The Near Eastern state (Russian: Grusinia) with its capital Tbilisi lies east of the Black Sea in Transcaucasia. It is bordered by Russia to the north, Turkey and Armenia to the south and Azerbaijan to the east. The breakaway parts of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are recognised as sovereign only by Russia and a few other states. Georgia is one of the oldest wine-growing countries and is also named as the origin of the cultivated grapevine, which, however, is assumed to be in south-eastern Anatolia according to recent research (arrow). According to the Bible, Noah landed on Mount Ararat at the end of the Flood. It is said that the 5,000-year-old clay jars found near the town of Wani in Imeretia contained seeds of the Rkatsiteli vine. Grape seeds from cultivated vines as early as 7,000 years old point to the breeding of better grape varieties. Archaeology provided evidence that viticulture enjoyed great importance in the earliest times and was an integral part of Georgian culture. In the museum of the capital Tbilisi (Tiflis), there is a short piece of vine wood covered with silver that was found in Trialeti in the south and whose age was determined to be 3,000 BC. Numerous vine knives, stone stars, mills, clay and metal vessels as well as jewellery in the form of grapes and vine leaves from the period between 3000 and 2000 BC have been excavated in Mukheta, Trialeti and Pitsunda as well as in the Alazani Valley.
Rich ornaments with fruit-bearing vines are found on the walls of temples in the towns of Samtavisi, Ikalto, Gelati, Nikortsminda, Vardzia and Zarmza. In a poem by the Greek scholar Apollonius of Rhodes (3rd century BC), the librarian of the famous library in Alexandria, it is said in his work "Argonautica" that the Argonauts (heroes of Greek mythology), on their arrival in the capital Colchis, saw climbing vines at the entrance to the royal palace and a fountain with wine in the shade of the trees. Georgian legends testify to the love of the vine. Georgia adopted Christianity in the fourth century. The first cross was supposedly made of grapevines to demonstrate Christian religion and vine as the country's most sacred goods. For many centuries, viticulture had the greatest economic importance in Georgia, finally reaching an absolute peak in the Middle Ages.
Viticulture in modern times
After the Second World War (1939-1945), Georgia developed into an important wine supplier in the USSR, focusing on mass-produced wines. By 1985, the area under vines had increased to 125,000 hectares. Then there was a severe setback due to the anti-alcohol campaign under Mikhail Gorbachev (*1931), as 40,000 hectares of vineyards were cleared and replaced by melon cultivation. At the time of independence from 1991, 75% of production was exported to Russia. In 2006, however, there was an import ban (on Moldovan wines, too, by the way), which Russia justified with the undrinkability of Georgian wines due to contamination with pesticides and pollutants. Georgia saw this as a politically motivated action against the new pro-Western government. The Georgian wine industry was massively affected by this. The embargo was lifted at the end of 2011.
Regions & wine-growing areas
Under the wind-protecting influence of the towering Caucasus, there are ideal climatic conditions for viticulture in varying degrees. The wine-growing areas are characterised by diverse soil conditions and are spread throughout the country. The main focus is in the east of the country. From a climatic point of view, there are 5 regions, these are Guria, Imeretia, Kakhetia, Kartlia and Ratscha-Letschchumi. These are divided into 12 wine-growing regions.
The region with the capital Osugeti comprises the areas Abkhazia (Abkhazia), Adjara (Adjara), Guria (Guria) and Megrelia/Mingrelia (Samegrelo) in the west. In the humid subtropical climate, mainly sweet wines are produced, almost exclusively for the regional market. The only PDO area is Salkhino Ojaleshi.
The region with the capital Kutaisi is located in western Georgia in the wind-protected valleys of the Rioni and Kvirila rivers on alluvial soils. It is divided into the Kvemo Imereti and Zemo Imereti areas. Here there are different climatic and soil conditions with frequent rainfall. The traditional winemaking method used here, with clay jars buried in the ground, is similar to the Kachetic method. The only PDO area is Sviri.
The most important region in the east with the capital Telavi. This is also where most of the original PDO areas are located (see under Kakheti). This is also the home of the ancient traditional Kakheti winemaking with clay jars (kvevris) buried in the ground. The climate is temperate to subtropical, with warm summers and moderately cold winters. Average annual precipitation ranges from 400 to 800 mm. Calcareous soils, alluvial soils and black shale predominate. The vineyards are mostly located on the slopes of the Alazani and Iori rivers between 250 and 800 metres above sea level. The traditional sweet Churchkhela, made from nuts dipped in boiled grape must and dried in the sun, also comes from here.
The region is located in the centre of the country in the Kura Valley and includes the lowlands of Gori and Mukhran. It includes the Georgian administrative regions of Lower Kartli (Kwemo Kartli), Mtskheta-Mtianeti, Inner Kartli (Shida Kartli), Tbilisi and thus also South Ossetia. The basic wines for sparkling wine and brandy are produced here, accounting for 15% of Georgian production. The climate is moderate with hot and dry summers. Due to low rainfall of only 350 to 500 mm annually, artificial irrigation must be used. The Georgian capital Tbilisi is home to huge sparkling wine cellars and distilleries. The oldest winery, founded in 1897, has a unique wine collection with about 1,600 wines (about 150,000 bottles), among which are also foreign products of very old vintages. These include, for example, Cognac from 1811, Malaga from 1820, Marsala and Madeira from 1822, Sherry from 1848 and Tokay from 1846. There are two PDO areas, Ateni and Bolnisi.
The region with the capital Ambrolauri is situated north of Imeretia on the rivers Rioni and Tskhenistskali. The climate is characterised by moderately cold winters and hot, dry summers. The southern sites yield grapes with high sugar content. There are two PDO areas Khvanchkara, the favourite wine of Josef Stalin (1878-1953), and Tvishi.
Georgia is best known for its red wines, which in USSR times were considered the best in the Union. There are also many fortifiedwines, sparkling wines and sweet wines, as well as spirits(brandy, Chacha = pomace brandy). At the Yalta Conference in February 1945, Josef Stalin (1878-1953) surprised Winston Churchill (1874-1965) with the quality of "Grusinian cognac". Well-known producers are Aia, Bagrationi, Chetsuriani, Georgia Wine & Spirits, Khareba, Manavi Wine Cellar, Samkharadze & Co Ltd, Samtrest, Saradzhishvili & Eniseli, Shukhman, Taro Ltd, Tbilvino, Telavi Wine Cellar, Teliani Valley, Tibaneli, Tsinandali (historic winery, now a museum), Vasiani, Vazi+ and Wine Company Shumi.