18.06.2017 - 18.06.2017
Day 25 Sunday June 18 2017
Kazbegi to Telavi / 216 km
- As anticipated the early morning views of Mt Kazbek are clear. In the photo, if you zoom in to the far left, at grass level and just above the shade line, you should be able to see the Tsminda Sameba Church. There in all its glory & majesty. A spiritual beacon 24/7.
- But mountain scenery is ephemeral. By the time we prepare to leave Rooms Hotel, the clouds are back.
- Check out time is a bit of a frenzy. Lots of different types of travellers - young, old, local, international, groups & independents. As for cluster groups of weary looking, disheveled men who carry only the smallest of overnight bags, they have most likely spent many hours of their stay in the casino, and not hiking up Mt Kazbek!
- Today will be a day of big contrast. We leave the mountains around Kazbegi and descend to Eastern Georgia, to a region called Kakheti. We could hardly not go there - it is Georgia's premier wine growing area. You will not be surprised to hear we are staying a couple of nights on a vineyard, the Schuchmann winery. In fact there are several vineyards near Telavi that offer accommodation as well as cellar door experiences.
- For the initial 90 km or so we retrace our outward route through the Jvari Pass ( 2379 m ) past the Friendship Memorial and onto the ski resort of Gudauri. By the time we reach Ananuri Fortress (see Day 22 blog ) the outside temperature is back to a respectable 20C.
- At 100 km we turn off the Tbilisi road ( we're still not yet ready to go there - later ! ) and head SE towards Telavi, across country. On the route to Tianeti we find ourselves driving once again on 'work in progress'. Random stretches of road in various stages of resurfacing. Memories of the arduous Black Sea Coast journey flood back but remain unarticulated. Fortunately the sections being improved are relatively short and we are soon on normal tarmac again. We have many km of road to ourselves and although designated minor, it really is quite good.
- As we drive through rural Georgia there always seems to be someone selling something roadside - this time it's mushrooms - the ladies ask for 3gel a kilo (about £1) which seems a bit expensive. But SG has no intention of cooking mushrooms this evening and therefore does initiate any bargaining process.
- As we descend down from the Gombori pass (1500m) , the views to the north of the distant Caucasus Mountains are stunning - even with a lot of cloud cover.
- Our monastery visit for today is Ikalto. We seem to have one most days! Neither of us have ever visited so many different religious places within such a short period of time as we are now doing in Georgia.
- Ikalto monastery - was built in 8 & 9 C and like Gelati Monastery ( which we visited several days ago on the outskirts of Kutaisi ) was famed as a place for ecclesiatical & cultural studies.
- Whereas Gelati Monastery was in the process of being restored, what we see here is the finished product. And actually it makes us appreciate those buildings we have seen that are less perfect in their appearance, outside & within.
- Old wine jars (reproduction of course ) are scattered all around the grounds of the main church. There is a covered section where there are two large stone wine presses. Yet another area shows how the wine was fermented : in clay vessels that were sunk into the ground. Georgian monasteries were enthusiastic & capable winemakers - it kept the monks happy.
- We locate the Schuchmann Winery nestled on the hillside just outside a village called Kisiskhevi, near to Telavi. This area, the Kakheti region accounts for about 60% of Georgia's vineyards. The vineyard is owned by a German who since 2008 has been developing the estate. It now not only produces 1.5 million bottles per year ( red, white, sparkling and a stronger grappa like spirit called chacha) but also offers accommodation, spa facilities & fine food. The winery produces wine both according to the traditional Georgian technique as well as the European fermentation process.
- It is a mellow area in terms of scenery, vegetation and presumably people! 'Ghvino' is certainly a regional & national passion and has been so for at least 8000 years. Archeologists have discovered grape seeds in 8000 year old clay pots. Indeed wine may well have been invented in Georgia. Until the European fermentation process was introduced here during the 19C, Georgians continued to use the same age old technique down the centuries - fermenting whole grapes, skins, pips and all in a large clay vessel known as a Qveri. Hence the designation of Qveri as opposed to European type wine.
- Local people still use the Qveri technique to ferment their own home brew. They never bottle it, just keep it on tap for everyday use. Rumour has it that no Georgian in this area would consider hospitality without offering a glass of home fermented wine.
- Qveri wine may not initially suit the European taste bud. And it has a rather distracting amber colour. But close your eyes whilst tasting and it may seem more palatable. It is sometimes referred to as 'unfiltered' wine or 'natural' wine since it contains little or none of the 'European additives such as yeast, sugar or sulphur.
- Many of the vineyards in this area produce wine according to both traditional & European techniques. It is said that 500 of the world's current 2000 grape varieties are Georgian.
- This means we are visiting not only one of the two cradles of Christianity ( the other being Armenia and yet to come on our itinerary ) but also possibly, if not the birthplace of wine, then almost certainly a cradle of winemaking too.
- First priority after checking in at the Schuchmann Winery is to sign up for a complimentary wine tour & tasting. See photos!
- The winery produces wine according to both techniques. Georgians prefer to drink Qveri produced wine but not surprisingly most export markets order the wine produced by European fermentation techniques. Each of the 100 Qveris at the Schuchmann estate (such as you see in the photo) contains about 2000-3000 litres of fermenting wine. The wine is kept for 6 months in the Qveri & 12 months in a barrel before bottling. Qveri wine is more expensive than 'European' wine.
- At the wine tasting session we drink a small glass of Tsinandali white wine ( a blend of two Georgian white grapes fermented according to European techniques & a regional speciality ). Followed by a Qveri white wine which is a deep amber colour and has a much fuller taste, albeit a dry one. The Schuchmann Winery sell their Qveri wine under the Vinoterra label and they do export it. And the third glass is a very palatable full bodied red wine called Mukuzani from the Saperavi grape.
- Well after all that, it is definitely time for dinner. The restaurant has a long outdoor terrace for summer catering. We enjoy local Georgian delicacies - chicken soup & mushroom salad in a walnut dressing, slow cooked lamb with red peppers & potatoes (AG's choice ) accompanied by a glass of chateau own sparkling Chardonnay. Cheers!