Thursday, September 25, 2014

Grape Harvest in Sighnaghi

This past weekend, we partook in another CLO tour. Sighnaghi is a town about a 2 hour drive from Tbilisi. The trip was advertised as the annual harvest party, so naturally our first stop was to harvest grapes in a vineyard.





There are about 400 different varieties of grapes grown in Georgia our guide told us. We helped harvest two varieties.



We all four harvested grapes.


After filling our buckets, we would dump the grapes in bins to be taken to the stomping.


 After picking grapes we had a picnic lunch in the vineyard.


After eating lunch, the kids rode some of the owner's horses around the vineyard.


After lunch, we drove into Sighnaghi. The town has a very different feel than Tbilisi, in fact Richard and I agreed it had a very 'wine country of Italy' feel. We walked to the Pheasant's Tears for the grape stomping. You can learn more about their usage of traditional (ie 8000 year old) methods on their website.


Traditional methods means using a wooden grape stomping vessel. The funnel in the middle is where the grape juice and flattened berries/stems flow out.


The grapes we picked at the vineyard were delivered to Pheasant's Tears. The clay pot is called a qvevri. 


Grapes ready for the stomping.


Mason jumped right in (he enjoyed it so much I think he got in about 7 or 8 times...taking turns so everyone who wanted to stomp got a chance).


Clarissa was a little less sure of the cold grapes and would have been fine with about 30 seconds, but I wanted some photos, so we stomped a little longer!



The owner of Pheasant's Tears, John Wurderman is the man in the red shirt. He is actually an American who fell in love with Georgian folk music and came here to study it. He tells such an animated story about how he came here, met his Georgian wife, and came to own the vineyards....I can't do it justice in retelling it (therefore, you will just have to come visit us and we will take you to either his restaurant in Tbilisi or to Sighnaghi).


After checking in to our hotel and cleaning off the grape juice and mud (it was a overcast day after 3-4 days of rain), we headed back to Pheasant's Tears for a wine tasting. Following that, we toured the cellar.

We saw some of the prior years' harvests.


A lot of families in Georgia make their own family wine. So in this house cellar there was the vessel they would stomp their grapes in (Clarissa is demonstrating how to stomp grapes in there).


After stomping, the grapes are placed in the qvevri that is buried underground. By being buried, the wine is kept at a constant temperature throughout the year. The top of the qvevri is covered to control the evaporation.


So all portions of the grape harvest are put in the qvevri, the juice, stems, skins, etc. After fermentation is done the stems and skins are removed. At what point they are removed affects the taste of the wine. During the tasting, I preferred the wines that had skins removed after one month (both the white and red). The wine was lighter in taste and color. Richard preferred the wine that had the skins the longest. That wine was a dark amber color (almost orange) and slightly cloudy. John said that people who like craft beer typically enjoy the wine Richard liked.

This wooden device is used to remove the stems and skins from the wine while keeping the wine in the qvevri. Most families only make enough to last them the year (since they will need the buried qvevri for the next year's harvest). Since the wine making process used no preservatives and traditionally has been meant to only last a year, it is hard to export a lot of Georgian wines very far away.


 Washing her hands before the harvest feast following the cellar tour.


Hopefully this is enough for the 33 adults on the trip.....


By the next morning, the sun had come out and all the fog was burned off providing a beautiful sunrise and a panoramic view of the town.

Mason admiring Sighnaghi from the 3rd floor terrace at our hotel.


Along the edge of the hill you can see the stone wall that King Erekle II had constructed in 1762. This is the longest fully survived wall in Georgia and it has 23 towers (we will definitely have to take another trip to visit the wall). Each tower was named after a villager and in times of danger it is believed the villagers would take refuge in their tower.


The Alazani valley with the Caucasus mountains beyond the valley.


Cobblestone streets through town.


In the morning, our group loaded up in the bus and headed to the Monastery of St. Nino at Bodbe. St. Nino is credited with bring Christianity to eastern Georgia in the 4th century. She lived throughout the country, but spent the most time here. In her will, she said she wanted to be buried here, but due to her importance to Georgian Christians the church wanted to move her body to Mtskheta. For some unknown reason, there was no force strong enough to move her body/casket, so she remains here as she wished. We were able to enter the church and see her grave (but no photography was allowed in the church).


Outside the church, there is a terrace overlooking the nuns' vegetable gardens, a staircase down to a spring, as well as beautiful views of Alazani valley and the Caucasus mountains.



Showing you the nuns' flowers.


We all enjoyed the trip and definitely plan to visit Sighnaghi again in the future (and quite possibly do the harvest party again next year).

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