Memories of my visit to Georgia a year ago March for the International Wine Tourism Conference still flood my mind. Half a world away, Georgia is known as the cradle of wine. Georgians have been producing wine for more than 8,000 years. After two days in the capital, Tbilsi, we set out for the Kakheti, Georgia’s main wine-producing region. We stayed at the quaint Old Telavi Hotel in the heart of Telavi. After a fabulous dinner at the hotel’s restaurant across the street and a good night’s sleep, we set off to explore the area.
Our first stop was the Ikalto Wine Academy, a former monastery dating back to the 12th century. On a crisp morning with brilliant blue sky, we explored the grounds, examining remnants of qvevris centuries old or perhaps older. You could feel the spirits of those who had walked these grounds and made wine here. We paused at a grave, the headstone adorned with a black and white photo of a pretty young woman, the essential dates erased by time.
Our next stop was one that is permanently embedded in my brain. We visited the Alaverdi Monastery, dating back to the 11th century. A monk, Father Gerasim, was on hand to show us around. After several requests to photograph him, the monk reluctantly obliged, telling us we could each take one photo. Noticing one person shooting several photos with their phone he asked with a slight smile “something wrong with your phone?” We could feel the passage of time as we explored the monastery, ending with a tasting of their exquisite wines and chacha.
We continued discovering the wonders of the Kakheti region and stopped at Winiveri Winery at Chateau Mere where we enjoyed a delicious luncheon with our hosts accompanied by their fabulous wines. We took a shot of chacha and explored the winery grounds and the holes where the qvevris are buried. The hospitality of the Georgian people is unsurpassed.
We wrapped up the afternoon with a visit to Kindzmarauli Marani Winery, where deep-rooted centuries old tradition and modern winemaking techniques and equipment go hand in hand. In front of the winery is their demonstration vineyard with over 400 varietals growing. As winter hadn’t yet released her icy grasp, the vines were dormant. After a tasting it was time to move along and make our way to our dinner stop.
It was clear as soon as we reached Winery Khareba that we were in for a memorable evening. The grounds are spectacular, with winding streams and fountains spilling water from oversized qvevris. A woman baking bread on the walls of a stone oven invited us to try our hand at shaping loaves and baking our own. We toured the caves and then hiked up to the restaurant for a most memorable meal paired of course with their fine wines. As a parting gift, each of us was presented with a bottle or white and a bottle of red, each personalized with our names on them.
We checked into the charming Kvareli Eden Hotel for the night. The last day of this unforgettable journey would begin the following morning.
Tom Plant launched WINEormous in 2009 and is a member of the International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association. Based in Temecula, California, he offers intimate winery tours for no more than seven people. Tour details and pricing are available at www.temecula-tours.com. Call now to book your Temecula Winery Tour at (951) 907-9701! Ask about special discounts.