The method of making wine in a qvevri is deceptively simple. The ancient method, which has been used throughout Georgia’s 800-year winemaking history, relies on the perfect symbiosis of ripe grapes and the unique environment inside the sealed qvevri.
To make wine is this simple, traditional way, ripe grapes are brought from the vineyard in whole bunches and pressed. It’s important to preserve the ‘chacha’ – the name given both to the potent spirit made with the leftovers, and the mix of stems, seeds and skins. This is called the ‘mother chacha’. All of this, plus the freshly pressed juice is put into the qvevri, leaving about 20% space at the top for fermentation. Nothing else is added: fermentation relies on natural yeasts. After malolactic fermentation has occurred, the qvevri is topped up with more wine and is sealed and left underground for about five months for white wines and one month for reds. The whole process is completely additive free – naturally produced CO2 protects the wine from spoiling.
Once the wine has fermented, it’s moved into a clean qvevri to age. The wine has naturally filtered itself so it’s important to avoid disturbing the deposit of the mother chacha at the bottom.
It’s very easy to see from this process why Georgians are true pioneers of natural winemaking.
The more ‘modern’ method of making wine in a qvevri is distinguished by the volume of mother chacha they use for fermentation.
In this method, grapes are destemmed and lightly crushed, before a small amount of the skins are added to the bottom of the qvevri and the juice added on top. They also use small amounts of So2 to prevent the wine from oxidising during this process. However, that is all that is added – this method also relies on natural yeasts. After malolactic fermentation in this method, too, the qvevri is sealed – but they do check on the wine more frequently, taking samples to check on its progress.
Both methods produce the very distinctive, rich and complex wine qvevri are known for.