The southwestern subtropical region of Guria/Adjara is known for tea, citrus and the cultish local Chkhaveri. This ancient pinkish-violet grape variety is originally a maghlari vine trained to grow up trees. Wine from Chkhaveri can be hypnotic, light but resonant, textured and tea-like. Exactly how Chkhaveri is suppose to be made or taste has been lost, but as far as Luka Bibineishvili is concerned, it’s “Aia Yi!”, which roughly translates as “This is it!.”
Chkhaveri is likely a pre-Christian Meskhetian variety. The ancient region of Meskheti had a highly developed wine culture and was possibly responsible for the invention of iron metallurgy. Before the Ottoman rule in the 16th century, wine from Meskheti was famous outside the region. Unfortunately, almost 100 known aboriginal species were lost to the Turks. Today, only 30 or so hectares of Chkhaveri exist made of small plots of less than 0.5 hectare. Production never stopped, the vineyards and traditions only moved into the protected highlands where old vineyards of forgotten sorts can be found in the forest.
The Bibineishvili family farms 0.6 hectares, 0.4 planted to Chkhaveri, the remainder to Megrelian Ojaleshi, Tsolikuri, Tsitska and Krakhuna. The winery is located in the Adjaran village of Erge, 5 miles from the Black Sea and the Georgian/Turkish border. Cultivation is organic. The red soil is composed of light and medium loam interspersed with clay. The vines are trained high above the ground, some grown on pergola with overhead trellis, to moderate the humidity of the area.
Wine has been part of the Bibineishvili family longer than the family name. Made by Iveri Bibineishvili, the 2015 vintage marks their first commercial production, including 1500 bottles of the 2015 “Aia Yi!”. Chkhaveri is a late ripening grape that does not accumulate a lot of sugar and tends to have good acidity and modest alcohol level even when ripe. In 2015, “Aia Yi!” was harvested on December 12th.
After a natural fermentation that included 3 weeks of maceration with skins and stems, the wine aged until March of 2017 when it was bottled. Chkhaveri’s color and particular character, coupled with the extremely late harvest and maceration, result in a light, phenolic, especially savory wine of dimension and length. “Aia Yi!” is burnished rosé, strangely perfumed, subtle and structured. This wine will continue to develop in the bottle for 5 or more years.