Qvevri – large earthenware jars used for fermentation – have become a vital part of the consumer perception of Georgian wine. The National Wine Agency of Georgia, together with Swirl & Market are determined to share the magic potential of these unique wines at this year’s London Wine Fair.
With a national pavilion on stand K60, 15 producers will be showcasing their wines with a daily themed tasting bar, alongside masterclasses led by Sarah Abbott MW. Aside from tasting the fascinating and varied wines from this up-and-coming country, it’s also an opportunity to explore the symbiosis of evocative storytelling and unique product. Georgian wines demonstrate an instinctual understanding of how to market romance.
There can be no better example than that of the Gombori Mountains’ qvevri makers.
During Soviet occupation, an era of homogenisation in the fledgling Georgian wine industry, the qvevri tradition was only kept alive by the remoteness of villages like this one. The finger of government doesn’t penetrate these workshops and mountain gardens where the qvervi lay buried beneath soupy mud.
Zaza Kbilashvili is a fourth generation qvevri maker – his family one of only eight in Georgia specialising in the production of these unique winemaking vessels. In his low workshop, half-made qvervi have the earthy reek of fresh clay, the cool malleability of living things. Every two days, he adds another layer of clay, manipulating old and new together with his fingers until the three thousand litre vessels are ready to be rolled out to the oven – all it requires is the removal of the workshop wall.
Outside, in a sodden field broaching the forest, part finished pots rest like relics strewn from the mouth of the oven, dusted with the mizzle and a coarse sand glaze. For Georgians, qvervi are as evocative as terroir to the French: with every material pulled from the land around them, the creation of the wine within is controlled by the earth it’s buried in. Zaza sources his clay from the surrounding forest with rudimentary diggers; sand from a neighbour’s plot; wax from local beekeepers; wood and brick for the oven sourced from his own land. It’s a unique way of translating the environment into the finished wine – as unique as the evocative amber wines the qvervi produce.
Production is a ritual which is amply communicated by the enthusiastic importers bringing Georgian wine to the UK.