Friday, October 5, 2018

Unique wine varieties brought back to life on Meskhetian Terraces

by Ana Dumbadze

05.10.2018. On October 3, the winery Vardzia Terraces harvested restored historical varieties of rare grapes for the first time in 400 years. The event was held on the territory of the Khizabavra Meskhetian terraces, in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region.

Government officials, journalists and the drivers of the "Peaks of the Caucasus" car rally took part in the harvest. The visitors were hosted with famous Georgian wine and delicious dishes. They also had the opportunity to enjoy traditional folk songs. The project aims to promote wine and cultural tourism in Samtskhe-Javakheti.

Mamuka Khazaradze, the Chairman of TBC Bank, hosted the guests in Khizabavra village, Aspindza Municipality.

“Our company started the rehabilitation of 30 hectares of land [read more: Cultivation of ancient Meskhetian vine begins in Samtskhe-Javakheti - HN] . The first 12 hectares have already been restored and 27 historical varieties of grape have been planted in this area. These unique vine species have not been produced for the last four centuries. This is an important event, as Meskheti has always been the historical winemaking hub and I am delighted that today we are attending the first grape harvest together. Soon, we will have the first wines made from these ancient grape varieties,” Khazaradze told reporters.

According to him, along with the founders of the project, the locals of Khizabavra village were also very helpful during the rehabilitation process.

“The local residents put all their heart into this project. This place is known for its harsh climatic conditions; winter is very cold here and the entire harvest can be spoiled in a day, so, having such sweet grapes here is the result of a lot of hard work,” Khazaradze said.

Apart from the grape harvest itself, yet another exciting sight was the area surrounded by classic cars owned by international rally drivers participating in the "Peaks of the Caucasus" rally.

Peaks of the Caucasus launched on Liberty (Freedom) Square, Tbilisi, on October 2 and will last until October 14. The majority of the participants are foreign businessmen who will visit almost every corner of Georgia in their classic cars. Mamuka Khazaradze is also taking part.

“It was a coincidence that the rally and grape harvest took place simultaneously. We were not planning to start the grape harvest yet, but the grape was so sweet that we had to start earlier. The foreign visitors are captivated by Georgia and its history. Not only the foreign participants of the rally, but even I am once again reminded how exciting my country is,” he said.

Georgian scientist Levan Ujmajuridze and collector of Meskhetian grape varieties, Giorgi Natenadze made great contributions to the project, identifying more than 20 Meskhetian vines at the Saguramo Scientific Research Center.

According to the Executive Director of Vardzia Terraces, Giorgi Natenadze, many unique species of Meskhetian vine have been destroyed and lost.

“Two years ago, we started planting these ancient vine species on the Meskhetian terraces. At this stage, we have about 27 varieties of vine here. Today, we see the result of our hard work: the first grape harvest in such a short period of time. This event is important and a celebration worth having, not only for Meskheti, but for the whole of Georgia as well,” Natenadze said.

As the Executive Director of Vardzia Terraces told reporters, the process of finding and collecting the unique vine species from nearby villages was quite laborious.

“The varieties of grape were preserved in only a few villages. We discovered and identified these grape species and then multiplied them in Saguramo, Jighaura, with the help of the Saguramo Scientific Research Center. Today, we can proudly say that these 27 endemic species have been restored and we already have a harvest. Now we will produce trial wine from these grapes and will discover their characteristics and work out the future perspectives of each kind,” he added.

Wines made from the historic Meskhetian species will appear on the market next year. Locals and foreign visitors to the country will be able to buy them at Vardzia Terraces and in various wine shops throughout the country. The amount will be limited, however, as it is the first wine from the terraces.

Meskheti is one of the most ancient sites of viticulture in Georgia and some scientists believe that ancient Georgian varieties could have origins there.

Ancient Meskheti was formerly the home of stonewall terraces meant for vineyards and orchards. The area was famous for its unique grapes that made among the best wines in the country.

Centuries ago, viticulture was well-developed in Meskheti, evidenced by the centuries-old grape varieties and unique vine presses hollowed out of rock, called ‘Satsnakheli.’

At the end of the 16th century, the last grape harvest was arranged on the Meskhetian terraces. Afterwards, many ancient varieties of Meskhetian wine were destroyed due to historical events and known difficulties.

In 2015, with the joint efforts of businessmen Mamuka Khazaradze, Badri Japaridze and Giorgi Natenadze, the terraces of the 12th century (the epoch of Queen Tamar) were restored in the village of Khizabavra, Aspindza Municipality. It was a joint project of the state and private sector and aimed to bring the ancient Meskhetian wine-making tradition back to life.

Next year, the company Vardzia Terraces plans to restore a local traditional Meskhetian Oda (a common type of house, built from wood) and an integral part of Georgian winemaking - the qvevri vessel.

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