Friday, October 19, 2012

From ruins to riches at Chateau Mukhrani

by Robert Linkous

19.10.2012. On the balmy, tranquil afternoon of Sunday October 14 evidence was abundant that Chateau Mukhrani is well on its way to becoming a resplendent wine estate. Though the holiday of Svetitskovloba was being observed in Georgia, a crew of builders busied themselves with the renovation of Mukhrani’s historical chateau, and even Bombora, the chubby Caucasian shepherd who guards the stables so stalwartly, if with discretion, made a mad barking charge toward the fence when a potential interloper on some noisy vehicle suspiciously resembling a scooter had the gall to go driving past.

But since the village of Mukhrani is a little different from, say, Trieste, where everybody and his brother and his grandmother seem to tool around on a Vespa, Bombora for the most part had it pretty cushy on his Svetitskovloba.

Only over the last fortnight, though, has Petter Svaetichin, Director and CEO of Chateau Mukhrani, been able “to really see a palace.” Before the chateau was “just a ruin,” but more recently, “hour by hour,” the chateau is “turning into just what we want it to be.” He hopes that the kitchen will be in shape by the end of next February, the restaurant by the following midsummer, and accommodations ready for guests by Svetitskovloba of 2013.

Meanwhile, Danish architect Peder Elgaard will visit regularly to meet with the local architect, engineer, and contractor to provide “project management.” Copenhagen based, he has considerable experience putting masterstrokes on royal palaces in his native land, which sometimes need to be made “majestic, to impress,” he said, while at others to be transformed into more livable homes for royal families.

Surprisingly, however, redoing the outside of the chateau is “more or less simple,” Elgaard confided; but the inside requires more of “a touch for what to restore, conserve, or add as a new element.” Even the four corners of a single room could reflect his three possible approaches to making it as fine and authentic as it can be. To him the central square in Copenhagen is an inspiration, since architecture from “many periods of time” can be seen there, helping to shape a sense of “identity for modern man in the global world.”

Elgaard also aims to “interpret” and reflect the “approach to quality” of Mukhrani’s highly esteemed winemaker Lado Uzunashvili, who himself has high hopes for the 2012 vintage, though his white wine had not completed fermentation as of October 14, and the picking of the red grapes was about a week away. But a weather forecast of plenty of sunshine and a bit of breeze in the interim had put him more at ease than a lot of winemakers would be in his shoes.

Moreover, the day had been selected for a celebration of the harvest, and though Friday’s heavy rain caused the cancellation of an event expected to attract two to three hundred guests, a late afternoon luncheon – or afeast, or a supra, actually – for a much smaller gathering was laid on nonetheless.

Friends of Mukhrani from an array of points both near and far-flung were treated to the very best of what Georgian cuisine has to offer, with a drop or three of Uzunashvili’s finest on the side, while Mamuka Khazaradzeofficiated as tamada. He is owner of TBC Bank, but also “lives and breathes Chateau Mukhrani,” proclaimed Svaetichin in a toast; at Mukhrani Khazaradze is a founder and partner.

Khazaradze’s first toast was “to the countries we come from;” since “we have many guests, we are very rich at this chateau.”

But what would be a supra without Georgian song, and a contingent of male Georgian singers was there to provide it. At intervals of every fifteen minutes or so they would suddenly burst forth, full-throated, sonorous, or with what Etienne de Salins - CEO of Marussia Beverages, which produces top shelf vodka in Siberia - called in French, his first language, “puissance,” though the word would have been equally apt if pronounced with an English or American accent.

As the festivities went on the musical presentations grew more elaborate, gaining in polyphonic complexity, and reaching higher pitches, until a chonguri was brought in as accompaniment, and finally, upon request, came a Georgian rendition of “O Sole Mio” that did every bit as much as Pavarotti could have to unleash the powers of Uzunashvili’s rich and honeyed dessert wine, Muscat, that was being handed around.

And earlier, as if in anticipation of all this, had come a toast as eloquent as any to be heard throughout the supra, from Andrei Khizhchenko, an associate of Salins’ in the Siberian vodka venture. In Russian that was soon translated into English he compared the harmony of the polyphonic singers to that induced by the pleasures of the assortment of wines that had been served.

Speaking of polyphony, the tamada himself, Khazaradze, had hit the nail on the head in one of his very first toasts, “to the 220 workers at the chateau,” raising his glass to one and all and declaring, “Behind this one glass are all those people.”

From outside, if hammers were still banging and power tools were still buzzing, it could not be heard inside the hall where the supra at last wound down to a close. But perhaps the workers, some 90% of whom are from the village, were at home or some other suitable spot, doing some holiday making of their own.


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