Georgia and Kabaj

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“I like extreme life and extreme wine. No fancy hotel rooms, commercial style: this is not our life.” Jean-Michel Morel

“Orange wine” has been recognized by US sommeliers and fine wine shops for more than 10 years, but has only recently become part of the wine drinker’s vocabulary. For the un-initiated, “orange wine” is not made of oranges. Its ancient production began in present day Georgia, which happens to be where Neolithic humans first domesticated Vitis Vinifera in pursuit of more and better wine. Historically, white grapes and red grapes were processed similarly: crush grapes, add to container, ferment, drink. Like red wine, “orange wine” can range from delicate to strong. This depends on the type of grape, the length of maceration, amount of oxygen, temperature of fermentation and so on, just like with red wine. Some “orange wines” are not actually that orange in color, making the term a little misleading.

“Orange wine” is just wine in the Republic of Georgia between the Caucasus Mountains and the Black Sea, and Slovenia and Croatia between the Alps and Adriatic. Both areas are typified by their varied topography, climate, abundance of biological diversity and diverse native wines.

In the early 90’s, French educated Jean-Michel Morel, winemaker of Kabaj in Goriška Brda, Slovenia, married into the Kabaj family and began to make wine from grapes the family was selling. He liked “orange wine” and in 1999 he fermented their Jakot (formerly known as Tokaj) with the skins. Kabaj calls this wine “Ravan” after one of the best positions they farm. This was the start of their first “orange” wine. Little was written on the topic, so Jean-Michel’s taste led him to Shavnabada Monastary outside Tbilisi —the capital of the Republic of Georgia— in 2004. It is the same year he imported his own Qvevri (earthen amfora made specifically for wine production) to Slovenia.

Jean at Shavnabada
Jean at Kabaj

Fast forward a few years and the Kabaj winery has received international attention for elegant “orange” wines and beautifully earthy reds. Wine & Spirits Magazine has listed Kabaj as one of the Top 100 Wineries in the world for 2015, an honor the winery also received in 2013. We hope that you will try a few of Jean’s wines for yourself.