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Georgia, the beautiful birthplace of wine

With a history of wine making that dates back 8000 years, we paid a visit to the birthplace of wine for an unforgettable few days...

Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, is a place of stark differences – beautiful cobbled streets and ornate buildings sit alongside brutalist high rises that penetrate the skyline, meals consist of hearty meat and potato stews with thick cheesey bread or light herby salads and fresh delicious dips, a sometimes quite abrasive manner is offset by an overwhelmingly hospitable nature – and throughout all this one consistent part of their culture is at the very backbone of their identity… wine.
With a history of wine making that dates back 8000 years, our brief but jam-packed trip revealed a country where wine is so entwined in their everyday being that it’s a surprise Georgia isn’t more widely known when it comes to wine travel. A 2013 Unesco World Heritage site for wine making and the only place on earth where wine is still made in the traditional method – grapes fermented underground with skins and stalks in large clay pots called Qvevri – resulting in intensely flavoured, full bodied, often orange and amber wines, a style of wine that has now come full circle to become one of the biggest emerging trends in recent years.

Our first tasting was an impromptu ‘popping our head in’ at 11am to nose at a 17th century wine cellar called Vinoground in the back streets of Old Tbilisi, we were beckoned in, given glasses and sat down to be taken through a vast table of wines (it certainly could have been more had we not politely left in search of food for fear of being drunk before lunchtime) and a fascinating history lesson by the co-owner Arthur. Whilst tasting savoury whites and reds that smelt of toffee we learnt of their astonishing 525 grape varieties – a fraction of the 3500 they had before the Soviet rule – of the wine making process and of the simplicity with which practically every family makes wine in their homes.

Taking the ‘homemade’ wine process to a whole new level though is Bina N37, the country’s first urban winery. I’m always very impressed by urban wineries and the innovation they show, so we made the 30 minute bus journey out of the central city to see what such a modern approach in an area so steeped in history might offer – and I’m so glad we did, perhaps the highlight of our trip – the set up and story is extraordinary.
Arriving in a much more residential area we found our way to a very ordinary looking block of flats – buzzed into the hallway and up in the lift to the top floor and we’re welcomed into a whole different world. Originally a family property, which happened to be empty at a time when founder Zura found himself in need of a place to age his wine, the apartment and roof terrace are now home to a beautiful restaurant, private dining room, outdoor terrace and most remarkably – in the designated ‘pool’ area… 43 qvevri aging 300 litres of wine 1.2m underground.

Although we arrived completely unannounced, Zura welcomed us in and over glasses of his fantastic delicate wines – served with masses of cheeses and other local delicacies that he insisted we try – he shared his story and that of the renaissance in Georgian wine as natural, organic, orange and skin contact become more commonplace in the wine drinker’s vocabulary. A former doctor, he decided to go into wine just four years ago after spending time in Copenhagen – where the natural wine movement is perhaps one of the strongest – although as with all Georgians, his family have made wine his whole life and having learned from both Grandpa and father it’s something that comes very naturally. Ten different grape varieties are bought in from the nearby Kakheti region and transferred up to the roof on a pulley system where they are then crushed and put into the qvevri with skins, stems and all from Sept to May.

With the wine flowing the food was deemed a necessity, so Zura buys organic produce from the local bizarre and the team serve up delicious local dishes to compliment the wine – the result is neither classic winery or restaurant but a very heartfelt place where wine, food and hospitality all come together like a welcoming home, such is the local hospitality. As you stand on the terrace and look out, the expansive view taking in a wealth of high-rise blocks, all a jarring reminder of the bleak recent history, the beautifully tiled patio, pagoda and warm hospitality are a little slice of heaven. 

The following day we moved on to Signagi, a charming town in the heart of wine country that is also known as the city of love. Like something out of an old movie the pace feels like a step back in time with farming the land and enjoying life being main priorities of the day. Locals line the small market street selling their wares – for many of which this includes homemade wines sold in reused plastic water bottles – and the various bars and restaurants all have views that look out over miles of lush green vineyards and pastel pink rooftops.
Whilst there we paid a visit to Pheasant’s Tears winery – one of the most internationally known producers in the country due to their fantastic selection of natural wines that show up more increasingly on interesting wine lists with a natural focus. Founded in 2007 by a US expat and an 8th generation wine maker from the region, the wines are all made without sulphates to both protect the land and emulate how traditional wines in the area would have been made. They are aged in qvevri for nine months (rather than the standard six) under the premise that wine is the earths baby, so this is deemed the optimum gestation period. An interesting concept but with the wines being some of the best we tried on the trip you’ll hear no arguments from us there.

Georgia was not what I expected – it surpassed it in many ways. A place full of surprises, of unbelievable history and tradition but, specifically in Tbilisi, of modernity and immense creativity breaking through after a time of suppression. For lovers of wine with an open mind and no schedule to meet, it’s the perfect spot to go and soak up the stories over a bottle or few.
We flew Georgian Airways from London to Tbilisi direct @ £350pp with hotel accommodation at £60 per night.

Watch our adventures in the travel vlog below

style="cursor: pointer; background-image: url(;">Video by: Samantha Bowmer lwkrwg wrg