One of Georgia’s oldest vine varieties, Ojaleshi, means “growing on a tree” in the Megrelian dialect of Georgian (ja=tree). It was the dominant variety in the mountainous district of Samegrelo in north-western Georgia, it was trained as a maghlari vine up persimmon or alder trees. Ojaleshi was widely cultivated in this manner throughout Guria’s central and upper mountain villages before the arrival of fungal diseases and phylloxera in the late 19th and early 20th centuries decimated vineyards. Current plantings are trained lower to the ground, as in Guyot simple or double, which lowers yields but produces higher-quality fruit. Ojaleshi performs best on the limestone soils of Salkhino, Tamakoni, and Abedati of Samegrelo’s Martveli District; and in Racha-Lechkhumi, on the mountain slopes overlooking the Tskhenistskali (a tributary of the Rioni River), and further East-Northeast in the village of Orbeli, it develops rose aromas.
Ojaleshi has round leaves with triangular teeth, and small, conical bunches of medium-sized, dark, blue-black berries. The grape has thick skins and firm flesh. It is early budding (April 1-15), and late ripening – it typically is not harvested before the end of October or mid-November.
Typically, Ojaleshi is a ruby-coloured, semi-sweet to sweet wine with a gentle bouquet of red fruits lifted by hints of pepper or spice. Alcohol levels range 10-12% abv, with 3-5 g/l residual sugar. With aging in bottle, the wine will gather complexity and approximate a dry red. A few winemakers are experimenting with producing a high-quality, dry Ojaleshi, or blending a small percentage with Saperavi (in the way that winemakers often blend a bit of Merlot or Cabernet Franc with Cabernet Sauvignon).