Signagi is one of the picturesque town in Georgia, overlooking Alazani Valley
I grew up in a family which was fond of traveling. My parents traveled much before getting married, visiting many countries in Europe and South America, visited Africa, too. But Asia was their real passion. They talked a lot about the Asian countries. My father was delighted with the landscapes he had seen in Asia, mother was a real fan of Asian culture.
Their passion for traveling was so great that they were not afraid to go to areas which were not very safe for foreigners. In the number of the countries they visited was a great empire of the Soviet Union. After this visit father who had a degree in history was always saying that the empire was composed with so different nations that it wouldn't last long and fall into pieces sooner or later. The most distinguished among the other nations of the Soviet Union was Georgia. My parents were too delighted with the country, saying it was one of the ancient state in the world, rich with monuments of material and immaterial culture. They talked much about its breathtaking scenery, friendly people and delicious food that is a weak point of my father.
Their passion for traveling inherited me. In my teen years I visited South American countries. My husband and I spent our honeymoon in Thailand and some years later took a safari tour in Kenya. It was all great. One day at mother's birthday party Jason mentioned that we were planning a new trip but hadn't chosen a new destination yet. "Why not visit Georgia?" asked daddy who was busy with his barbeque at that moment "Taste of Georgian food and wine still whets my appetite." Georgia... and a stream of words "hospitable people... amazing nature...best folk dances..." from my parents began flooding my mind. Why not?
This time we made up our mind to take a wine tour and taste that amazing food and wine. One of our motivators was the fact that Georgia is the motherland of wine. We picked up the travel company and booked the tickets by the end of September.
It was a warm autumn night when we arrived in Tbilisi. The representatives of Progress Tour met us at the airport. The guide was a young lady who greeted us warmly. Seeing her radiant smile was our first experience with the hospitality of the Georgian people. The driver was a very pleasant person also and seemed a real professional. He politely opened the doors and we took our ride to the hotel. Our guide did not leave us until we entered our room, then said goodbye still with a warm smile, and asked to contact her in case of need. The room was so cozy and beds so comfortable that we fall asleep as soon as put our heads on the pillow.
In the morning after breakfast we went to the hall where Maka - our guide was waiting. We took our drive to Kakheti, known as the country's wine-making region. As our guide explained wine tours in Georgia include cultural activities since vine is an integral part of the Georgian culture. More than 500 species of vine grow in Georgia today and most of them are in the Kakheti region.
It took us about an hour to arrive in Kakheti. And our tour began. We visited ancient churches and monasteries some of them date back to the VI century. The guide told us many interesting stories about these monuments. We visited David Gareja monastery cave complex that is stretched over a large territory and includes churches, cells, chapels and living rooms engraved in rocks.
Many other churches are scattered across the green landscape of Kakheti. Alaverdi Cathedral founded in the 11th century looks like a white swan in a green lake. The ornaments are so interlaced... really fantastic... and the view of the Alazani valley from the Gremi castle will live in my memory for a long time.
But the main aspect of wine tours in Georgia is of course wine. Almost every family in Kakheti region has its own vineyard. The country people make wine with traditional winemaking methods, storing wine in clay vessels called kvevri, placed in the ground (a method placed on the UNESCO Cultural Heritage list). We visited some local families and tasted various wines. Jason was delighted, saying that theses vessel impart a particular aroma to Georgian wines. I do not love alcoholic beverages but even I could not be indifferent to the Georgian wine, believed to be produced in these lands for 7,000 years.
Wine is an essential component at parties in Georgia, called called suphra. While visiting local families and tasting various kinds of wine, folk ensembles performed for us. Their music and dances were really fantastic. Its something you must see at least once in your life. Their costumes are so beautiful. I have never seen such perfect traditional clothes anywhere. And the people so friendly and hospitable...Georgians love guests and enjoy making them feel comfortable and happy. I caught a chance to bake traditional Georgian bread (below) and make churchkhela, a traditional sweet made from nuts and grape juice. The main ingredients of Georgian cuisine are meat, herbs and spices, as well as dairy products.
Woman baking traditional Georgian bread.
But winemaking goes well beyond family production. Progress Tour included visits to well-known local companies such as Teliani Valley, with has vineyards and a modern factory in the Kakheti region. We also had a short tour at Bagrationi 1882 wine factory and attended the process of sparkling wine making.
The landscape of Kakheti can be drawn in this way - large valleys covered by green vineyards with the background of snowy Caucasus mountains, the landscape is spotted with small beautiful villages and towns. The Alazani river flows along these valley.
The tour lasted 6 days. On the 7th day we took our ride to Tbilisi the capital and returned to our hotel. In the evening the our guide and other representatives of Progress Tour invited us to a farewell party. We had a great time. I want to express my gratitude to this team of professionals for these days they had arranged for us.
Wine tours in Georgia
photos: Linda Branson, Mart Laanpere