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James on Georgian winemaking

Publish Date: 07 Apr 2017

Authored by: Anonymous

When I received an invitation to join six Georgian winemakers for lunch in Melbourne recently, I changed my diary in a flash. Georgia is one of the leading contenders for the birthplace of wine, its vinous history dating back over 8000 years. 

Wine became part of Egyptian culture 5000 years ago, when a pharaoh's tomb was stocked with 4500 litres of it. Amphorae were both vintage-dated (by a specific year of a given pharaoh's rule and by vigneron). In Greece, wine was part of life from the earliest times, the vine domesticated in the late Neolithic and widely cultivated by the early Bronze Age.

There is a link here between Georgia and Greece, for in both countries wine occupied a central role in life. Wine was so important to ancient Greeks that they worshipped it in the form of the god Dionysus. Winemaking in both countries remained largely unchanged until the last decades of the 20th century. They then went in opposite directions. In 1985 the first oenology course was created in Athens, and with lightening speed graduates appeared, some promptly heading to France. Wine quality soared.

Georgia has seen no need to change its vinification methods, notably eschewing all additives other than SO2, and fermenting lightly crushed whole bunches in clay qvevri (akin to amphorae) buried in the ground. Virtually every Georgian family has a qvevri buried in their garden making wine for family consumption. Unesco has recognised qvevri winemaking as an intangible heritage, and it has ignited the worship of lovers of natural wine around the world. Two grape varieties native to Georgia are grown in Australia with relatively easy spelling: saperavi (red) and rkatsiteli (white).

As to the verdict; the white/yellow/amber (one and the same) wines of Georgia are simply not for me. The reds are more drinkable, but not by much. 

Below are three natural wines (SO2 being the only additive) that I would suggest trying:

2015 Gundog Estate Indomitus Albus Hunter Valley Semillon
95 points

Includes 2% gewurztraminer, cloudy juice wild-fermented on 25% skins, held on skins and lees for six months, bottled without fining... see full tasting note

RRP $45 |  2025 |  Gundog Estate 

2014 Credaro Family Estate 1000 Crowns Margaret River Chardonnay
96 points

Hand-picked, whole bunch-pressed, free-run juice to French oak (30% new) for wild fermentation, SO2 added post-fermentation to prevent mlf, but no acid or other additions... see full tasting note

RRP $65 | 2022 | Credaro Family Estate

2016 Vignerons Schmolzer & Brown Pret-a-Rose
94 points

The back label pays respects to the traditional owners of the land, and also notes 'no exogenous additions', meaning no additions of any kind... see full tasting note.

RRP $28 | 2020 | Vignerons Schmolzer & Brown

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