Wine has been an integral part of Georgian culture for thousands of years, yet the wines are just beginning to become known and respected outside of the country. As part of our effort this month to provide more in depth knowledge on Georgia, I conducted a brief interview with Alice Feiring. Alice is a respected, passionate wine writer with a keen interest in natural wines. She recently wrote a book on Georgian wine, so I knew her insights would be first hand and authoritative. I hope you’ll enjoy reading the interview below and get inspired to experience first hand this ancient wine culture.
1. What made you interested in writing a book about the wines of Georgia?
Actually, the Georgian government approached me. The country had already translated Naked Wine into Georgian and they wanted an “Alice” book on my perceptions of Georgian wine, but on my part, it was a love project. I am hoping to triple the pages on the book and get an American publisher on board. My agent was funny, he was like, who would be interested in Georgian wine? But when he started to read the book, he quickly changed his mind.
2. What is the state of the wine industry there? Is there an effort to maintain traditional production methods (qvevri) or is there a move towards modernization?
In growth, growing pains will come. At the beginning of wine expansion, there was a move away from the traditional methods to stainless and oak and lots of chemical and process in the winemaking. The success of the natural winemakers in the country has helped not only to stem that trend, but has also helped to convince more people to return to tradition. It’s important to remember that they’re just now segueing from home winemaker to commercial and most of the small folk can’t yet afford to make their living solely from wine. But that will come. As evidence of the resurgence, just five years ago, the top qvevri maker was worried his sons wouldn’t follow in his footsteps because the tradition was dying; now there’s a two year waiting list for his vessels.
3. Why, would you say, Americans should pay attention to this region?
The most important reason is that the best wines are startling and delicious. And of course, if you already love orange wine, here’s the original. The fact that wine had been made with skin contact in qvevri in an unbroken tradition over thousands of years also adds to the cultural, historical allure.
4. What are some of your favorite native varietals?
There are over 535 indigenous varietals in Georgia and I can think of quite a number that are my favorites. Saperavi and Rkatsiteli are the most well known but the ones I love much more?
Reds: Ojaleshi, Tavkveri, Shavkapito, Chkhaveri
Whites: Tsolikouri, Krakhuna, Khikhvi, Kisi, Chinuri, Mtsvani
5. What is the wine culture like in Georgia?
I’ve never been anywhere else in the world where wine is so embedded in the daily life. The vine came to Georgia from the same woman who brought their Georgian Orthodox form of Christianity. In the first half of the fourth century, Saint Nino was said to have been visited by the Virgin Mary, who gave her a grapevine and said, “By the strength of this cross, you will erect in that land the saving banner of faith in My beloved Son and Lord.” The belief is that Nino cut the vine in two, cut off her long braid and plaited the vines into a cross, then brought it along with the gospel to Georgia (Kartli or Iberia as it was called).
The vine stayed and never left. That’s the beginning of it. There’s no meal, no celebration without it, there’s a whole ancient tradition around drinking, vessels—wine is a religion and a birthright. They’ve fought for the vine, died and lived for it.
6. Where do you see the future of the industry heading?
We’ll have to wait and see where it’s headed, but they have a fabulous terroir still unexploited. It’s beginning, the potential is huge for quality. It’s too small for a lot of quantity.
7. What makes the wines so special?
Like any country there’s great, good, bad and indifferent wine. Let’s talk about the first categories. The best are not just good, they’re exciting, food worthy. The reds and whites are both with skin contact—though the whites often have much more—and the best of those have a juiciness that sets them apart. The reds come in all weights and styles but even though Georgia is known for the power of Saperavi, it is in the more delicate reds that I find the most pleasure.
8. Are you able to divulge the name of your book at this time?
The Georgian book is called Skin Contact. The American one will have a different name.
Thank you to Alice Feiring for taking the time to enlighten us all a little more on Georgia. You can find additional information about her work at alicefeiring.com and her subscription newsletter which focuses on natural, organic and biodynamic wines at alicefeiring.com/newsletter. If you care about these kinds of wines, you’ll want to sign up. You may also want to check our growing selection of Georgian wines.