Winemaker Iago Bitarishvili explains the traditional Georgian method

Wine is intricately woven into the cultural fabric of Georgia. The Georgian winemaking method of burying an earthenware vessel called a qvevri in the ground creates wines with unique amber colour that has the structure of a white wine with some characteristics of red wine, due to the whole skin maceration (the wine sitting on the skins for the whole fermentation).

The earliest known qvevri unearthed originated in the 7th century BCE. The shape and method evolved, but how Georgians have made wines essentially is essentially the same method since at least the 4th century CE. Qvevris can hold between 800 and 3,500 litres of wine, and are lined with beeswax to prevent the clay from reacting with the wine. Qvevris are buried in the ground for optimal temperature during fermentation and to protect the wine from noise and vibration.

Qvevri winemaking method is listed on UNESCO’s List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Since 2006, qvevri demand has grown so much (they are now getting orders for export), that the World Bank is currently funding the establishment of a qvevri-making school, in order to preserve this ancient skill.

In this video, Georgian winemaker Iago Bitarishvili of Iago’s Wine in Chardakhi, Kartli explains the traditional Georgian method, making wine in an earthenware qvevri.

Video by Lisa Muirhead

Georgian Method:
• After harvest (October), whole bunches of grapes (either bought or grown) are pressed, with the must (juice) running into the qvevri. After the juice runs off, the chacha (stems, stalks and skins) are added for the alcoholic fermentation (20-40 days, depending on the grape variety and vintage).
• During fermentation, the juices and stems are stirred 4-5 times daily
• Fermentation is complete when the cap (stems, stalks, skins) begins to sink, and the qvevri is capped and sealed with clay
• The qvevri is opened in April and the wine is separated from the chacha and run off into another qvevri for another year of aging.
• Chacha is removed and distilled to make a very potent spirit (40-65% alcohol)

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