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Organic is the only way in Georgia: Alaverdi Monastery

Georgia’s history has largely been dictated by religious and political forces, though one common thread has remained through it all: wine. Modern-day Georgia is producing some of the world’s most exciting and unique organic and natural wines. With around 8,000 years of winemaking history, methods simply don’t get much more ancestral than they do in Georgian wine.

In this series we’ll discover organic viticulture and winemaking in Georgia by highlighting some of the country’s most significant producers.

Alaverdi Monastery Cellar

The Alaverdi Monastery Cellar lies at the foot of the Caucasus Mountains in the Kakheti region in the east of the country. As its name may suggest, it’s a fully operational Georgian Eastern Orthodox monastery. It’s first and foremost a place of worship, though its monks also happen to produce world-class organic wines following truly ancestral methods.

A brief history of Alaverdi Monastery

To call Alaverdi Monastery Cellar “historic” would be an understatement. The wines produced here bare the phrase “since 1011” on their labels, in reference to the year the eponymous monastery was built. Monks were using the clay vessels known as qvevris here to make wine as early as the 8th century, though the range of commercially available organic wines is a decidedly more recent phenomenon.

In 2006, the ancient cellars and facilities were renovated and restored by the local bishop. Since then, the monastery’s five monks have been producing – or perhaps reproducing – the traditional wines of their forebears. Qvevris, naturally, are still used, and vinification is done largely as in the monastery’s formative days, though more modern equipment such as stainless steel vats and oak casks have also been embraced.

Grapes and viticulture

With Georgia’s plentiful supply of indigenous grape varieties, it’s natural that the Alaverdi monks cultivate a range of local varietals. Among the most significant are tongue-twisters like Khikvi, Rkatsiteli, Saperavi and Kisi.

What’s more, the monks have a penchant for experimentation, and have dedicated a small vineyard plot toward cultivating other varieties. Some 102 individual varieties are currently under investigation, some of which may be destined to join the core range.

Wine philosophy

The monastery produces organic wines, with a clear respect for ancestral and traditional production methods.

Winemaking draws heavily on a respect for tradition and how things have always been done. The old, traditional amphorae (called qvevri) take centre stage, as the most important tradition in Georgian wine production. The vessel inherently lends itself towards minimal intervention. The monks believe that fermentation and ageing inside the earthenware vessel imparts a unique range of qualities upon the wine, from aromas and flavours to antioxidant and other healing properties.

The wines of Alaverdi Monastery Cellar

Alaverdi Monastery produces a range of traditional, organic Georgian wines, and the qvevri plays a key role in all of them.

The white wines tend to show a golden colour, typical of the qvevri use. Khikhvi is aromatic, spicy and earthy while Kisi is supple, round and long. The red Saperavi has a very deep colour, intense black and red fruit flavours and grippy tannins.

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