How a qvevri came to be at my home in Columbia, Maryland

29 Sep 2015 - 14:09

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By Terry Sullivan

Wine Writer,29 Sep 2015 - 14:09, Tbilisi,Georgia

Read this blog by popular American wine blogger Wine Trail Traveler and the author of the books about wine. Terry Sullivan and his wife Kathy have travelled and written about more than 1,200 wineries and vineyards in North America and Europe. 

They have published three books and numerous articles. One of the books published in 2014 was dedicated to Georgia - Georgia, Sakartvelo: the Birthplace of Wine.

Several years ago Kathy and Terry decided: "If we are going to write about wine, we should make wine.” We asked the couple, who brought a traditional qvevri (clay amphora-like jar) from Georgia and now use it at their home in the United States, to describe how far this Georgian grape connection extends.

Kathy and I travelled the 10,000 km to Georgia in September 2013 and visited over 20 producers. We also helped harvest Rkatsiteli grapes and made a qvevri wine at Twins Wine Cellar in Napareuli. We returned to Georgia again in March for the International Wine Tourism Conference in Tbilisi.

After the conference a media group visited Twins Wine Cellar and we opened our qvevri. Both as a wine enthusiast and a winemaker, I wanted to bring a qvevri home and make qvevri wine every year. Kathy and I returned home with a 24-litre qvevri in April. We dug a hole and buried the qvevri after we waxed the interior with beeswax.

The couple buried their Georgian 24 liter qvevri in the fall of 2014. Photo by Terry Sullivan. 

We began to search for other connections with qvevri winemaking in the United States. We learned that a potter in Texas started making qvevri in 2013. The potter, Billy Ray Mangham, studied qvevri making in Georgia.

Along with Dr. Brent Trela and Tom Vincent, the group formed the Qvevri Project and studies wine made in qvevris in Texas. Closer to our Maryland home in neighboring Pennsylvania, we visited a marani with six buried qvevris at the Monastery of St. Davit Agmashenebeli in Wilkes Barre. We also learned that Robert Blasscyk of Lily Girl Vineyards in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania planned to bury a qvevri and make qvevri wine.

Further north in Prince Edward County, Ontario, Canadian winemaker Norman Hardie buried a qvevri and planned to make qvevri wine at the Norman Hardie Winery in Hillier.

Our 24-litre qvevri is much smaller than the ones buried at other wineries; we will only make a few bottles of wine. The wine will be used to teach others about Georgia and its 8,000 years of wine growing and winemaking. Our first visit to Georgia motivated us to write our third book Georgia, Sakartvelo: the Birthplace of Wine. With our book and our qvevri wine, we hope to enlighten the wine enthusiasts we reach about this wonderful art of winemaking.

During our travels, Kathy and I talk about qvevri winemaking. We have encountered several winemakers who are intrigued and showed interest in making a wine in a qvevri.

Our first Rkatsiteli in the US

It was May of 2007 when my wife Kathy and I visited Dr. Konstantin Frank’s winery and vineyards along Keuka Lake in New York State’s Finger Lakes Wine Region. We tasted a wine called Rkatsiteli and learned that the grape was from the country Georgia. Later we learned that Dr. Frank managed a Rkatsiteli vineyard in Kakheti before coming to the United States.

Terry and Kathy Sullivan are authors of three books about wine. Photo from Sullivans' family archive. 

For a while, the New York vineyard had the only planting of Rkatsiteli in the United States. We also tasted Rkatsiteli at Horton Vineyards in Central Virginia. We discovered that Dennis Horton obtained Rkatsiteli grapevines from Dr. Frank.

We visited Virginia wineries that sourced Rkatsiteli grapes from Horton Vineyards twice in 2014. Both Morais Vineyards and Winery in Bealeton, and North Gate Vineyard in Purcellville make what Georgians would call European-style wine with Rkatsiteli grapes. These two wineries use the wine to educate visitors about the grape and the country Georgia. The wineries told us that the Rkatsiteli wines are popular among the wine travellers who visit their wineries.

"How do the winemakers clean the qvevris?”

Our first experience with qvevri winemaking came at the International Wine Tourism Conference in Perugia, Italy in 2012. I attended a session presented by Ia Tabagari about qvevri winemaking in Georgia. I was fascinated. Kathy and I had started making wine in 2008 and by 2009 we were making wine at a Virginia winery and a Maryland winery.

Rather than listen to Ia’s presentation as a wine tourist, I listened as a winemaker and asked the question, "How do the winemakers clean the qvevris?” Her answer, "with a cherry bark brush,” intrigued me more. I became fascinated with qvevri and qvevri winemaking.

Qvevris on display at Tbilisi Open Air Museum of Ethnography. Photo by N.Alavidze/Agenda,ge.

Later in 2012 we discovered Castle Hill Cider in Keswick, Virginia. The cidery produces cider and had a broken qvevri on display. We walked outside to the marani and discovered 10 qvevris buried in the earth. The hard cider is made in the qvevris. The qvevris were made and shipped to Virginia from Georgia. One broke during shipping and the cidery uses pieces of it to educate visitors about qvevri and qvevri winemaking.

Our first tasting of qvevri wine came in 2013 at the International Wine Tourism Conference in Zagreb, Croatia. My first qvevri wine was a Since 1011 Kisi by Alaverdi Monastery Cellar. I really like tannins. This white wine had bold tannins and completely amazed me. I instantly loved traditional qvevri-made white wines.

Our qvevri wine

We buried our Georgian 24 liter qvevri in the fall of 2014. That year we destemmed Muscat grapes and placed them in the qvevri. Fermentation took a week and by the end of October, we sealed the qvevri for its long winter’s nap. The qvevri was opened in April of 2015. 

The wine had been in a constant vortex during the winter. I had to rack the wine to a carboy to let clear for a few days. The Muscat qvevri wine was lightly colored, not the dark amber color of many of the white qvevri wines made in Georgia. It was dry and represented well the essence of the Muscat grape.

Sullivans tell about their experience with qvevri wine making on their website. Photo by Terry Sullivan. 

With the 2015 harvest, we procured Rkatsiteli grapes from a Virginia winery, Bluemont Vineyards in Bluemont, Virginia. They sourced the grapes from Horton Vineyards in Virginia. After destemming and crushing the grapes, they were placed in the qvevri along with some stems that showed signs of a red color. 

I was told that Rkatsiteli means red stems. Now the wine is fermenting and I am punching down several times a day. After fermentation, I will seal the qvevri until March 2016.

Visit the Wine Trail Traveler website  for more articles from this couple and their winemaking site

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