Qvevri is the name given to the distinctive, lemon-shaped clay vessels used in Georgia to make wine. These huge clay vessels are handmade, a skill surviving in only a handful of master craftsmen who spend an average of three months making a single 2000 litre Qvevri. It’s a skill passed down through families, and at this point in time there are only eight families with the skill to make Qvevri.
The Qvevri are essentially giant coiled pots where coils of clay are incrementally added to maintain the correct tension and strength needed to hold the shape and weight of the clay. Each layer is added and shaped entirely by hand, an immense skill it takes a lifetime to learn.
Each vessel takes seven to eight days to fire in huge ovens, bricked up to keep the heat in and fed constantly with wood. After they’re fired, while still warm the Qvevri are coated on the inside with beeswax. This clogs the pores in the clay without fully sealing them, allowing the ingress of some air. Beeswax also has waterproofing and antiseptic qualities and is inert, so it has no effect on the wine but makes the Qvevri more hygienic. Finally, a layer of limestone paint or sometimes concrete outer coating is added to protect the Qvevri during transportation.
They are truly extraordinary feats of ancient engineering, so it’s no surprise that in 2013 this process and the making of Qvevri wine was added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list.
This video documents the slow process of making Qvevri, and you can read a profile of one fourth-generation Qvevri maker, Zaza Kbilashvili, on our website.