The expansive soul of Imereti
(with Ramaz Nikoladze in his 'wild/Fukuoka' Tsolikouri vineyard, early July)
Few works on agriculture have inspired me more than Masanobu Fukuoka's seminal masterpiece, One Straw Revolution, where he describes a hands-off style of plant growing that encourages a maximum degree of biodiversity. In his wide view, man's role is not strictly that of raising a single crop (at the expense of all other life), but rather, to enhance and protect the health of all the local life on one's cultivated ground (crop included). Ramaz Nikoladze's wines convey a purity which is crystalline and sometimes raw; a few days ago, on an early morning in the first week of July, it was a distinct joy to see that one of their sources was the wild plot of vines pictured above, raised in a conscious 'Fukuoka' style, which Ramaz terms his 'jungle' vineyard. No plowing, no tractors, no mowers. From a distance, it would be hard to tell there was a vineyard here at all - a raft of other vigorous plants thrive between the loose rows, contributing to the aeration of the soil (clay falls like sand through your fingers), a complex insect population, and a rich environment for native yeasts.
(At an Imeretian supra in Terjola)
Crossing west through the Rikoti Tunnel into the central Georgian region of Imereti, our most recent footage tour began with a midday supra hosted by a natural winegrower, Gogita Makaridze, in his village of Terjola. (In the image above, Gogita is standing to share a toast; on his left, Archil Guniava, and on his right, Ramaz and Amiran Vepkhvadze - all representing the finest of Imereti's growers.) We had joined up with a group of Japanese wine importers, sommeliers, and cavaistes who proved to be great company for the several days we were with them, and expressed a strong passion for real, living wines. They have been instrumental in the growth of Georgian 'natural' wine production; in Gogita's case, he was able to increase his 700 bottle annual production to 3,000 bottles thanks to their interest and support.
(Gogita's 2 qvevris, where his 700 bottle production has been elaborated until now.
Thanks, in part, to the enthusiasm of the Japanese, 12 more qvevris are slated to be interred in
the excavated earth this year, before harvest)
Together, we tasted through his wines: a silky white/orange Tsitska, an enervating rosé of Aladasturi, and an elegant red Otskhanuri Sapere (along with a selection of wines from Guniava and Vepkhvadze). Proven by what we tasted, I firmly believe he'll be one of the Imeretian winegrowers to watch in the years to come.
After a night in Kutaisi, we met the next morning at Ramaz' marani (where he opened a qvevri of his 2014 vintage), his vineyard, and his house, where we tasted through a host of his wines reaching back to 2011, along with a range of bottles from a nearby friend of his, Didimi (of village Dimi). In the afternoon, we were happy to lunch at Gaioz Sopromadze's marani, a short drive away in the village of Baghdati. Gaioz is a family winegrower (of Tsolikouri, Chkhaveri, and Dzelshavi) who inherited his craft through many generations, only bottling his wines for sale after the 2010 vintage, thanks to Ramaz' encouragement and advice. He was a warm and engaging host; our Japanese friends were especially excited by his hospitality (and song).
(Gaioz toasting at the head of the table, with our new friends Moto, Yasuko, Eita, and Terashita)
A crucial element to the world-class quality of Georgian natural wines is the clay qvevri they're elaborated in; late that afternoon, we were very pleased to visit with one of Imereti's finest artisan qvevri-makers, Zaliko Bodjadze. It's hard to explain in practical terms, but there's a perceptible spirituality, an expansive soulfulness, to wines fermented in the clay he forms with his hands... We'll be visiting him a few more times during the course of this year (for further explanation of the above!), but the timing of this meeting was special: Eita had brought him a the first bottling of a wine made in Japan from the Delaware grape and fermented in clay that Zaliko had crafted in Georgia. In his qvevri-house, Zaliko was visibly moved, and quickly opened it to share with the group. (It is delicious.)
(At right, Zaliko pours the Japanese wine from his clay, while Eita, Ramaz, and JQ look on)
A late-evening, low-key supra at our old friend Iago Bitarishvili's winery, just outside Tbilisi (where we'll also return to a few more times this year), capped our rather intense Imereti filming tour. Back in Tbilisi for a few days to back and store film and data, and catch up with the city wine scene, we're heading on the road again, to Georgia's south and northeast, during the days to come...!