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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Georgian wine comes to Korea

05.11.2013. Georgia is one of the oldest wine producing regions in the world.  Archaeologists believe that the world’s first cultivated grapevines came from an area where Georgia sits, the South Caucasus valleys, more than 8,000 years ago.  With such a deep history of wine production, the beverage has become an inseparable part of the country’s identity.

For this reason Georgian Ambassador to Seoul, Nikoloz Apkhazava, felt a fundamental part of incorporating Georgian culture into the Republic of Korea was to begin importing Georgian wine. He began this endeavor shortly after his country opened an embassy in Seoul in 2012.

The importance of wine is even articulated in the country’s language.  “The word wine comes from the Georgian word ghvino.  Georgia also literally translates to “tiller”, explains Apkhazava.

Koreans and foreigners, living in Seoul, have the unique opportunity to try Georgian wine.  It is now being distributed by a company called I & J Importers.  Locals can find the wine at Zelen Bulgarian Restaurant and several hotels including Lotte.  The embassy hopes to expand the number of importers and carriers in the near future.

Three varieties of wine are currently available in South Korea – a dry red, sweet red and dry white.  Georgia produces over 150 million liters of wine each year, with 45,000 hectares of vineyards under cultivation.  Currently using 40 species of grapes grown for commercial use, this is just a short introduction to the many wine varieties that the country offers.  Apkhazava hopes that, as interest increases, additional wines, brandy and mineral water will begin to be imported.

“Georgia is a small country, but we are rich in resources and history.  We may never be able to compete with large wine producers like Chile and California, but we are able to offer wine that has a unique history in every bottle.”

To completely understand the distinctiveness of the country’s wine, one must know about the production process.  Georgian wine is still made through the ancient tradition of qvevri wine-making.  This process dates back to over 7,000 years.  Currently the process is under review to obtain UNESCO status.

Qvevris are monumental clay vessels that are buried to their necks in the ground, preserving an ideal fermenting temperature.  The entire wine making process happens within the vessel.  Often grape skins and stems are left to increase the flavor and complexity of the product.  The process differs slightly based upon region, primarily depending upon climate.

Locals have drawn special interest to Georgia’s sweet red wine. “The grapes come off the vine sweet.  There is nothing added to the product like many other sweet wines.”  This is just one of the many factors that contribute to the uniqueness of the wine.  The country’s rich minerals and moderate climate also help with grape cultivation.

The future of the availability of additional Georgian wine varieties in the Republic of Korea remains to be seen.  At present residents have the opportunity to experience this uniquely produced beverage.   Aficionados, casual drinkers and the curious are encouraged to seek and taste this wine made like no other.

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