Khaketi Wine Tour: How to Find the Best Wine in Georgia
Both Ramaz and the Aboviani family told us that the road to the Kakheti was very easy and flat. Lie, a huge lie. There are at least 40 kilometers uphill.
As usual, those traveling by car only perceive as climbs what they do in first gear. The road is very busy and there is not much to see, which makes the climb more difficult. Niki is waiting for us in Manavi, where we finally arrive around 19:30.
Upon our arrival, they are still working. Niki owns one of the oldest vineyards in Georgia, is on this land that wine was produced for kings.
It’s the first time that Niki makes wine in his cellar, which is still under construction, in the last years his wine was left to ferment in qvevri of friends (including Soliko, whom we’ll soon talk about).
The quevri are underground but inside a building with walls and roofs. In other areas (in Imerezia for example) there is only the roof. It depends on the climate. Here Niki is doing the walls of straw, wood, and clay.
The project also includes the construction of a veranda to taste the wine. Unfortunately, the wine is not ready yet, it will take another three months.
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Here work Niki and his cousin. We find a spot for the tent on the hill behind the house. Pitch it before it gets dark. They tell us that we can take a shower and we immediately take advantage!
In the meantime, preparations are underway for dinner, they tell us that this is the first time they make a real dinner there. The menu includes kebab barbecue, fried eggplant, cheese, salad, potatoes, and some strange fish.
And wine. Niki is tired, worked all day in the sun, is a classic Georgian, that speaks very very slowly. That is, for us, is slow, here is the norm. But it is a way of talking that relaxes.
After dinner, they go to open a quevri to taste the wine. It ‘a delicate operation, it takes about twenty minutes. For Niki is also the first taste, and an honor for us!
Really good, of course, the temperature is not the best for white (grape Msvane, one of the countless varieties of Georgia), just released from quevri is a bit warm.
We put it in the freezer for a little while. Niki is also very satisfied with his wine! We all go to sleep and tomorrow we will take a tour to see the vineyards.
Under a scorching heat, we take a walk in the vineyard of Niki. The vines here are very small and the grass is not cut below, one of the peculiarities of the organic method adopted by the members of the association.
The vineyards are Msvane, Rkatsiteli, and Saperavi. Niki tells us the way, or rather, explains the gradients kilometer by kilometer from his house to the next destination, home to Soliko, the town of Bakurshike.
Niki was a skier indeed is very precise about the slopes! Today’s stage is fairly quiet, the sky is covered, a little luck. The only problem is that we are calling Soliko for hours but no answers.
We call Nika, who has a vineyard five miles from Soliko, but he’ll be there until tomorrow. We call Ramaz who confirms that Soliko has a bad relationship with the phone… we noticed! Tells us to wait in the center of the village.
He’s probably calling everyone he knows here so that they could go to warn Soliko. Eventually, after an hour, they come to take us!
We finally arrive at Soliko, a big, bearded man with a bass voice. Immediately inspires sympathy, is bottling the wine in the cellar and the phone is somewhere, he tells us that he was waiting for us!
A strong wind begins to blow and the light goes off, they go get a gasoline generator and end up bottling. We eat something quick and drink a delicious Saperavi, I think about 14°.
The Saperavi is the most common red wine in Georgia since the time of the Union, which has nearly extinguished all other varieties focusing only on Rkatsiteli (white) and Saperavi, a typically Soviet simplification.
After eating Soliko goes to sleep, he’s tired. We wash the dishes and go to settle in the house next door, a house made of wood and abandoned, it would be nice if restored, but perhaps a bit hard, it hangs on one side!
The day after tomorrow there will be a supra (traditional huge dinner with music), the Japanese importer is coming and they tell us they will sing. Soliko also sings.
Wine tour – 3rd stage: Nika’s family – Anaga
We self-invite ourself at the supra, we would like to lend a hand. Soliko still does not know if his wife will arrive from Tbilisi and we may prepare a parmigiana.
Just out of the Soliko’s gate I go straight into a mud puddle and tumble on the ground! The first real fall of the trip. The hand hurts a bit. We come to Nika, we can sleep here, there is a beautiful room with an air mattress bed.
In the room, there is also a German guy who studies “winemaking” and will stay here for a month. We eat with Nika, his parents and the German guy (can’t remember the name), he has not said a word since we arrived.
Nika during the winter lives in Berlin is a sculptor, here you can see some of his work and designs, the labels of his bottles are beautiful. The parents, however, are physicians in retirement. Also here the day after tomorrow there will be a supra with the Japanese!
A Georgian Supra
We go to see the Nika’s vineyard and again we go to Soliko. The house is upside down, there’s a woman! Is his wife Nino, who is cooking five or six dishes at once, and another woman, hired for major spring cleaning, although a bit in late.
I know that there will never be a free stove for our parmigiana! So, we help (or at least we try) Nino in the kitchen. I chop tons of the damned coriander which in Georgia is used and abused everywhere.
There is no end to wash the dishes that the sink is full again! Around 17 the bulk is done. The Japanese should come at 19:00 and in addition, some other friends are expected, almost all winemakers.
We should be fifteen to twenty people. We set the table in the great hall on the first floor, rain is coming. Around 18:30 people began to arrive and after an hour the Japanese crew comes accompanied by John, an American who moved to Signagi fifteen years ago.
He organizes wine tours and has two restaurants. The Japanese are Reiko, the importer, the daughter and her boyfriend, and Eriko, a traveling chef who has studied three years in the Marche (Italy).
We go down into the cellar with Soliko to taste the new wine directly from quevri. The Japanese, what to say, are Japanese, armed with cameras with super-lens. Very nice, always thank you, very sweet. Eriko speaks a perfect Italian and is a very interesting person, she knows a lot about food.
After the tasting, we go to eat! And we can drink “for real”! Apparently we are more than fifteen, some of the guests must eat in the kitchen with Nino.
First, the menu
Tomatoes stuffed with coriander and other herbs
Eggplant stuffed with coriander and other herbs
Bell peppers stuffed with rice
A good sauce
Salad of tomatoes and cucumbers
A red turnip sauce
… And a lot of wine!
The American starts to make a speech explaining what a supra (banquet) is and who is the tamada (the person responsible for keeping the table “alive” making toast).
Just that John has taken this tradition a bit too literally and makes toast every five minutes too long and a little bit touristic, such as “the brotherhood of the wonderful Japanese culture and the ancient Georgian culture…” and as Gocha Paliani would say, and ie and ie and ie.
In addition, while he says the toast we have to be all silent. I was sitting next to Eriko that, like us, could not take it anymore! Then, they started to sing, very well. But even this did not seem a spontaneous thing but prepared for the Japanese.
They, however, they just wanted to drink and chat! But apart from this, yummy food and great company, Soliko was quite drunk and said that we were his children, we love this father!
When they all go, we help clean the table, I speak a little with Nino and Daniele and watch the game with Soliko.
Supra on supra, by Nika
We woke up late, call Nika to self-invite ourself also for his supra just to discover that it is at lunch, in half an hour! Let’s go, a little dazed, we stop to buy bread and arrive around 13 by Nika, the Japanese are late.
Probably they too are overturned by the yesterday’s supra. Nika is also quite upset, German is gone, without giving a real reason, leaving Nika (who had refused the offer of other volunteers because of the lack of space in the house) without the help.
We prepare watermelon juice with mint, is very hot today and fortunately, they made a light lunch. Here, too, degustation from qvevri. Today John is a bit ‘dictatorial and around 16:00 says that they must go.
The Japanese, they would have gladly stayed a bit more, especially Eriko, who seemed the least tired of tasting! We remain ourselves and Nika, his mom, Luna (also called Signora Cucurulla), prepares for us the coffee (with Moka!) and we drink a little more wine. Nika drinks a lot and gets drunk.
We talk about a lot of things, life, art, religion. Nika’s family is Catholic, in Georgia are about 1% of the population. He says that they struggle to find work (here you have to be a friend of a priest, but orthodox) and there is a lot of racism.
He feels like a stranger in Germany, because he is Georgian, and foreigner in Georgia because he is Catholic and because of more than twenty years living in Germany.
But suddenly has an epiphany and remembers that in less than half an hour Ramaz will be here with other Japanese, a journalists! We get up from the table at the speed of light, washing the dishes in record time.
Luna prepares another Khachapuri, also this in record time, and Nika tries to recover from the hangover. We still have soapy hands when they arrive, Ramaz and the Japanese.
Nika has to start all over again. Taste this, taste that. But this time the mood is different. The Japanese are three, the journalist who is a man with a huge head, a photographer and a chick that just makes photo with mobile phone.
Maybe a secretary? The journalist is terrible, has his own wooden cup and drinks wine only from that! After we washed a lot of glasses! Go to people’s houses and with your own glass does not seem very polite…
But it was much worse, he tasted the wine, just a sip, and threw the rest on the ground! Nika tried to tell him a couple of times not to throw it but then gave up! If someone would have done this in my house I could react rather badly!
And in the meantime he asks a lot of questions about why and wherefores Nika does the wine, citing his knowledge on ancient tradition of Georgian wine (from Wikipedia) until Nika interrupts the poem saying that the wine is made to earn money! Nika is now quite serious, doesn’t look drunk no more.
Ramaz he’s immediately going to speak with the mother of Nika, freeing himself for a few hours of the Japanese. Poor Ramaz, who knows for how many days he might be their driver!
As soon as they go Nika literally lies down on the ground! It was definitely, shall we say, a Japanese a bit unusual. But Nika’s hangover is not past at all, he wants to go buy beer to watch the game at midnight. He walks through the countryside with Daniele while I help the mother to fix the chaos again.
Nika’s father is angry with his wife because she let Nika go alone in the dark! It’s very tender, the mother points out that the child was now 42 years but he set off with the flashlight to meet him.
Just then Daniele and Nika return to the fold. We fix the TV on the terrace but already during the national anthems, Nika is sleeping. I resist until the end of the second half (almost) and I go to sleep. Daniele is stoic and watches the whole game!
We’ll spend another two days at Nika’s house, he must go back to Tbilisi the day after tomorrow and he’ll give us a lift with his van. We enjoy our time helping with labeling, which, like everything else here, is hand-made, bottle by bottle.
Daniele also gives a hand to cut the grass in the vineyard (grass that is 2 meters high), also in this case no machines, scythe, shears, bare hands, and elbow grease. We go to Soliko to take some of our bags to find that the Japanese journalist there stopped for 6 long hours.
He said things like that in quevri the wine is alive and in the bottles is dead and has put in place a kind of ritual propitiation!
Let’s do another lunch with a couple of Canadians, around to taste wines and scrounge lunches, and tomorrow we’ll be back in Tbilisi to get our Azeri visa! We hope!
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