Georgian Ancient Winemaking

Discover The Ancient Art Of Georgian Winemaking And Its Cultural Significance
Cover image © Maksym Kulykov

The art of winemaking in Georgia is a journey back in time, spanning over 8000 years. This article delves into the ancient tradition of Georgian winemaking, exploring its historical roots, traditional practices, and the unique qvevri method that has become a symbol of this rich cultural heritage. Essential for travelers and wine enthusiasts alike, this piece offers an in-depth look at a tradition that intertwines the history, culture, and innovation of Georgia's winemaking.

8000 Years Of Winemaking Heritage

Georgian winemaking stands as a testament to an enduring tradition that dates back to over 8,000 years, as evidenced by archaeological findings. The discovery of qvevri, large egg-shaped clay vessels, in Neolithic settlements in eastern Georgia, dating back to 6000 BCE, marks the beginning of this historic journey. These vessels, central to Georgian winemaking, highlight a continuity of tradition that is rare and remarkable.

The Qvevri: Heart Of Georgian Winemaking

A qvevri, also known as churi in western Georgia, is an emblematic feature of Georgian wine culture. These large, egg-shaped clay vessels have a narrow bottom and wide mouth, with the earliest qvevri believed to have been stored above ground. However, for millennia, Georgian winemakers have buried their qvevri, with only the rim visible above the ground. This practice stems from the Georgian word "kveuri," meaning "something dug deep in the ground."

Distinguished from the clay amphorae used elsewhere, qvevri are used for fermentation, maturation, and storage of wine, representing one of the earliest winemaking technologies. Modern qvevri range from 100 liters to 3,500 liters (26 to 925 gallons), with the largest being able to accommodate a person for cleaning purposes.

In 2013, UNESCO recognized the significance of qvevri winemaking, adding it to its catalog of humanity’s intangible cultural heritage. Further, in 2021, qvevri were granted Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status, legally establishing Georgia as their place of origin.

Craftsmanship And Tradition

Qvevri making is a skill passed down through generations, with many qvevri in use today having a history spanning decades or even centuries. The production of these vessels remains a traditional craft, with a few family-owned companies in Kakheti, Imereti, and Guria specializing in their making. The demand for qvevri remains high, both within and outside Georgia, especially among organic and biodynamic wine producers.

The qvevri-making process is an intricate and time-consuming craft involving mining local clay, cleaning, grinding, forming, building, and firing in kilns at temperatures ranging from 1,000°C to 1,300°C (1,832°F to 2,372°F). The process takes weeks to complete, showcasing the dedication and skill involved in this ancient craft.

The Marani: A Sanctuary Of Wine

In Georgia, the marani, or wine cellar, is where the magic of winemaking unfolds. This space can vary in form - from a standalone building to a cave carved into a cliff. Inside the marani, qvevri are "planted" in the ground, with their rims standing above ground level. These cellars often house qvevri of various sizes, allowing winemakers to experiment with different grapes and fermentation techniques.

The Traditional Winemaking Process

Georgian winemaking in qvevri follows a process that has remained largely unchanged for thousands of years. This includes cleaning the qvevri, crushing grapes using traditional presses, and undergoing natural fermentation using indigenous yeasts. The process reflects a commitment to natural winemaking, with minimal intervention and a reliance on the natural environment for temperature control.

Contemporary Experimentation

While Georgian winemakers deeply respect their traditions, there is also a spirit of experimentation and innovation. This includes exploring different grape varieties, winemaking techniques, and even integrating modern equipment alongside traditional methods. Such experimentation is a testament to the dynamic nature of Georgian winemaking, where tradition and innovation coexist harmoniously.

Winemaking Tools And Accessories

The Georgian marani houses a variety of traditional tools and accessories, including avgardani, chapi, khapiri, and others, each serving a specific purpose in the winemaking process. These tools, often made of copper and wood, not only serve practical purposes but also represent the rich cultural heritage of Georgian winemaking.

Early Georgian Wine History And Culture

Georgia's claim to being the cradle of wine is backed by archaeological findings at Gadachrili Gora and Shulaveris Gora. Here, earthenware jars dating back to around 5980 BC were discovered, containing residual wine compounds and adorned with grape cluster motifs. These findings, located near Tbilisi, signify that the world's oldest known wine originated from this small, historically rich country.

Vessels Of Tradition: The Diversity Of Georgian Wine Containers

The rich pottery tradition of Georgia has given rise to a variety of wine vessels, each with its unique size, shape, and design. The kvevri, the most well-known of these, varies significantly in size, with capacities ranging from 20 liters (about 5 gallons) to a massive 10,000 liters (approximately 2,642 gallons). Apart from kvevris, Georgian winemaking also utilizes various vessels for drinking, such as Chinchila, Deda-khelada, and Dzhami, each distinct in its form and usage.

Wine In Georgian Art

The profound influence of wine on Georgian culture extends into the realm of art. Throughout the millennia, Georgian art has prominently featured motifs of grape clusters, vines, and leaves, particularly in gold, silver, and bronze artifacts from the third and second millennia BC. These artifacts, showcasing the interplay between winemaking and art, can be seen in the State Museum of Georgia, including a gold cup from the 2nd millennium BC and a cameo of Dionysus dating back to Classical antiquity.

Wine And Georgian Christianity

With the advent of Christianity in the 4th century AD, wine gained a new dimension in Georgian culture. It became integral to religious practices, especially in Holy Communion. The story of Saint Nino, who carried a cross made from vine wood and played a pivotal role in the Christianization of Georgia, further cements the link between wine and Georgian spiritual life.

The 7th Century Tamada

A remarkable find in Georgian archaeology is the 7th century bronze statue of a tamada, a traditional Georgian toastmaster. This artifact, discovered in Vani in western Georgia, underscores the social and ceremonial importance of wine in Georgian culture. The tamada's role in moderating feasts and celebrations, while maintaining a balance between enjoyment and responsibility, is a unique aspect of Georgian social life.

The Legacy Of Georgian Winemaking

Georgian winemaking, with its rich history and traditions, stands as a unique cultural phenomenon. The qvevri, a symbol of this legacy, continues to be a vital part of Georgian winemaking, reflecting an unbroken tradition spanning millennia. The intricate craftsmanship of qvevri making, the diverse range of traditional vessels, and the integration of winemaking into various facets of Georgian culture, art, and religion speak volumes about the deep roots and significance of wine in Georgian society.


This exploration into Georgian ancient winemaking reveals a fascinating blend of history, culture, and tradition. From the archaeological discoveries that trace winemaking back to 6000 BCE, to the enduring symbol of the qvevri, and the artistic and religious ties of wine, Georgian winemaking is a testament to a civilization that has revered and perfected the art of wine for thousands of years. As a destination for travelers and wine enthusiasts, Georgia offers a unique and enriching experience, deeply rooted in its ancient winemaking tradition.

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