporary home, where a diverse, highly competitive wine market is Kakhuri’s “biggest challenge,” but where that very diversity can make room for new and exotic wines.

About ten years ago Dolmazashvili paid another visit to Napa. His host family had moved on, and where there was once unspoiled farmland, grandiose mansions had sprung up, while luxury vehicles and limos clogged the roads.

On the day of our visit to Telavi, on the other hand, City Hall was getting a facelift and multiple organ transplants, while cattle – cattle! – grazed on the lawn. But as the racket diminishes more and more will be heard from Kakhuri, a wine company worth watching, and listening to.


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