“Georgia – the Birthplace of Wine”

Archaeology, Associations, Events, Food and Drink, Maritime History and Museums — By on October 10, 2017 at 10:15 PM

Georgia’s claim to wine fame.

“Georgia – the Birthplace of Wine”

By James Brewer

It is a bold claim, but the evidence is in the pips. The world’s oldest wine-making tradition is averred by the Republic of Georgia, which says it has enjoyed 8,000 years of uninterrupted production from grapes, a capability that the ancient Greeks were among the first outsiders to savour.

Archaeologists and geneticists have identified the likely pioneering role of Georgia by analysing surviving grape pips and fragments of earthenware vessels.

Welcome from ambassador Beruchashvili.

A packed house in London relished the screening of a prize-winning documentary The Prime Meridian of Wine which traces this essential and agreeable slice of Georgian history.

The venue was the headquarters of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the event, on a thirsty Thursday, was part of the EBRD cultural programme celebrating aspects of countries with which the institution has a close relationship.

“Dedicated to the genesis, history and qualities of Georgian wine,” the evening culminated in wine aficionados and others present decanting from the auditorium to sample complimentary liquid refreshment: rich reds and whites.

HE Mrs Tamar Beruchashvili.

Claims of longevity in wine-making culture and tradition are based on archaeological evidence and there is much dispute about who was first. The answer has been provided by grape pips and old clay vessels that have weathered turbulent centuries. China may have just beaten Georgia, with possibly 9,000 years of making a grape-based fermented drink, but many experts are sure that the southern Caucasus began vine cultivation in around 6000 BC.

Other leaders in the millennium race include Iran from around 5000 BC, Greece at 4,500 BC, and Sicily in about 4000 BC.

Nana Jorjadze.

With some rapid-fire location filmingincluding dramatic Caucasus scenery, The Prime Meridian of Wine traces the origins of the beverage from contemporary Europe back through the ancient world to Georgia and its long traditions. Vivid lensing explores through the eyes of an eager young Georgian vintner fundamental aspects of wine-making with a pilgrimage to the great vineyards of France. In a touching scene he seeks the blessing of his nonagenarian vintner grandpa.

The story is strong on the religious connotations of the industry – wine cellars are considered the holiest place in the family home, and “Georgia is the Lord’s vineyard” – and stresses that “there has never been a year without a harvest” despite invasions and other threats to the Georgian way of life.

Nana Jorjadze, Steven Spurrier and Shalva Khetsuriani.

In one of its opening phases, the production recognises the interplay of Greek mythology with the forerunners of modern Georgia. The Greek writer Apollonius of Rhodes in the first half of the 3rd century BC composed an epic poem of the mythical Jason and his crew of Argonauts who mounted a quest for the Golden Fleece.

The fleece, from a winged ram, was a symbol of authority and kingship and was kept in the independent kingdom of Colchis (Kolkhis) on the shores of the Black Sea, in present-day western Georgia. King Aeëtes whose name meant “eagle” promised the fleece to Jason if he could perform a series of superhuman tasks.

Jason needed the fleece to confirm his claim to the throne of the city state of Iolcus in Thessaly, and succeeded with the help of the sorceress Medea, daughter of Aeëtes.

Wine reception.

A “hero” of the film is the qvevri, an egg-shaped clay pitcher with up to 500 litres capacity. The qvevri method of making, ageing and storing wine was inscribed in 2013 on the Unesco list of the “intangible cultural heritage of humanity.”

The  technique is still practised throughout Georgia, particularly in villages, with knowledge passed down by families, neighbours, friends and relatives, who join in communal harvesting and wine-making. The process involves treading the grapes and pouring the juice, grape skins, stalks and pips into the vessel, which is sealed and buried so that the wine can ferment for five to six months.

A wine-tasting expert is heard in the film to say that the clay of the qvevri reflects deliciously in the mouth.

Line-up of fine wine.

The documentary was commissioned by the Georgian Sommelier Association of which Shalva Khetsuriani is president, and he proved that he can produce film in an accomplished a manner as his wine. The project was financed by the National Wine Agency of Georgia and Mr Khetsuriani’s wine business. It was directed by Nana Jorjadze, one of Georgia’s leading filmmakers and a Cannes laureate who has been a key figure behind some 15 films.

Ahead of the showing, Her Excellency Tamar Beruchashvili, Ambassador of Georgia to the UK and Northern Ireland, said that 2017 marked the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations between her republic and the UK.  She paid tribute to the EBRD for its role in the development of the new Georgian economy.

The ambassador said that based on archaeological finds, Georgia has the world’s oldest and most continuous tradition of wine-making “and is therefore the birthplace of wine.” She spoke of Georgia’s tradition of making amber wine, sometimes called orange wine.  This stems from the hue which results from fermenting on grape skins, producing in the white the tannin of a red.

She declared: “For centuries wine-making was the basis of economic growth and culture and has a special place in social interaction – wine is George’s finest ambassador.”

…and the empties.

The event was made possible by the Georgian Embassy in London.

Ms Beruchashvili assumed her UK posting in March 2016, along with becoming permanent representative of Georgia to the International Maritime Organization. She was previously her country’s minister of foreign affairs, and earlier minister of trade and foreign economic relations.

After the 60-minute screening, Mrs Jorjadze, Mr Khetsuriani, and British wine writer Steven Spurrier took to the stage for a brief discussion and Q&A session.

Mrs Jorjadze, who comes from a wine-maker’s family, described her country’s wine as “handsome and noble.” Mr Khetsuriani said that the long Soviet period was difficult, but wine industry traditions were kept throughout state ownership.

Mr Spurrier said that after a social meeting some years ago he discovered that “the Georgians have created the miracle of a hangover-free wine.” Praising the range of Georgian wine, he said: “It is great that it began 8,000 years ago, but its time has come for the UK market.”

EBRD headquarters.

A member of the audience said that more needed to be done to ensure that “underestimated” Georgian cuisine and wine were better known.

Georgia boasts 525 grape varieties, of which two dozen are in popular use. The website The Drinks Business reported that in the first six months of 2017 Georgia exported around 31.5m bottles of wines worth about $70.5m to 44 countries, representing a 59% increase in volume and a 51% jump in value compared with the same period the previous year.

Biggest export destination remains Russia, which imported 19.3m bottles from January to June 2017. China, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Poland follow, with the UK well down the list. Exports to China grew by 104%, according to Georgia’s National Wine Agency, to 3.8m bottles. China and Georgia in May signed a free trade agreement, which will gradually remove all import tariffs on Georgian wines

According to the site All About Greek Wine, wine has been an important part of Greek culture for more than 4,000 years. The ancient Greeks knew well the nutritional value of wine as it became an inseparable part of their daily regimen, and the culture of wine was embodied in the deity Dionysus. All About Greek Wine, a consulting company specialising in the Greek wine and spirits sectors, was founded by Sofia Perpera who has worked on promotional activities in the US, Canada and elsewhere.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development was set up to help build a post-Cold War era in Central and Eastern Europe, committed to furthering progress towards market-oriented economies and private and entrepreneurial initiative. It established a London headquarters in 1991.

The bank’s shareholders are 66 countries from five continents plus the European Union and the European Investment Bank. It has expanded its original region of operations into other countries including Mongolia, Turkey, Jordan, Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Kosovo, Cyprus, Greece and Lebanon.

In Georgia the bank has sponsored 198 projects to date by investing cumulatively €2.8bn. The current portfolio in Georgia is €685m.Some of the funds have gone towards modernising the sea port in Poti and developing the international airports in Tbilisi and Batum.

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