About Qvevri and Georgian Wine
Qvevri (Georgian: ქვევრი[kʰvɛvri]; also known aschuri (ჭური) in Western Georgia) are large earthenware vessels used for the fermentation, storage and ageing of traditional Georgian wine. Resembling large, egg-shaped amphorae without handles, they are either buried below ground or set into the floors of large wine cellars. Kvevris vary in size: volumes range from 20 litres to around 10,000; 800 is typical.
Archaeological excavations in the southern Georgian region of Kvemo Kartli (notably at Dangreuli Gora, Gadachrili Gora and in the village of Imiri) uncovered evidence of grape pips and kvevris dating back to the 6th millennium B.C.
Georgian Vine and Georgian wine with its centuries-old history is one of the extraordinary things in the world. Georgian culture is linked directly to Georgian Vine varieties and wine-making technology.
Natural conditions, climate and landscape of Georgia provided perfect inhabitant for more than 500 varieties of grape. This amount of grape varieties spread-out among the regions of Georgia made it clear that this country in the Caucasus is definitely one of the oldest hearths of vine culture.
Georgian wine industry is very diversified depending on the region, variety of grape, climate and soil conditions. Winemakers across the country produce wine following both traditional-European and Georgian-Qvevri technologies.
It is amazing as you travel in this small but very diverse country you find that wine changes together with a food ration of a certain region. For example, in the east one can find more strong wine, rich with tannins while in the west wines are lighter and sourer. This is because food ration in the east consisted mostly of meat, on the other hand edible greens and vegetables prevailed in the west.
There are five main regions of viniculture, the principal region being Kakheti, which produces seventy percent of Georgia’s grapes. Traditionally, Georgian wines carry the name of the source region, district, or village, much like French regional wines such as Bordeaux or Burgundy. As with these French wines, Georgian wines are usually a blend of two or more grapes. For instance, one of the best-known white wines, Tsinandali, is a blend of Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane grapes from the micro regions of Telavi and Kvareli in the Kakheti region. Wine regions in Georgia are:
Most Popular Qvevri Workshop Locations
The winemaking in Qvevri is unique and that is why UNESCO assigned the status of National Monument of Intangible Cultural Heritage to “The ancient Georgian tradition of Qvevri winemaking” in 2013. Qvevri is a unique vessel for making and storing wine. As it was said above, the ancient Qvevri-like vessel discovered in Georgia dates back to the 6th – 5th millennia BC. Winemaking in Qvevri means keeping the wine on its own chacha during the alcoholic fermentation as well as afterwards. Winemaking technology is different in different parts of Georgia. For example, the total amount of chacha takes part in alcoholic fermentation in Kakheti, while the Imeretian rule of winemaking implies adding not the total but a third part of chacha to the sweet grape juice. To determine the duration of how long to keep wine in chacha, great importance is paid to grape varieties, alcoholic fermentation duration, environmental conditions, etc. In the case of white grapes, the wine is left on the chacha until spring while the red wine is kept usually only during alcoholic fermentation. In order to keep the wine well, the Qvevri lid is covered with additional clay or mud. The “burial” of wine and its “birth” in spring remind us of the eternal cycle of death-revival, which must be the basis of early Solar beliefs.
Qvevri wine-making is practised throughout Georgia, particularly in village communities where unique varieties of grapes are grown. The Qvevri is an egg-shaped earthenware vessel used for making, ageing and storing the wine. Knowledge and experience of Qvevri manufacture and wine-making are passed down by families, neighbours, friends and relatives, all of whom join in communal harvesting and wine-making activities. Children learn how to tend the vines, press grapes, ferment wine, collect clay and make and fire Qvevris through observing their elders. The wine-making process involves pressing the grapes and then pouring the juice, grape skins, stalks and pips into the Qvevri, which is sealed and buried in the ground so that the wine can ferment for five to six months before being drunk. Most farmers and city dwellers use this method of making wine. Wine plays a vital role in everyday life and in the celebration of secular and religious events and rituals. Wine cellars are still considered the holiest place in the family home. The tradition of Qvevri wine-making defines the lifestyle of local communities and forms an inseparable part of their cultural identity and inheritance, with wine and vines frequently evoked in Georgian oral traditions and songs. “UNESCO.org
How wine is made in Qvevri
The process of making wine in Qvevri is quite amazing, to watch it is like watching an artist create a master peace. It is risky, time consuming and it is exhausting, but if everything is done right and with a little bit of luck the end result is worth all those troubles. Here’s how it’s done:
First let us talk about making white wine using traditional Kakhetian method. Historically pressing out grape was done in Satsnakheli a half cut cylinder shaped vessel. Nowadays Satsnakheli has lost its purpose due to technological advancement. Traditionally grape is put in the Qvevri for fermentation without removing grape skin and even pipes in some cases. It is also important to figure out which size of Qvevri is more suitable for fermentation. During archaeological excavations there were found Qvevris of different sizes – 3, 4, 5 and some times 7-8 tons of volume. But further investigations showed that bigger Qvevris were more used for wine keeping rather than making. It is important to pay attention to the rising temperatures during fermentation, It is crucial to steer the chacha and push it down as if it stays at the Qvevri neck it becomes kind of a dome and can stimulate rising temperatures. It is recommended to steer every 3-4 hours for the first 5-6 days, periodicity decreases after that period. It has been told by experienced wine makers that the optimal Qvevri size, for fermentation process, is 1500 liters. Fermentation process in bigger Qvevris can be tricky in terms of unstable temperatures and it is even harder in bigger cellars. Bigger Qvevris are better for keeping wine, they are deeper in the ground thus cooler and therefore safer.
Fermentation process takes about two weeks, if the temperatures are right and the process goes on without any complications the grape skin goes to the bottom of the Qvevri and it can be closed after that. Closing Qvevri is usually done using a glass cap and clay or special Plasticine to keep it air-tight with check valve airway for CO to come out. Usually wine is kept in Qvevri with grape skins for about six months, after that the grape skin is removed and wine is decanted to another Qvevri for aging until bottled.
“George Barisashvili – “Qvevri & Wine”