Georgia is famous for being the first country in the world where people started making an alcoholic drink from grapes. The locals are suitably proud of their position as the first winemakers. One family that has been growing wine on the West Coast for several generations has already gone through a lot, possibly because of the Stalinist regime. But now the cultivation of traditional Georgian wine is threatened by another enemy – the climate crisis.
Archaeological discoveries have confirmed that wine was cultivated in Georgia eight thousand years ago. The traditional Georgian method of making wine has been on the UNESCO List of Intangible Heritage since 2013. “Grape juice is fermented in a ceramic kvevri vessel with seeds, skins and stems. This gives the wine a special taste and aroma. It is stored underground, where the temperature is stable at 14 Celsius,” explains Lizzie, who works at the Shervashidze family winery in the village when. The village is located between Mtirali and Machakhela National Park in southwest Georgia.
Lisa’s great-grandfather founded the family winery in a village of just under 1,300, and she herself jokes that she’s been mainly into wine since birth. The family tragedy befell during the harsh Stalinist regime. As opponents of the regime at the time, the armed forces killed all the adult men in the family. Lisa’s grandfather, who was a young boy at the time, was raised by his grandmother. However, the tradition of winemaking has been preserved.
“It’s a family business, so at least once a year, when it’s time to harvest the grapes, the whole extended family comes together, from the kids to the grandparents. We also have a few employees, but they’re mostly our neighbours. Because the village is small, everything is connected,” Lizzie explains. Those who do not work in the Shervashidze winery have their own vineyards. In Kedah, every person grows vineyards. It is said that the environment is not overly competitive, as each family has its own recipe. The young winemaker reveals: “We make semi-sweet wine and add to it an ingredient called grape honey. It tastes like honey, but it’s clear and liquid and made from grapes. It’s our secret.”
Toast to love and everything else
The family also has a small outdoor restaurant on the terrace of the house overlooking the vineyards. Lizzie’s grandmother spins in the kitchen, bringing traditional cheese soup, fish, khachapuri, and vegetable salads to the tables. But he doesn’t talk much with the guests. In turn, Lizzie brilliantly leads wine tasting, although she is only 16 years old. Unlike his grandfather and grandmother, he speaks English fluently. She plays the role of something called “too much”, which is not very common for women in strongly patriarchal Georgia. “He is the one who leads the festive and festive dinners, and gives toasts. Some of them have a fixed order. First toast God and peace, then we love fathers, children, women, etc.,” recounts Lizzie.
Although Lizzie is only 16 years old, she skillfully leads a wine tasting. | Photo: Clara Zanga
He explains that Tamada should be bright and also have a sense of humor to keep guests entertained throughout the evening. Toast is probably made more often to taste the Czech drinker, not just with every new glass of wine, but basically whenever he feels the craving. Lizzie laughs: “Sometimes we joke that Tamada is a dictator, everyone has to obey.” In Georgia, some people make toast for a living, because no birthday or wedding party is complete without them.
First drought, then heavy rain
Although the Shervashidze family business has been operating for decades and has not been destroyed even by the Stalinist dictatorship, in recent years the clan has been fighting an invisible enemy – the climate crisis. Lizy explains this on chilled wine, which is meant to be sweet, but has lost its sweet taste due to unexpected changes in the weather. “And I think this year’s harvest will make worse wine,” he fears.
The climate crisis in the Adjara hills has not caused more heat than expected. According to Lisa, the area, which has been ideal for viticulture for centuries, has cooled in recent years. “And the precipitation is completely unpredictable this year. It hasn’t rained for two whole months in the summer, which we don’t know here at all, because we are one of the rainiest places in Georgia. On the contrary, since at the beginning of September, it was There is heavy rain and it is so cold that it damages the grapes.”
The terrace of the family home overlooks the sloping vineyards. | Photo: Clara Zanga
Even if the wine is not aging as it should, it is not discarded. “But of course that’s not good. Plus, due to the vagaries of the weather, someone always has to work on the vineyard, at least one or two people clean the grapes every day and put various sprays on them for diseases and pests,” explains Lizzie. Grape diseases are also increasing with climate change. Because of the long and hot summers, parasites reproduce better and live longer, during mild winters fewer of them die.
The vineyards are moving north and into the mountains
According to the nonprofit Climate Central, the vine is one of the most sensitive plants to the vagaries of weather. High-quality grapes will grow only in places that are warm and at the same time provide a sufficient amount of precipitation. In addition, with an increase in forest fires, vines can be damaged by smoke and ash particles, and there is also a risk of frequent floods, heavy rains or unexpected spring frosts. Because of these changes, the “guilt map of the world” is likely to change. Some of the more popular wine regions can get too warm, too dry, or both at the same time.
This trend has continued since the 1990s. Winemakers in the northern hemisphere move north, and winemakers in the southern hemisphere move south. While in French champagne it is too hot to grow grapes for the production of the famous champagne drink, in the UK in recent years, the production of English sparkling wine has begun, which until recently no one heard of.
Some vineyards in traditional wine-growing regions, such as Spain’s Catalonia, move to altitudes of more than three thousand meters above sea level, in the Pyrenees, which would have been unimaginable a quarter of a century ago. Winemakers now take advantage of the fact that there are not many tropical days in the mountains and they are not severe. In general, climate change will have a negative impact on wine production, even if new wine regions emerge. There is a lack of nutritious soil in the mountains and the vine faces frequent weather fluctuations that are not suitable for it.
In addition, the climate crisis brings with it more frequent natural disasters that can completely destroy crops. We don’t have to go far for an example. When a cyclone swept through southern Moravia last June, it destroyed many wine cellars and vineyards. Several charitable groups were then set up, to encourage the purchase of wine that had not been destroyed by the hurricane. 22 wineries signed for one of them.
The direct link between the Moravian cyclone and the climate crisis has not been proven, but as ecologist and former environment minister Bidzic Muldan mentioned in a text for Hospodářské noviny, it certainly cannot be ruled out. “The lack of evidence to date of direct links between hurricanes in Europe or America (where there are more of them) with global climate does not mean that they do not exist. Hurricanes are an unusual phenomenon and are always of relatively limited scope and generally reliable,” he wrote. Available “.
Nuts instead of chrome
In addition to the alternating drought with torrential rains, Georgian wine growers are increasingly suffering from hailstorms that threaten the entire crop. Although hail has always fallen in some areas of Georgia, recently this phenomenon has become more frequent. And so some winemakers began to grow less demanding and more resistant nuts in place of the vines. Wine makes up about nine percent of the country’s exports and is also one of the main attractions for tourists.
Lisa’s grandmother is in charge of the kitchen. | Photo: Clara Zanga
The government is still trying to help Georgian winemakers. If the cold destroys their crop, the state-owned winery buys them the ruined grapes. But some see this solution as short-sighted and believe that the state should help the vineyards financially instead of adapting to the challenges of the climate crisis, the effects of which will only worsen.
Lisa’s family does not yet plan to close the vineyard and does not want to start growing another crop. You try to collect as many fruits as possible and not throw them away, because – as the young winemaker says – the drink can be made from almost any grapes, but the quality varies. So-called table wines, for example, can be made from a much larger variety of grapes than fine wines. The family does not yet have a concrete action to deal with the effects of the climate crisis. “We try to learn as much as we can about our options. However, should growing conditions continue to deteriorate, we don’t have a plan. Only the future will tell,” concludes Lizzie.
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The Czechs are researching the site of the world’s oldest winemakers in Armenia. | Video: Jan Konek
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