A little bit of Georgia in Sussex (part 2), by Chris Foss
The British Georgian Chamber of Commerce and the Georgian National Wine Agency invited a group of Plumpton students to visit Georgia at their Easter break. At first, the trip was only conceived for eight students, but, in the end, 21 pupils attended, and I hear that they had a whale of a time. Abbie Hoskin said:
“To visit Georgia for a week really contextualised the work I did at Plumpton Marani. It’s an amazing country with fantastic food, culture, wine and history. We visited some brilliant wineries and museums and really enjoyed our time there.”
Another student, Stella Kane, said:
“I couldn’t believe how spectacular the scenery was: lush green mountains with cascading rivers. Tbilisi was so vibrant culturally: amazing museums, architecture and a fantastic traditional cuisine, authentically fusing that of surrounding cultures. The people were so kind and there was a great energy everywhere we went. The wines, of course were so interesting, how can you not be intrigued by the simplicity of qvevri wine making?”
Another student, Gina Balchin, added:
“Before the trip to Georgia, I really didn’t know what to expect. Truth be told I wasn’t even sure where it was. I was pleasantly surprised to find a lovely country with some truly unique wines and beautiful vineyards. When I think back to the trip, the first thing that springs to my mind is actually our very first wine estate visit. We were greeted by a very knowledgeable and friendly award-winning winemaker, who really set the tone for the week. She gave us our first insight into the hundreds of varieties that Georgia grow. The wine was flowing, and accompanied by lots of home-made delicacies”.
A highlight for Lindsay Holas, Plumpton’s lecturer in Wine Business was
“being greeted at Baia’s winery near Kutaisi. After discussing with our group her approach to vine growing, challenges facing producers today, our group gathered inside her family’s traditional marani to taste wines fresh from the qvevri. Of course, in traditional Georgian fashion, we were also treated to a delicious spread of local delicacies! It’s such an exciting time in for the Georgian wine industry and we had a truly unforgettable trip.”
The Georgian hospitality was outstanding, particularly the Twins Wine House in Napareuli, who not only hosted the whole group for a visit, but gave them an excellent lunch. More about them later.
Meanwhile, the wine at Plumpton marani was maturing. The qvevris were opened, and the wine was delicious! 1600 bottles were produced in all: 500 red, 200 white and 900 orange (or amber). Henry Mchedlishvili’s company, Artisan Cru, and the British Georgian Chamber of Commerce, hosted a tasting in Mayfair to launch their first wines.
In a further demonstration of goodwill, Twins Wine House in Napareuli invited a Plumpton student, Alex Tristram, to stay with them for ten days to learn the art of qvevri winemaking. Established by twin brothers Gia and Gela Gamtkitsulashvilis, this winery features a traditional Georgian hotel and restaurant and the unique Qvevri Wine Museum. When I visited it on my trip to Georgia in 2015, I marvelled at its huge model qvevri outside (eight metres high!) and the fascinating collection of artefacts and archival photos and information about Georgian grapes and winemaking. The most remarkable part of museum was three 500-litre qvevris with glass fronts, so that the visitor can watch how the special winemaking process evolves. Commercially, the Twins Wine Cellar ferments organically grown Rkatsiteli, Kakhetian Green and Saperavi grapes from their own region in 135 qvevris, most of which have a capacity of around 4 tonnes. They are actively seeking a UK distributor for their delicious wine, “Qvevri’s Mze”.
The 2017 Artisan Cru wines made at Plumpton Marani are selling really well, particularly in Georgian restaurants, and we will soon be bottling the 2018 vintage, but more about this later. This is just the start of the Plumpton/Georgian adventure: in a further article, I will be relating how the marani has been transformed into a unique Georgian wine museum, and more Plumpton students will soon be invited to enjoy another spell of delightful Georgian hospitality.