Wednesday, September 24, 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).

Monday, September 8, 2014

Svaneti Trip Days Four and Five: Koruldi Lakes and Martvili Canyon

On the 4th day of our Mason & mom trip in Svaneti, we headed to the Koruldi Lakes with our group. Our passenger vans were replaced by 4-wheel drive mini van like vehicles. We headed back across the Mestiachala River. We then proceed along a car trail (calling it a road is too generous). A handful of families live up in this area during the summer.

Our first stop was a mineral spring. We passed on the water (not feeling adventurous that morning) but it was a nice vantage point of the area.

We stopped in view of Ushba (that double peaked mountain), but it was hiding in the clouds again. Our guide pointed out this small lake at the bottom of the hill was shaped like the country of Georgia.

When we got to the end of the car trail, there appeared to be a herd of wild horses (maybe 15 or so horses). It is possible they belong to one of the farmers, cows and pigs roam free in the townlet so why can't horses roam free.

I am not exactly sure what I expected with the mountain lakes. There were about 7 small lakes in the area. 

Mason circumnavigated all of them. He spotted frogs, tadpoles, fish, and a turtle. He got stuck in some mud getting too close to one lake. He found and skipped stones in all the lakes. I was unaware he could skip stones and the first time he showed me I thought it was luck. But here is photo evidence that he can skip stones.

For the most part, we just admired the beautiful landscape....mountains in every direction we looked. I think we could see only one farm house and the car trail....otherwise, complete wilderness.

I'm not sure which ones in particular, but some of the peaks you see here are in Russia.

It was just stunning.....

Little people, big landscape.

The last lake Mason circumnavigated.

On the way back, we stopped at a cross and observatory deck overlooking the townlet of Mestia.

That afternoon, the group headed to some museums and another church. Mason and I opted out. 

The following morning, we got up for the grueling ride back to Tbilisi. Our first rest stop was the restaurant we stopped at on Day One. Remember that pig that Mason was so excited to see. Well it appears that while we were in Mestia, she had some piglets!!!! There were two momma pigs and 17 piglets! As much as Mason wanted to bring one home, I told him no. He did get up close to see them (I just told him not to get between momma and her babies). I was even tempted to pick one up they were so cute!

We stopped at Tsikhegoji, also known as the Fortress of Kuji. It is an ancient village/archeological site. I found it interesting to see a plastic covered dig in progress (we saw some of the recovered treasures in the dimly lit, no flash museum). Mason was less impressed (motion sickness to blame). I took a photo in front of the main entrance that is remaining. Mason is sitting on the 3rd wall built in the 9th century AD.  The tall 2nd wall was built 4-6th century AD. They way the walls were set up when invaders made it past the 3rd wall, the had to make a u-turn before attempting to penetrate the 2nd wall. People in the village, would be up on the top of the 2nd wall, shooting arrows down and eliminating the invaders! The 1st wall was inside of the 2nd wall and was built around the 3rd century BC (hopefully, I remember all my wall ages apologies if am off).

Following the fortress, we had lunch and then headed to the Martvili Canyon for a boat ride. Can you tell who is charge?

The woman with the umbrella was in charge. Our guide talked to her, she told us what boats to get into and away we went. We were paddled through the canyon. There is a super shallow portion where you need to get out and carry the boat over before continuing.

 We took the shorter ride where it was just a turn around point to get out and climb canyon walls and skip stones. Mason found a rock with a plant fossil in it.

Afterwards, we got back in our inflatable and headed back. Mason helped paddle this portion of the ride. He took his job serious!

After the boat ride, we headed back to Tbilisi, only making small snack and souvenir stops at road side stands. We made it back a little before Mason may have been a tad tired the next day at school, but he was so excited to see his friends the next morning he got out of bed no problem. 

All in all, I would say the trip was pretty divine (and Mason now has an amazing rock collection including slate, granite, iron ore, plant fossil, crystal, and many other unidentified stones).