Georgian Winemaker Baia and Her Gentle Revolution
There are many motivations to explore the world, one of them being recognition of local agriculture. In contrast to simply eating and drinking your way through a particular territory, this approach comprises also learning about the climate, land, production techniques, tradition and the people working behind the scenes. It is not about pleasing the senses (which is great, by the way), but getting to know the bigger picture too.
The last meet-the-maker trip I did was in Sakartvelo (aka Georgia). There I had an incredible opportunity to meet winemaker Baia who had been featured on Forbes "30 under 30" list of young entrepreneurs bringing new ideas into industries and being expected to change their field in the future.
29 June, 2019
by INDRE KLYVYTE
Sakartvelo is a fascinating country separated from Russia and Turkey by Caucasus mountain range, also bordering Armenia and Azerbaijan. Grasping Sakartvelo would require months if not years; however, I got a glimpse of Sakartvelo's traditional winemaking.
Sakartvelo is one of the oldest winemaking countries, reaching at least 8000 years of tradition;
The country is a home to almost 400 grape varieties unique to its land and almost 10% of those are grown commercially (forget about Pinot Noir and Cabernet here, it is more likely to be breaking the tongue trying to pronounce the names of Rkatsiteli, Usakhelauri or Ojaleshi);
The Soviet Union had a huge and devastating impact on winemaking culture in Sakartvelo. The traditional slow and complicated technique of wine fermentation in qvevri was exchanged into an industrial and fast method - high yielding grape varieties carelessly transformed into soulless wine in brutal cement buildings. Fortunately, qvevris were still used in remote places where wine was usually made for home consumption only, which allowed the traditional method to survive;
Qvevri is a large egg-shaped clay vessel used for slow wine fermentation. It is buried into the ground to provide a constant temperature;
Winemaking in Sakartvelo has been considered to be male dominant sector although women have been always involved without societal acknowledgement of their input. Today the number of women winemakers reaching commercial success is growing rapidly.
Sakartvelo's two most developed regions of wine production are Khakheti (East) and Imereti (West). After quick research of the possible makers, I could meet I decided to visit Baia's wine cellar, which is located in Obcha, Imereti region. The microclimate there is ideal for organic viticulture and also suitable to grow grape varieties which retain high acidity and develop the flavours slowly and gently. Baia's wine is a small family business, which was established only 4 years ago by the oldest daughter Baia when she was only 22 years old with help of a grant received from one EU project supporting entrepreneurs in the areas of informal education. After having an opportunity to present her enterprise in Brussels and establishing useful contacts she was soon invited to other projects focused on providing different types of assistance to women entrepreneurs. At this age, she became the youngest female winemaker in the whole country and has surprised many makers of the older generation by proving that not only men in agriculture are capable of producing great wine.
Today her sister Gvantsa and brother Gori are working alongside her with the same passion and urge to develop as her. The family grows Tsitska, Tsolikouri, Krakhuna, Otskhanuri Sapere, Ojaleshi and Aladasturi grapevines. No fertilizers or pesticides are allowed in the vineyards which results in low yields only, eventually driving the price of wine up; on the other hand, such approach preserves vine's energy and provides a longer and more sustainable life. In the cellar, wine is fermented with skins in qvevri which allows a long (up to 6 months) and steady fermentation. All the leftover wine, must and skins are distilled into chacha - the policy is to recycle.
Baia is not only bringing Georgian wine into today's international wine scene but also putting a spotlight on female winemakers, in a country where agriculture has been considered male dominant for ages. This year Baia was featured on Forbes "30 under 30" list of young entrepreneurs who bring new ideas into industries and are expected to change their field in the future. Such recognition brings a lot of attention to her business and gives Baia an opportunity to discuss the existing problem of the gender division of labour with a wider audience while showing a great example of sustainable business in rural areas. Hopefully, this will encourage the young generation to act bravely and improve established opinions.