Wine melody in Obcha

Baia Abuladze: The more vineyards we have, the more we can present the world with unique terroir wines.

We visited Baia and Gvantsa Abuladze at the end of fall, during their busiest time. It was late harvest season in the village of Obcha, Baghdati region. “Last year was very interesting”, said Baia. “The weather was stable and good. The vine required almost no intervention. Rainy days are no surprise in West Georgia, due to high humidity. Our vines and winery are built on one principle – we only intervene, when a problem occurs, not when the calendar dictates. September began with cold weather, it even snowed in the mountains nearby, the days were chilly and rainy, so the beginning of harvest was a bit stressful. Nevertheless, we made an important observation: the rain increased the sugars in the grape, giving us a great acidity potential”.   

A couple of days after the rain, the grape bunches began to dry up, so speed was of the essence to get quality and healthy grapes. Winemakers had to work 24 hours straight. Before the harvest, they had a good idea of what to get from each of the grapes and which grapes they would need. “Tsitska and Aladasturi would be used for sparkling wines. We also managed to make sparkling wine from Otskhanuri. We also made micro-decisions during the harvest. Whichever grape had higher sugar content than we expected, was sent straight to qvevri along with our little secrets,” says Baia. 

Brother, mother, father, and grandfather also stand alongside Gvantsa and Baia. Winemaking and viticulture is their family tradition. The history of the vineyard starts from 2 hectares of land in Obcha, part of which was first cultivated with corn, and then completely replaced by a vineyard. “Every family in Imereti has a small vineyard. In our case, we had a little more, up to 2 hectares that we almost completely populated with vineyards. Since 2015, we traveled to many countries and different regions of Georgia, had many winemaker visitors. What we understood from these travels is that we needed more space for experiments, innovations. It would be hard to observe each variety on just 2 hectares of land.  Today, we have up to 18 hectares of land. When we made such a big leap from a small vineyard, we realized that we needed more knowledge. We had to learn how to grow quality grapes in a natural vineyard, how to fight pests, and many other things that we had little knowledge about. We used every opportunity to get this knowledge and use it not only in viticulture but also in winemaking”, says Baia.

Gvanta’s, Baia’s and Giorgi’s grandfather is an oenologist by profession. He also worked as an agronomist for many years. He likes experiments less than his grandchildren, has a more classical approach, but all three are still able to successfully show an experienced oenologist the positive results of experiments. “He is an experimenter at heart”, says Baia. “He runs the equipment, all of the machinery and tools; he plans the planting of vines. When we planted a specific grape in a terroir, we followed his practical knowledge, more than existing rules to install a drainage system and work out distances between the vines (In West Georgia vineyards need a drainage system more than an irrigation system to get rid of excess water). We listen to him in these matters but spread our wings when it comes to making wine. We each have our function. I think we are very lucky to unite Gvanta’s, Giorgi’s, and my experience and knowledge. For us, each year is filled with experiments and change, but at the same time, we manage to keep the core intact. This year is our first year of bio certification. We became members of Natural Wine Association and are under their supervision”.

In addition to Krakhuna, Otskhanuri, Tsitska, Tsolikouri, and Aladasturi grape varieties that Baia and Gvantsa use to make their wine that is sold in 14 countries, they have added several extinct varieties of West Georgia. One of them is Dzelshavi, or Dzelshavi/Obchuri Dzelshavi – a red grape variety, and Mgaloblishvili, Rko – an ancient Georgian grape variety that was cultivated in Zestafoni, Kharagauli, Terjola, and Sachkhere regions. Another variety is Tsirkvalis Tetra. Baia tells us, that these varieties are not very common in the Imereti region, you can barely find these grapes. She says they want to do their part in restoring these varieties. 

“Krakhuna, Tsitska, Otskhanuri, and Aladasturi varieties need a bit of time to make themselves memorable in the mind of a consumer. Our challenge, as producers is to reintroduce these varieties in our country and abroad. Georgia is a small country with great potential, and the more vineyards we have, the more we can present the world with unique terroir wines. We have to pay special attention to ancient varieties. I think it is a great joy for any viticulturist to grow, nurture and restore them”.

Meanwhile, the wine is fermenting in qvevri at Baia and Gvanta’s wine cellar. They listen to it carefully, as it is the most important period for any winemaker. They look forward to harvest each year, excited to find out what they can do with each variety, how they can assist the grape to unveil its full potential before it even becomes wine. 

“Heat is the first sign. This is how we know that the wine is starting to ferment. It is soon followed by a pleasant sound of fermentation that fills the whole wine cellar. This is wine melody! When the wine is fermenting, we know that we have done our part because the whole process is in our hands”, says Baia.  

Baia’s label, where a girl stands near a churi, and Gvanta’s label with a girl sitting on a churi are already known in the world. Both labels were drawn by their mother. Both qvevri and churi are Georgian wine vessels, the former from East Georgia, and the latter from West. The technique of making wine in each of them is different. West Georgia is mostly populated with grapes that have thinner skin. They take longer to mature, due to a cooler and a more humid climate. Wine made from these varieties has a milder body, crisper acidity. Made in churi, they are miles away from full-body wines from Kakheti. Awareness about Georgian qvevri is rising, but there is still a long way to go so this unique vessel establishes its place in the world, along with churi. “Our wine is sold in 14 countries around the world, where only qvevri is known. We are getting ready for the time we can meet our partners and wine professionals after the pandemic and introduce them to churi and different technology of making wine”, says Baia. Ajameti Reserve borders the village of Obcha, where new vineyards of the Abuladze family are located. This is one of the best winemaking zones. 

Gvanta and Baia tell us about new markets while we drink their wine in their yeard. They tell us about Japan, where their sparkling wines are becoming popular. Sparkling wine made from grape varieties from West Georgia pairs exceptionally well with Japanese traditional cuisine. Baia tells us that spontaneous fermentation delivers different results each year that allows them to be brave in their experiments. Baia also predicts that interesting pairings of Georgian wine and various cuisines of the world are yet to be experienced. “I remember one of the most interesting pairings in Sweden – the sommelier paired our Tsolikouri with seafood soup. The dish and wine balanced each other perfectly. The acidity of wine complimented the soup greatly”.

“In general, the varieties of Western Georgia are the best and most interesting material for sparkling wine. We love everything that is made naturally and requires minimal intervention, but we support the process to get the desired result. Making sparkling wine is just like that. The first fermentation takes place in one vessel, then another. We then take the bottles and start riddling and disgorging. We turn the bottles so the lees accumulate in the bottle. Lees are very important because the wine gets all the aromas from it. The disgorging process is the most fun – we take the lees out of the bottle and our Pet Nats are ready. It is at this time that we see how much magic is beyond the fermentation process”.

Baia, Gvantsa, and Giorgi decided to start making sparkling wines in 2017. At first, they only had 300 bottles, including sparkling wines from Aladasturi and Tsitska. Maydan restaurant in Washington said to be beloved by diplomats and presidents, bought all 300 bottles. The feedback was very positive, so the demand and production increased accordingly. 

Baia: “We will plant Otskanuri and Aladasturi on a big and interesting terroir after fall. We want to get the best wines from these varieties and send our best to our partner countries. We are actively thinking about the East European market, countries such as Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, where we want to export our wine. An interesting year is ahead of us. Plus, our sparkling wine reached 18 000 bottles”. 

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