The Home of the World's Oldest Wine Isn't From Where You'd Think

Oldest qvevri found during archeological expedition | © Als33120 / WikiCommons
Oldest qvevri found during archeological expedition | © Als33120 / WikiCommons
Photo of Baia Dzagnidze
Writer19 December 2017

Georgians have always claimed that they were the first wine-making country in the world. Now they have scientific proof. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) journal published an article stating that scholars have found the earliest evidence of wine residue in 8,000-year-old pottery fragments. Now that’s something to celebrate.

The place where wine-making began

The origin of Georgian viticulture has been tracked by archaeologists to a time when people of South Caucasus noticed that wild grape juice fermented into wine when they left it buried in shallow pits during winter months.

Oldest qvevri found during archeological expedition | © Als33120 / WikiCommons

According to this recent discovery, the pottery jars decorated in drawings of grapes and dancing men were found in two areas in the Shida Kartli region, roughly 31 miles (50 km) away from Tbilisi. Eight clay jars had the chemical remnants of wine, and the oldest pot dated from about 5,980 BC.

Before this revolutionary evidence, the oldest proof of wine-making was discovered in 7,000-year-old pottery in north-western Iran, as well as in Armenia with 6,000-year-old fermentation jars.

Today’s wine scene

Georgians still use large clay jars, similar to those found in the archeological excavations, called qvevri (or often referred as kvevri). Therefore, scientists believe that the Georgian wine-making method has not changed much since then.

These egg-shaped clay jars are used to store, age and ferment wine. Traditionally, the volume of each jar varies in size and ranges from 5 to 2,600 gallons (20-10,000 liters). Though, the average is 211 (800 liters).

Even though the uniqueness of the Georgian wine-making method has spread across the world and caught UNESCO’s eye, the traditional grape varieties are still not known abroad. Georgia is home to nearly 400 grape varietals; however, the country officially grows only 38 varietals for commercial viticulture.

Traditional methods

The traditional wine-making method using qvevri requires first crushing the grapes and draining the juice, stalks, grape skins, and pips (seeds) into the qvevri afterward. The vessel is then sealed. The fermentation process takes five to six months. After that time the jar is opened, and wine is decanted and bottled. The chacha or pomace is distilled into grappa (also called Chacha in Georgian). The Qvevri is then washed thoroughly, sterilized and re-coated with beeswax for the future use.

Qvevri buried underground | © Levan Gokadze / WikiCommons

This method is called the Kakhetian Method and originates from Kakheti, in the eastern region of Georgia. This type of wine doesn’t have a typical white wine color. It has amber or orange tones and is quite tannic.

The Imeretian Method is different from Kakhetian in the quantity and quality of the pomace used. Only one-tenth of the pomace, without stems, is used here. The rest of the process is the same and results in a wine similar to European standards.

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