The 2 day International Wine Tourism Conference (IWINETC) in Tbilisi saw wine and culinary tourism professionals meet for the best education, the best business and the best networking event for the industry. After welcoming the 2015 host in with a glass of Champagne, media, tour operators and delegates departed Tbilisi to start a winery visit programme. 3 group made the long journey to Western Georgia and 3 groups traveled to the Kakheti wine region.
Day 1 Kakheti highlights were:
Our day began with a visit to the 6th century Ikalto Monastery that included an academy. This academy was one of the original academies in Europe and Asia. The academy was a center for learning including winemaking and viticulture. The monastery has several maranis on the property including within the academy ruins and next to the church. There are also several stone presses. Ikalto Monastery was known for being a large winemaking enterprise with numerous qvevris discovered.
We visited the Alaverdi Monastery that was founded in the 7th century and has hosted monastic culture and holds the graves of a number of Georgian kings. Due to foreign invasions over the centuries it has been destroyed and rebuilt many times. The monks have been producing traditional Qvevri wines since 1011 and we were able to taste three different wines including two from their thousandth vintage, 2011. They currently have funding from the Bagadoni winery and have both traditional qvevri wine making and new modern European wine making. One thing we have learned is that the amber or “orange” colored wines are extremely food friendly. They are so unique it is almost as if we need to learn a new wine vocabulary. Our host was very gracious to answer our many questions over the two-hour visit. The monastery also has a vineyard that has 102 different endemic Georgian vines that are heart shaped trained.
Chateau Mere, Telavi Georgia
Housed in a stone castle, this hotel/winery/restaurant features free Wi-Fi, an outdoor swimming pool with majestic mountain views and onsite qvevri and traditional winery. Located in Telavi, it is set in Georgia’s wine-producing area amidst the Caucasus Mountains and Alazani Valley, which offers a perfect setting for weddings, group meetings, or romantic getaways. In addition to wine tasting, guests can arrange horse riding excursions to the 8th-century Sios Marani Monastery or 6th-century Ikalto Monastery.
Sitting in a rocking chair in front of a wood burning stone fireplace graced by hanging animal skins and carpets with southwest style design, it felt like home in Texas. The public area offers a comfortable living room encompassing many cultures and decorated with personal collections, photos, and Winiveria wines. Gracious owner George Piradashvili shared his Kisi, Rkatsiteli, and Saperavi wines as well as Chacha. A traditional Georgian feast was served at the onsite restaurant with some new unexpected dishes including wild cherry sweet tea, kabobi made with an Asian style sauce and green garlic relish.
Named for the famous Georgian semi-sweet red wine, Kindzmarauli, this commercial winery is one of the largest we have visited in the Kakheti region of Georgia. As we arrived, we were impressed with the prominent “library” vineyard that boasts 400 of the 525 grape varieties grown in Georgia. The groin vaulted brick ceiling in the oak aging area created a graceful bridge from old world winemaking to the very modern immaculately clean production area. Winemaker Temur shared five of his wines: Rkatsiteli-Mtsvane, Kakhetian Royal White, Kakhetian Royal Red, Saperavi Barrel Reserve, and their name sake Kindzmarauli semi-sweet red. All of the wines were well made, varietally correct, and easy to drink. Kindzmarauli Marani produces twenty-two types of wines.
“Don’t forget the way you came from, it’s a labyrinth!”was told to me by a Georgian guy before I entered the 7.7 km long Khareba tunnel in Kvareli. Well, the labyrinth is an obvious exaggeration, but the tunnel with the wines inside was really impressive. Khareba winery is not a small family estate, they have 1000 hectares vineyards and they produce six million bottles every year, 4 million for export. They have modern, European style wines, classical or traditional Georgian style wines, and they produce sparkling wines also. After the tasting, they invited us over for dinner to the winery’s restaurant. It was amazing. If you can, don’t miss the Saperavi Premium 2010, that wine won great gold medal on the CMB (Comcours Mondial de Bruxelles) last year in Bratislaval!