The wine regions of Georgia
Georgia’s diverse natural conditions create the best environment for the development of high quality viticulture-winemaking according to the peculiarities of which the country’s territory is divided into the following viticulture zones and micro-zones:
The Meskheti region lies in southern Georgia. It borders upon the regions of Imereti and Kartli to the north, Turkey to the south, and Achara and Guria to the west, and comprises the towns of Akhaltsikhe, Aspindza and Adigeni. Vineyards in Meskheti were traditionally grown in the valleys of the Mtkvari River and its tributaries, as well as upon slopes and terraces.This region was traditionally divided into the Akhaltsikhe, Aspindza and Adigeni areas. Other areas were characterized according to their altitude: the lower (900-1,000m asl), middle (1,000-1,200) and upper (1,200-1,400) zones.
Meskheti has the most continental climate in Georgia-more so even than the steppe-like landscapes of Lower Kartli and Outer Kakheti. It has a moderately dry (steppe-like) subtropical mountain climate, characterized by cold winters with little snow and long, warm summers. The climate of the Akhaltsikhe area is very different from those of neighbouring regions; with an annual total precipitation of only 400-520 mm. and an average annual temperature of 8-9ºC, this is the driest wine-making region in Georgia. Because of the dry climate, vineyards need to be watered. Most of the region’s precipitation falls in summer, and winter in Meskheti is harsh and frosty. Vines were traditionally buried in winter, and terracing also protects the vines from the effects of frost.
In the valley of the Mtkvari River, most of the soil is carbonaceous, alluvial and rich in clay, and sits atop layers of gravel and other kinds of layers. Slightly further up, at an altitude of around 1,400-1,500 metres above sea level, the soil is largely greybrown, meadow-brown or forest-brown clay soil. The most widespread type of soil in the region is brown-excellent for viticulture, and present in villages of all three zones of Meskheti. Soil erosion is a particularly common problem in the region: largely the result of deforestation, this erosion can best be fought by terracing and reforestation. Soil scientists also distinguish the cultivated soil of artificial terraces, which have been fertilized with manure for centuries.
VITICULTURE & Winemaking
The region of Meskheti is the highest mountainous vine-growing region in Georgia-and perhaps even in the whole world. Here, vines grow at an altitude of 900-1,700m asl. In this region 900m is the lowest altitude at which vineyards have been planted-something which many people might find hard to believe. According to Shalva Tsikvadze, the author of a monography on wine-making in Meskheti, ‘vines grew especially well to the left of the Mtkvari River and the Potskhovi and Kobliani areas, whose slopes face south, south-east and south-west; this area used to be known as “zvare” because it enjoyed longer hours of sunlight. Vines begin to sprout and open their shoots earlier in the year and the grapes accumulate more sugar, which is why the quality of the wine which is produced in this micro-zone is better than that of those produced from grapes grown on terraces along the right bank of the river-an area which the locals used to call “the shadowy zone”. Meskheti is one of Georgia’s archaic wine-making regions. According to some scientists, some of the oldest Georgian varieties of grape such as Saperavi, Dzelshavi, Khikhvi and others could have come from here. Following the Turkish invasion of the Samtskhe saatabago (dukedom) in 1578, wine-making was progressively destroyed in the region. A census of 1595, however, reveals that around 10-12,000 tons of grapes were harvested in what is now the Aspindza area. (In comparison, 100-150,000 tones of grapes are nowadays harvested every year in the entire Kakheti region.) The revival of wine-making in this region began in the 1940s and 50s. The region’s potential for viticulture and local varieties of grape was studied by the renowned Georgian scientists Maxime Ramishvili and Davit Tabidze in the 1930s and 40s, but their work was misused by the Soviet government. New varieties of grape such as Goruli mtsvane, Chinuri, Rkatsiteli, Pinot, Aligoté and Khikhvi were grown, and the region itself was only destined to produce wine for sparkling’s. Up until now, vineyards in Meskheti were mostly planted on terraces. Nowadays, only the Natenadzes’ wine cellar produces very small amounts of Meskhetian wine because vines only cover a small area. In a word, Meskhetian viticulture and wine-making have everything to look forward to.
The Key Grape Varieties of the Region: