Taste Georgia

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Good work, sister: The rise of women wine makers in Georgia

Special thanks to Erica Firpo for helping me with the title

Marina and Tea of Mandili presenting their wine at Vignaioli Naturali a Roma 2015 an annual natural wine fair in Rome >Last spring I met Georgia’s first female owned wine company and have had the privilege of following them for an entire year, from vineyard to qvevri, to bottling. In Georgia, men have traditionally been in control of the 8,000 year old qvevri wine making process, so these women, along with another young woman named Mariam Iosebidze who started her own wine company in 2014, are at the forefront of a change in culture and attitudes towards women in Georgia. I have interviewed these women and tasted their wine and I would like to share their stories over the next few months. For now, a short introduction to the First Ladies of Georgian wine; Marina Kurtanidze and Tea Melanashvili of Mandili. To preface, Tea is my very good friend, she is simply someone I adore, and Marina is a dear friend as well who is a force to be reckoned with. Besides friendship, they have been a big part of my shift in thinking about how women in the west view women in other parts of the world. In short, we believe that we have it better and that those “other” women are not as liberated. Before I went to Georgia, I was told that it was an extremely sexist country where women were not treated well and that, in fact, I should avoid going there. So during my first trip, I made a few cultural faux pas having this attitude in the back of my head. I met Tea at Vino Underground, a wine bar in Tbilisi that focuses on natural wines, and learned that she was one of Georgia’s first female wine makers. I was intrigued. How could it be possible in this country? We tasted her wine, and I was hooked. Not only was I impressed with Tea for making strides in the wine world, I was impressed with her wine, Mandili. Mandili was established in 2012 as a collaboration between two friends who were inspired by female vignerons- such as Elizabetta Foradori -that Georgian producers have met at the European natural wine fairs. Marina is married to Iago Bitarishvili of Iago’s Winery, so she has been a part of the wine making process for her entire life in everything but name. In fact, it was her husband, Iago, who first encouraged Marina to make wine. The name Mandili means a ladies scarf (or veil), and their label depicts a woman dancing with a scarf. The team decided to purchase organic mtsvane grapes from Kakheti and bring them to marani in Kartli where they made their wine in qvevri. Their first wine was an incredible success, not only for the innovation in traditional wine making in Georgia but the wine was of extremely high quality. Both women explained that they wanted to make a wine that was both Georgian and also conveyed the essence of creation by women. They chose the mtsvane grape because they both really love wines made from that grape and they were able to buy wines from very healthy vineyards. They weren’t alone in the process. They had the help of friends and encouragement from fellow qvevri producers. In fact, they did not experience any kind of negativity in the tight knit wine community in Georgia and have only had encouragement from their colleagues and friends. Both Tea and Marina told me about the anxiety of waiting for their wine while it aged in the qvevri for 6 months. Unlike modern styles of wine, a winemaker making wine in qvevri can’t check and taste the wine on a regular basis. After fermentation is completed, the qvevri is sealed and it is a waiting game. They are not the first to describe waiting for their wine as akin to waiting for the birth of a child. They were anxious to know if it was good, what it would taste like and would it taste like “their” wine. In qvevri winemaking you have to trust in Mother Nature to move things along at her pace.Tea and Marina with their qvevri In 2012 they produced only 700 bottles of wine and to date there are about 30 bottles left. I have a few in my collection that are my prized possessions. It is made or the mtsvane wine grape with full skin contact for 6 months. The wine is alive. It has a lovely golden hay yellow color. It is full of apricots and stone fruit, candle wax and mushrooms, exotic spices, ginger and hazelnuts. It is fresh with delicate tannins and a long candied orange finish. It is a great wine with a distinctly feminine personality. It isn’t a hammer, it is soft and evolves slowly in the glass, on the palate and in the bottle. It is incredible now, but could last a few more years. They did not make wine in 2013, and came back to the qvevri in 2014. I sat down with Tea and Marina most recently in March of 2015 and chatted with them about women in Georgia, their wine and how they felt about all the accolades and attention they have received. They are proud but humble. They know they are at the forefront of a cultural shift, but the waves they are making aren’t causing destruction to society, people are riding the waves like surfers. They are proud of Mariam, the latest and newest female wine maker who is making a lovely tavkveri and following in the footsteps of the Mandili ladies. They are happy to be an inspiration to other women, as they are to me as well. Women making wine in Georgia is not a gimmick, it is a reality that is growing, and the proof that they are here to stay is in the wine. The wine is high quality and serves as an ideal cultural ambassador for Georgia.  I was proud to have them pour their wines at the annual natural wine fair in Rome to a very eager audience. Mandili 2012-Isn’t she lovely? I was able to taste their 2014 Mandili before bottling, it took a bit of time to open up, but once it did, the power and life in that glass was evident. It will premier at he New Wine Festival in Tbilisi, March 9th, 2015. I will be there on the sidelines cheering for their success. For more information, contact me at Taste Georgia


One Response

  1. I had met Miriam Iosebidze while in Tiblisi in 2015 and was interested in contacting her again. Can you give me her contact information?

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