Steeped in a winemaking history that spans over 8,000 years, Georgia is home to an ancient and fascinating process that has been carefully preserved throughout the ages: the qvevri method. At the heart of this tradition lies the qvevri, an egg-shaped terracotta vessel used for fermenting and storing wine. Every May, Georgian wine producers celebrate the culmination of their hard work and passion by opening these qvevri, unveiling the unique wines that have been maturing underground for months. This article delves into the details of the qvevri wine opening process and explores the intricate steps that make this age-old tradition truly one-of-a-kind.
Preparing the Qvevri:
The journey of a qvevri wine begins in early autumn, when the grape harvest is at its peak. Before the crushed grapes can be placed inside, the qvevri must be meticulously cleaned and sanitized. This process typically involves scrubbing the interior with a mixture of water, crushed stones, and the ash of grapevine branches, effectively removing any residues from previous fermentations. Once cleaned, the qvevri is rinsed with clean water and allowed to dry.
Filling the Qvevri:
grape varieties used for qvevri wines are indigenous to Georgia, such as Saperavi, Rkatsiteli, and Mtsvane. After being harvested, the grapes are crushed, and the resulting juice, skins, stalks, and sometimes seeds are poured into the qvevri. Depending on the desired style of wine, winemakers may choose to include or exclude grape stems or separate the juice from the skins for white wines. The filled qvevri is then sealed with a stone or wooden lid, and a layer of wet clay is applied to create an airtight seal.
Burial and Fermentation:
The sealed qvevri is buried underground in a marani, a traditional Georgian wine cellar, to maintain a stable temperature during fermentation and aging. The earth's natural insulation allows the wine to ferment and mature at a consistent temperature, typically between 12-15°C (53-59°F). Natural fermentation occurs due to the wild yeasts present on the grape skins, with the process usually lasting between two weeks and a month.
After the initial fermentation, the qvevri is topped off with wine from another vessel, ensuring that no air remains within. The wine is then left to age on its lees (dead yeast cells and grape sediment) for an extended period, which can last anywhere from several months to a year or more. This process imparts unique flavors, textures, and complexity to the wine.
The Qvevri Opening Ceremony:
The highly anticipated qvevri opening event takes place in May, symbolizing the rebirth and renewal of the wine. Wine producers, alongside family, friends, and guests, gather for this momentous occasion. The clay seal is carefully removed, and the stone or wooden lid is lifted to reveal the wine that has been maturing beneath the earth's surface. Each qvevri holds a treasure trove of flavors and aromas waiting to be discovered and appreciated.
The qvevri wine fermenting process exemplifies the essence of Georgian winemaking, deeply rooted in tradition and reverence for the land. This time-honored method, passed down through generations, showcases the commitment of Georgian winemakers to preserving their cultural heritage. With every step in the qvevri opening process, a connection is forged