Grape harvest gathering is a big occasion in Georgia when the whole nation comes together to honor ancient traditions of winemaking.
Regions like Kakheti, Racha and Imereti are famous for grape-gathering. In Georgian the process is called ‘rtveli’ that literally means plucking ripe grapes from the vine. The flavors and colors differ depending on the region where grapes were picked.
The names of the most famous grapes like Rkatsiteli, Tsolikauri, Tsitska, Saperavi, Aladasturi, Usakhelouri and many others are known to lots of tourists who visit Georgia. Tasting the whole list of all Georgian wines may be on the list of any foreign ‘sommelier’ that is ready to enrich their knowledge of refined wine.
In Georgia grape is picked late in August till the middle of November. There is no certain date when to begin gathering harvest- it all depends on the variety of grapes. The main point is not to miss the precise moment when a grape is full of miraculous nectar and not let it wither. The process of grape gathering is a long and labor-intensive activity where any person can lend a hand to the vinedresser and his family. Kakheti has already opened rtveli season. The regions of Racha together with Imereti are waiting for caring hands to gather the Georgian virtue in baskets. It is expected to get 150 thousand tons of wine this autumn
Rtveli is a special feast which is cherished by all the Georgians, especially those who live in rural part of the country. Wine growers are expecting this special occasion the whole year when they can finally show their wine craft and celebrate the wine season with family and friends. Every common peasant lives with the hope of getting as much harvest as possible and as you can make conclusions vines are raised with great affection, they are like a big indoor plant that brings happiness and luck to the family.
The significance of the vine is so much visible that its role is the second important in the family after mothers and children. The whole village mourns if hail or any other natural disaster ruins the vineyard and the families lose a huge portion of the harvest. Many religious families even light candles in the churches for the sake of good and bountiful harvest. Raising a fine vine is a painstaking work and requires nourishing like a baby. In the end labor pays off on the beautiful days of celebrations. Sometimes it is required to work in the sun when the heat reaches 45 degrees Celsius. Not everyone can handle that but love and hope help Georgians move forward and raise nice harvest.
You can easily find wine and gastronomic tours, especially in Kakheti, where you can take part in celebrations, make wine yourself and eat as many grapes as possible! Every person involved in the feast will be extremely friendly and happy. The fact that you come from a foreign country will make Georgians proud of their centuries-old traditions.
Many tours include the secrets of winemaking and preparation of churchkhela, baking traditional Georgian bread, khinkali-making and khachapuri-baking. The winemaking celebration is one of the most cheerful and fragrant holidays in Kakheti.
There are lots of reasons to visit Kakheti in autumn as people drink wine, dance, heavenly sing, and share food in the streets and yards. Lots of songs are dedicated to vine and grape harvest mentioning the word ‘venakhi’ which literally means the vine. You can see women cutting of ripe bunches of grapes and putting them in the baskets called ‘godori’. Men load trucks with these baskets that will later be taken to the wine factories. Rtveli is very lively and merry process where people tell jokes and anecdotes. Kakhetians are known as extremely hospitable and very kind people. The speed of gathering grapes in godori is approximately the whole bucket within two minutes whereas it might take novices much longer time to fill the godori.
When traveling to Kakheti remember that there is no sense saying ‘no’ to any offered wine or food that is cooked right near the field where grapes are gathered – that’s how people rest a bit after a long day’s work. The most popular dish is of course shashlik. Forget about table manners – everybody eats meat with bare hands and drink wine from clay bowls. Can you imagine how exotic and interesting the traditions of rich Kakheti are? The thoughts of the feast already make you hungry so be ready for gastronomic outrage – you are in the food heaven.
After having some rest drivers bring grapes to the wine factories where juicy berries are squeezed and turned into essence. The liquid is poured in special underground clay jars called ‘kvevri’ where wine is fermented and preserved all year long. Fermentation lasts for one month and later refined wine is again poured in kvevri. Later this liquid that does not really look nice will turn into fine wine. This tradition of wine-keeping dates back to ancient times. The room where kvevris are kept is known as ‘marani’.
The process of wine-making can count as subtle art where you have to know how to ‘speak’ to wine. It is necessary to pour it from kvevri into oak barrels as they say this particular wood gives a special flavor to the wine.
Rtveli is an amazing event and that guides you to the inside of Kakhetian way of life. Getting closer to native Kakhetians, eating a juicy grape, drinking one of the best wines in the world, living a life of a peasant but at the same time enjoying it- that is what it means to be part of rtveli in Georgia.
When coming back from Kakheti spend a few days calmly without any feasts or loads of liters of wine otherwise you may end with a hangover! Only Georgians can handle that much wine and feel well the following days.
Rtveli may be one of the kindest and household celebrations where any contribution is valued. Autumn has already entered its domain and welcomes everyone to join the table!