A month has passed, and I'm whiling away a few hours on a stopover in Athens, on my way back from Georgia to the UK. Time to think. There hasn't been much time for that the past couple of weeks: whatever the hour of the day or night, whenever fermentations or grape ripeness dictate... don't think, just do... Back in Georgia, Baia, Gvantsa, Giorgi - the Abuladze siblings who together form the unstoppable force that is Baia's Wine - and the rest of the harvest team continue with the relentless work. When I left them they were about to start bottling another batch of petnat. We'd spent about 20 of the previous 48 hours doing the same. Petnat waits for nobody. Whenever the yeasts in the fermenting juice say move, you move. Whatever the time, day or night... don't think, just do...
The Abuladze family garden
If the first half of my Georgian trip was a drip-feed of activity (harvesting interrupted by heavy rain) the last couple brought the juice. Most of the time we worked well into the early hours, fuelled by khachapuri (ubiquitous and delicious Georgian cheese bread), Gvantsa keeping us all amused with her bright smiles and ropey yet unabashed singing. It was full-on, but harvest always is. Bottling petnat for a solid 10 hours, then driving to the middle of nowhere in the dark to pick up another four or five tonnes of grapes, then back to the winery for midnight dinner, then processing another truckload of grapes. Starting the rumbling old motorised press at 4.30am, just as the heavens open, and sheet lightning illuminates the pre-dawn sky. So the work goes on, into the morning, as the bumptious cockerels crow...
Gvantsa bottling petnat
Thinking back from the air-conditioned calm of Athens airport lounge, I am more impressed than ever by those three - Baia, Gvantsa (cocking a snook in the pic above) and Giorgi. The way they just keep going, never losing focus or good humour... and always working democratically, all important decisions going to the vote, never a bad word said between them. It was a wonder to behold. They work extremely hard: winemaking, admin, deliveries, marketing - it's all them. They only started in 2015, but given their industry it's easy to imagine them going on to do great things. They're already on their way. I'm just glad I had the chance to work with them when I did.
TFWATH Tsolikouri 2021 in the making
Above you see the wonderful sight of a Georgian qvevri full of what will become TFWATH Tsolikouri 2021. Right now, in that 2,000l clay vessel, delicious juice from tsolikouri grapes from the Abuladzes' vineyard is fermenting with around 30% skins. When the fermentation ends, the qvevri will be sealed and the wine will spend winter maturing in its womblike fastness. This is winemaking the ancient way, as Georgians have been doing it since neolithic times. I'll be heading back to Georgian in early spring to open that lid and bottle what I think is going to be a special wine.
Pickers finished for the day
I saw only a small amount of Georgia (for most of my time there, just one rural village in fact), but its effect was profound. This is a beautiful, fertile land, money-poor but value-rich. Imereti, mountain-fringed with Tuscan-style hills and valleys jewelled with persimmons and pomegranates ripening on trees, corn stacks, vines. Cows being herded by doddery old women in black shawls down roads which were only asphalted two years ago, views stretching out to the Caucasian range and the Black Sea. Homes half-built, bare brick. Rusted iron gates and clapped-out old Ladas, with wine and perfect hospitality interweaved through the whole. Before I arrived I had the sense that this trip would be special, that it would feel like a sort of pilgrimage. And so it turned out to be.