Wine tour of Georgia and Abkhazia
Georgia and Abkhazia
Group: 2-10 persons
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Georgia is a country with millennia-old winemaking traditions; the benign climate of its mountain valleys is ideal for growing many grape varieties. Moreover, wine culture is inseparable from the history of the Georgian people—even the cross which Saint Nino used to baptize Georgia was made from a grapevine. In recent years, Georgians have been actively working on their winemaking, experimenting with rare native grape varieties, mastering new production technologies, and achieving new levels of quality, meanwhile traditional Georgian methods, such as maturing wine in large earthenware kvevri vessels, are gaining popularity around the world.
After wandering around Georgia, carefully studying the industry and consulting with specialists, we’ve designed a wine tour that should satisfy both experienced and aspiring connoisseurs, as well as anyone who wants to discover this wonderful country with a glass of wine in hand—imbibing new tastes and aromas with every new day.
The itinerary also includes Abkhazia, a de facto independent country, whose traditional wine culture was greatly influenced by Georgia. Today, Abkhazia is trying to define its own winemaking traditions, and we’ll get experience all of them.
During this 10-day intensive journey we’ll visit three of Georgia’s winemaking regions—Kakheti, Kartlia and Imereti—as well as the seashore of Abkhazia. For the first half of the tour we’ll be mostly based in Tbilisi, but we’ll spend two of the nights closer to the wineries in Kakheti. The second part of the trip will take us across western Georgia, where we’ll be based in the city of Kutaisi. Towards the end, we’ll spend three days in Abkhazia.
During the trip we’ll visit historic locations associated with the ancient winemaking culture of Georgia and Abkhazia, and we will be constantly meeting with winemakers, historians and other specialists who will provide you with a fresh take on local wines. This is also a gastronomic tour as it includes homemade feasts, picnics, and dinners in the most outstanding restaurants.
Day 1. Arrival to Georgia
Arrival to Georgia. We’ll meet at the airport and then drive to Kakheti, the country’s principal winemaking region. After crossing a wooded ridge, we’ll find ourselves on the slopes of the expansive Alazani Valley. The left and right banks of the Alazani River have different climates and each is further subdivided into dozens of smaller terroirs. We will stay near the town of Telavi, in the Schuchmann boutique hotel which was opened by a German who, inspired by Kakheti wines, moved to Georgia and founded a small winery. In the evening, we’ll rest and dine at the hotel, tasting Schuchmann wines. For those who are interested, wine spa treatments are also available.
Day 2. Alazani Valley
Our eventful day in Kakheti will begin with a visit to the estate of Alexander Chachavadze, where the Georgian Prince, returning after the war of 1812, organized a European-style winery. One could say that modern Georgian winemaking began right here. We will visit the old cellar with its giant collection of vintage wine, taste the local wine and rest in a nearby park. Our next stop will be the family winery of Temuri Dakishvili, where we’ll taste wines made from kisi and saperavi grapes and enjoy an open-air lunch. During the second half of the day we’ll visit two monasteries: Ikalto, with its wine press, old kvevri earthenware vessels, and marani wine cellars that were built in the 11-13th centuries, and Alaverdi, which also has ancient cellars, and recently resumed producing wine in kvevri vessels. We’ll stroll about the monastery property, and taste wines produced by the monks in cooperation with the Bagadoni Winery.
Afterwards we’ll drive to Gremi, the medieval capital of the Kakheti kingdom of which only a fortress on the hill remains; it’s a great place to enjoy a view of the whole valley. Afterwards, we’ll have to rush to Kvareli, before the cellars of Kindzmarauli Corporation close their doors for the day. In a long mountain tunnel we’ll taste the winery’s best wines. In the evening we’ll reach Signakhi, a small fortified town on the slopes of the Alazani Valley. We’ll have dinner at the Tears of the Pheasant restaurant. There, we’ll taste wines of the same name, which are produced by John Wunderman, an American artist who moved to Georgia. We’ll spend the night at the Kabadoni Hotel.
Day 3. Road to Tbilisi
After a lazy breakfast we’ll stop by the Bodbe Monastery with its tomb of Saint Nino, who brought Christianity to Georgia. One last look at the Alazani Valley—and we’re off to the capital, where we’ll spend the next two nights. First we’ll rest a little, then stroll around the Old City, and later we’ll meet with Georgy Dartsimelia, one of Georgia’s leading sommeliers. In the evening we’ll enjoy a wine tasting and learn about Georgia’s winemaking map and the unique qualities of local grape varieties. The evening will end with a dinner at the Tears of Metekhi restaurant.
Day 4. Visit to Kartli
After breakfast we’ll drive to the ancient capital of Georgia, Mtskheta, where we’ll climb up to Jvari Monastery and take a look at the amazing view of the confluence of the Aragvi and Kura rivers. The main adventure of this day is a visit to Chateau Mukhrani, a winery that was established at the end of the 19th century by Prince Ivan Bagration-Mukhransky, one of the members of the royal Georgian dynasty. His wines were supplied to the Emperor of Russia, and to this day they are considered among Georgia’s finest. We will have a tasting, walk around the vineyards and explore the awesome estate. For lunch, we’ll stop by the place of a local winemaker, Yago Bitarishvili, to taste wines he produces for his individual clients in Europe. In the afternoon, we’ll be back in Tbilisi. In the evening, you can see a performance at the Gabriadze Puppet Theater or go to the legendary sulfur saunas.
Day 5. Move to Racha
Today we go to western Georgia, where the winemaking culture is somewhat different from Kartli and Kakheti—they use different methods and different grape varieties, even the kvevri are called churi here. On the way, we’ll stop at Uplistsikhe, a cave town where people lived for almost three millennia until the 19th century. Here we’ll find not only houses and cells, but also the oldest wine presses carved right into the rocks.
After the Rikoti mountain crossing that separates east and west Georgia, we’ll visit a workshop where churi vessels are produced. Next, we’ll go up to Racha, a highland area where the Khvanchkara micro climate zone is located. Here we’ll visit Gogi Markvelidze who produces famous wines from his own grapes. His farmstead, built in 1928, houses a collection of old wine presses, and other utensils, which turn the simple winery into a genuine ethnographic museum. The next stop on our route is a small winery in the village of Bagauli, and by evening time we’ll reach the small town of Oni, where we’ll spend the night with local artists. Expect a dinner with khvanchkara wine and classic dishes from Racha cuisine.
Day 6. From Racha to Imereti
We’ll continue our journey through the foothills of Racha. On the way, we’ll visit several amazing and lovely terroirs, which very well may soon become protected micro climate zones. These terroirs are home to the usakhelauri variety of grapes that are used to make Georgia’s most expensive wine. In the afternoon, we’ll reach the capital of Imereti, Kutaisi, where we’ll dine at a fashionable restaurant and spend the night.
Day 7. Imereti
Today we’ll dive deep into the traditions of Imereti winemaking. We’ll spend the day with Ramaz Nikoladze, the head of the kvevri wine association. Together we’ll visit two of Imereti’s most exciting wine businesses that work with two local indigenous grape varieties, tsitska and tsolokuri. There will be wine tastings and obligatory feasts in picturesque locations. If time permits, we may also undertake a small trip to the Okatse Canyon. In the evening, we’ll return to Kutaisi.
Day 8. From Kutaisi to Sukhum
We’ll begin the day with a walk around the center of Kutaisi and a visit to the local market to buy food for a picnic. Afterwards we’ll head to the medieval Gelati Monastery, recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. In the late morning, we’ll travel through Mingrelia. After crossing the border river, Gali, we’ll find ourselves in Eastern Abkhazia, which rarely sees any tourists. Here you can still feel the primordial spirit and rhythm of Abkhaz village life. We’ll make a couple stops on the way—at a medieval monastery in Bedia, and for a dip in thermal springs in the village of Kindgi.
By lunchtime, we’ll reach the capital of Abkhazia, Sukhumi, where we’ll take a break at a seaside pier restaurant and taste local wine. After lunch, we’ll drive to the estuary of the Galidzgi River, where one of Abkhazia’s most interesting terroirs is located. First, we’ll visit the headquarters of the Halo Trust organization, which is engaged in mine clearing in the region. The mission’s head will tell us about the 1992 hostilities that took place in an area which is now covered by vineyards. Next, we’ll go to the neighbouring lot, which is owned by the large Wines and Waters of Abkhazia company, to study the grapevines of rare indigenous grape varieties and taste local wines, accompanied by the winery’s leading wine technologist. In the evening, we’ll return to Sukhumi for a stroll along the embankment, dinner and to check into a small hotel.
Day 9. Russian Riviera
We’ll spend the morning in New Athos. First, we’ll visit the New Athos Cave to see its giant halls, dripstones, cave stones, cave lakes and an underground waterfall. Before driving to the New Athos Monastery, the spiritual center of Orthodox Christian Abkhazia, we’ll stop to see the delicate pavilion of the Psyrtskha railway station, a masterpiece of Stalinist architecture. After the monastery, we’ll drive to Achandara, an old Abkhaz village and center of traditional winemaking. This area has the most kachicha grapevines, the principal indigenous grape variety of the region. We’ll visit a farmstead located among the foothills of the mountains, which still uses archaic methods of Abkhaz winemaking and cultivates an ancient vineyard with grapevines that creep up the trunks of the trees. If we visit in season, we can take part in the harvesting and processing of grapes. Of course, expect a traditional feast that will give you a good idea of what genuine Abkhaz hospitality looks like. In the afternoon we’ll see the traditional making of adjika sauce—with a pestle and stone mortar. Our day will end at Old Gagra, a seaside resort established in 1903 by the Duke of Oldenburg. We’ll spend the night in the historic Abaata Hotel.
Day 10. Across Bzyb Abkhazia
We’ll dedicate this day to Bzyb Abkhazia, a historic region in the western part of the republic. Its name comes from the name of Abkhazia’s longest river, Bzyb, which crosses half of the country. We’ll start the day by visiting the winery of Wines of Abkhazia and Co. This impressive facility produces common and sparkling wines from caucasian grapes, but also experiments with international varieties. We’ll see state-of-the-art facilities and taste the best limited edition brand wines from the cellar. Next, we’ll drive to Pitsunda, where we can experience Soviet resort life, breathe in the balmy sea air, and take a walk through the age-old pine grove at Pitsunda Cape. After lunch on the rooftop of a skyscraper sanatorium, we’ll drive up the rocky canyon to the highland lake Ritsa, where we’ll visit Stalin’s summer dacha and sail across the lake in a vintage boat. In the evening, we’ll head back to Gagra, where our dinner will be accompanied by live music performed by a local band.
Day 11. From Gudauta to Tbilisi
After an early breakfast, we’ll drive to a Stalinist empire-style railway station where we’ll board a train that will take us, along a picturesque seaside road, to the town of Gudauta. Once in Gudauta, we’ll visit Argun Ashta winery that was founded by Alkhas Argun, who came to winemaking from big business and today cultivates his small vineyards with both indigenous and European varieties—his Kachicha and cabernet blends are especially interesting. We’ll have lunch at a restaurant called Guada, which successfully mixes Italian and Abkhaz recipes. In the restaurant’s cellar we’ll have the chance to taste wines produced by its owner, as well as local fruit distillates like tangerine liqueur. After a hearty lunch, we’ll head towards the Georgian border. We’ll drive to Zugdidi, and from there we’ll take the night train to Tbilisi.
Day 12. Flying Home
Today we’ll have some free time to explore and adventure. We can organize a boat trip along the sea coast, a tour of the botanical garden at the Green Cape, or a short hiking trip in the Mtirala Nature Reserve. At the end of the day we’ll provide transportation to the airport.