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Georgian Inspiration at Attimo Winery

Virginia winery Attimo

Bottles lying down in Georgia’s Tsinandali Winery date to 1871.

Many people think that wine and winemaking originated in France, Italy, or even Spain; they would be mistaken by a few thousand years and about 2,000 miles. Georgia is a small country, bordering Azerbaijan and Armenia with Turkey to the south, the Black Sea to the west and Russia to the north and east and boasts one of the world’s oldest wine cultures: archeologists have unearthed vitis vinifera seeds and other evidence of winemaking dating back 8,000 years, to the fifth and sixth centuries BC, and wine exporting has taken place there for more than 2,500 years.

I started traveling to Georgia on a regular basis in 2008, when my company started working in the former Soviet Union. After falling in love with this region and making several trips each year, I have come to learn and respect this country for its deep history, traditions, and ancient styles of wine making.

On a recent trip to Kakheti, one of the largest and best known wine regions in Georgia, we visited both the Tsinandali winery and wine museum and the Badagoni winery and vineyard preserve in Kakheti, both of which stated that Georgia can claim more than more than 500 indigenous grape varieties — only 2,000 are known throughout the world. According to the Georgian Minister of Agriculture, the most recent harvest of grapes was well over 150,000 tons and production included over 18 million bottles.

Georgian Grape Varieties

Out of the 500 grape varieties, well over fifty varieties are cultivated to produce wine in Georgia. Some of the most popular grape varietals include:

Rkatsiteli
(Pronounced “rkah-tsee-tely, literally red stem; note that in the true pronunciation, the “r” is mostly silent). This grape was one of the most widely planted grapes in the world in the 1960’s; it is still planted in small amounts around the world, including Virginia, New York, California, and Colorado. To those of you who are not familiar with this grape, it reminds me most of Vidal Blanc in terms of its broad range of flavor profiles, versatility, and its ability to be made into a dessert, sweet, semi-sweet, or dry wine. Rkatsiteli’s ‘base’ flavor profile, however, includes a slightly tart flavor and subtle notes of almond and honey.

Saperavi:
(literally paint, dye) is an acidic, black/blue grape variety, which is used to make many of Georgia’s distinctive wines, such as Saperavi, Kindzmarauli (semi-sweet), Akhasheni (semi-sweet), Mukuzani (dry, and considered the highest quality Saperavi). To best describe the characteristics of this grape, think of a Norton-Chambourcin blend. This grape can make a rich, lush wine, which can be dry or semi-dry. Saperavi wines show great potential for aging, and if the wine is made in kvervi and/or with extended maceration, it can last longer than just about any bottled wine (20-30 years or more).

Attimo Winery is happy to announce that it is one of just a small handful of vineyards in the USA that has propagated Saperavi vines. We expect to harvest our first Saperavi grapes in 2014.

Making Wine

Virginia winery Attimo

Kvervi are ancient stone fermenters lined in beeswax that have been in use in the former Soviet republic of Georgia for centuries.

As a winemaker in Virginia who travels to Georgia often, I have the pleasure to ‘rub elbows’ with Georgian winemakers and to visit Georgian wineries often. There are several interesting winemaking techniques employed in Georgia, some of which we have adopted at Attimo Winery. Noble wines, made in the traditional Kakhetian style, are made and aged in kvervi. Kvevri are clay wine tanks (from 1 to 2,500 gallons in size) that are lined with beeswax and buried in the earth and are key to making this type of wine. Grapes are pressed in satsnakheli (a winepress), where the seeds are not damaged — essentially one of the lightest pressings one can do without modern, high-end presses. After pressing, the must (tkbili) is poured into the kvevri.

After pressing, the chacha (grape skins, stems and seeds) is fermented for 10 to 30 days, depending on the varietal. When fermentation is over, the cap sinks into the wine and is held until mid-March, allowing for malolactic fermentation and aging. This process with its extended maceration would make some US wine makers cringe.

Virginia winery Attimo

Attimo Winery pours a full range of delicious Virginia wines, several influenced by owner Rik Obiso’s many trips to Georgia, wine capital of the former Soviet Union.

Wine is then racked and aging continues for at least a year. Of course, each winery has its variations, and some wineries now use modern technology, tanks, and machinery to make wine in Georgia. The use of kvervi offers the advantage of wines with rich tannins, aging at constant temperature and imparting an earthy character in the wine with nut and dried fruit characteristics.

Winemakers who would like to try this technique, be wary – there are several nuances in perfecting extended maceration which, if not followed, can lead to devastating consequences. Clearly, Georgian winemakers had perfected this technique over dozens of generations.

At Attimo Winery, we are perfecting our Kahketian-American version of a blend of Chardonnay-Vidal and will produce the first ‘orange’ wine in Virginia made from white grapes through this extended maceration process (release date 2013). We are also perfecting our version of Chambourcin, which will eventually be blended with Saperavi (next release date 2014).

Wine as a tradition and as part of the Georgian culture

Virginia winery Attimo

Attimo holds a traditional Georgian toasting event every Friday. Photo courtesy T. Baum.

Wine is an interwoven part of the Georgian culture. In fact, our word “wine” is derived from gvino, the Georgian word for wine. Wine customs are tightly bound to their religious heritage (Christian Orthodox, primarily via the Georgian Orthodox Church) and to everyday life. It is common for families throughout Georgia to grow their own grapes and produce their own wine.

Feasting and hospitality with family, friends, and guests are central pillars of Georgian culture. Most formal dinners, called supra, are in the form of banquets, which are presided over by a toastmaster, or Tamada, who proposes numerous toasts throughout the meal.

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Virginia winery owners Rik and Melissa Obiso

Rik and Melissa Obiso, proprietors of Christianburg’s Attimo Winery.

Rik Obiso is proprietor, together with his wife Melissa, as well as winemaker, at Attimo Winery, an award-winning farm winery located in Christiansburg, VA, and the first farm winery in Montgomery County. Attimo means In the Moment in Italian, and all of Attimo wines are named after special moments in time, life or in history. At Attimo Winery, Rik and Melissa offer special seated tastings in a relaxed atmosphere. Their goal is to celebrate the everyday moments in life with you. The winery is partially inspired by Georgian culture and tradition through its wines, the environment created in the tasting room, and their unique, Tamada-style, Friday’s at 5pm, toasting. Visit Attimo Winery in Southwest Virginia at www.attimowinery.com.

For more information about visiting Georgia or to go on a Georgian wine tour at: www.winetours.ge

 

 

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