A Unique Way of Winemaking
Georgians practice an exclusive way of wine-making. The wine is made in a conical clay vessel known as a Qvevri. Specifically, the wine undergoes both an extended fermentation and maturation in Qvevri; it’s a so-called Amber Wine. If entirely made according to the old tradition, whole bunches of grapes (with stalks) are run into a Satsnakheli; a wooden trough typically carved a single piece of wood.
The basic technological process of making Qvevri wine consists of pressing grapes in Satsnaheli (wine press), pouring the Must and Chacha (grape Skins, Stalks, and Pips) into a Qvevri for the alcoholic fermentation. As fermentation progresses, the mixture is stirred 4-5 times daily, which may last any 20- 40 days, depending on the variety and the quality of the vintage. Once the fermentation is completed and the cap starts to sink, the filled Qvevri will be capped with stone or glass lids for the malolactic fermentation; the lids are then sealed hermetically with limestone clay or earth, and left in the ground until spring (typically late March or early April).
Then the wine is separated from Chacha and run off into another Qvevri for another year of aging. The process is similar for red grapes, but the period of skin maceration is shorter: usually one month, rather than four to six months. Qvevri-produced wines have a firm tannic texture across the palate; whites develop aromas of apricots, orange peel, and nuts; the reds become slightly meatier, with a chalkier texture. This extended maceration through the spring is also known as eastern, or Kakhetian style winemaking, as it is associated with Kakheti, the eastern province, and source of 70% of all Georgian wine. Various Qvevri winemaking methods were defined by factors such as soil or climatic conditions, the rich variety of endemic vines and differences between micro-zones.
As proof of its cultural significance, and by principles of Convention on Protection of Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO, the status of National Monument of Intangible Cultural Heritage has been assigned to “The ancient Georgian tradition of Qvevri winemaking.