Where is the cradle of wine? Hint: It’s not Napa. It’s also not France or Spain, Italy, Chile or Argentina. It’s Georgia. The country stupid, not the great Peach State. Georgia’s fertile valleys have been cultivating grapevines for wine production for at least 8,000 years. Think about that for a minute.
6,000 years before the world fell in love with a man named Jesus, they were sipping his blood in an effort to be the coolest Neolithic cats on the block.
This ancient tradition has been transformative to the culture of Georgia and has become deeply ingrained in their traditions.
Among the best-known Georgian wine regions are Kakheti (further divided into the micro-regions of Telavi and Kvareli), Kartli, Imereti, Racha-Lechkhumi and Kvemo Svaneti, Adjara and Abkhazia.
The history is obviously obtuse due to the sheer number of years ago. The best estimates of how wine production started in this region are traced back to people of the south Caucasus who discovered when putting grape juice in clay pots they had buried to survive the cold winter had fermented to produce an elixir of love.
This has intrinsically helped shape Georgian pottery and clay traditions as well. They have been making these love vessels for millenia and it all started with housing the beautiful grape juice.
Once good ol’ Jesus and Christianity permeated the Georgian culture, wine became even more important. From the 4th century, Saint Nino preached Christianity to the country with a wood cross made from vine wood.
Fun Fact – For centuries, Georgians drank, and in some areas still drink, their wine from horns (called kantsi in Georgian) and skins from their herd animals. The horns were cleaned, boiled and polished, creating a unique and durable drinking vessel.
Here is where it gets interesting pertaining to modern culture. The Georgians and Russians have had a contentious relationship as of late. There was the 2008 conflict many of us scholarly individuals are familiar with. The problem is Russia has such a purchasing power monopoly on many of the former Soviet states commodities that if they decide to put a blockade on imports or impose high tariffs, the detrimental effects could be catastrophic to the industry. Depending on the size of the industry in terms of GDP, catastrophic for the entire country.
Well of course the Russians love using their influence in these countries to make up unfounded claims against products or industries as a means to justify these tariffs or outright blockades. This is to intimidate and bully the smaller neighboring countries to do what they want. This happened to Georgia many times and especially during the 2008 conflict where Russia just marched in and confiscated part of their Sovereign territories of Abkhazia and North Ossetia.
Russia’s latest claims are that Georgia was producing counterfeit wine – whatever that means.
Georgia is optimistic its recent Association Agreement with the European Union will expand its export markets and reduce the risk presented by any future unilateral embargoes by Russia.
Bottom line is that Georgian wine is delicious, ancient and interesting. Buy some, support them, and have yourself a treat. The next shindig you throw can feature this tasty drinking import which will give you some interesting topics of conversation for you and your guests. Cheers