Saturday, February 11, 2017

"The Australian": Georgian winemakers

by James Halliday

11.02.2017. When I received an invitation to join six Georgian winemakers over lunch at Melbourne’s Lee Ho Fook restaurant, I changed my diary in a flash. Georgia is one of the leading contenders for the birthplace of wine, its vinous history dating back more than 8000 years.

Wine became part of Egyptian culture 5000 years ago, when a Pharaoh’s tomb was stocked with 4500 litres of it. Amphorae were vintage dated by year of Pharaoh’s rule and by vigneron. In Greece, wine was part of life from the earliest times, the vine domesticated in the late Neolithic and widely cultivated by the early Bronze Age.

In both Georgia and Greece, wine occupied a central role in life. Wine was so important to ancient Greeks that they worshipped it in the form of the god Dionysus. Winemaking in both countries remained largely unchanged until the last decades of the 20th century. They then went in opposite directions. In 1985 the first oenology course was created in Athens and with lightning speed graduates appeared, some promptly heading to France. Wine quality soared.

Georgia has seen no need to change its vinification methods, notably eschewing all additives other than SO2, and fermenting lightly crushed whole bunches in clay qvevri (akin to amphorae) buried in the ground. Virtually every Georgian family has a qvevri buried in their garden making wine for family consumption. UNESCO has heritage-listed the winemaking method and it has ignited the worship of lovers of natural wine around the world.

Attitudes and practices in Australia have changed substantially over the past 30 years towards natural winemaking. Many seek to limit additions to SO2, the one essential bactericide and antioxidant. They rely on wild yeast and hope not to have to add acid.

Source (abridged)

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