Author and New York Times food columnist Melissa Clark recently interviewed John Wurdeman, an American painter who moved to the Georgian Republic to follow his two passions—wine and art—and funded the winery Pheasant’s Tears.
Melissa Clark: How did this all start for you?
John Wurdeman: I’m a visual artist, a painter by profession. I fell deeply in love with Georgia when I heard a recording when I was sixteen years old. I bought a CD called Georgian Folk Music Today. Immediately, the chords of the music just struck me very deeply.
In 1995, I was able to go to Georgia for the first time. Strangely enough, on the very first night, I was whisked away from the airport and taken to a restaurant. About 10-15 toasts deep into the feast, musicians were summoned to come in, and they were the same musicians that were on the CD I bought when I was 16, back in Richmond, Virginia.
MC: That’s amazing. And how did you go from there to making wine?
JW: I came back in 1996. I needed a subject for my final painting. My master’s project that I was working on was in Moscow, so I decided to follow the grape harvest.
I went to Kakheti, which is the eastern part of Georgia where 90% of the country’s wine is made. I visited different families and did a lot of sketches of how they were collecting the grapes and the feast that happened afterwards. The Georgian feast was very curious to me, because it seemed to unite multiple generations around one table, all with poetry, ancient polyphonic songs, wine, incredible traditions.
That’s how I first was introduced to wine. And then in 2006 everything changed.