You may not know this, but Georgia occupies one of the oldest winemaking regions in the world, stretching back at least 8,000 years. With such a long history of winemaking, it has become a part of the national culture and identity. When I learned this, I was hoping to sample some Georgian wine. Little did I know at the time, I would get the opportunity to actually become a part of the vinification process. BTW here is Georgia:
When traveling from Tajikistan to Georgia as a Kiva Fellow, I needed to find a place to stay. To ensure I had at least a backup for when I arrived, I joined Couchsurfing.com. Although I didn’t end up couchsurfing, I did send several messages to people to enquire about their willingness to take me in for a few days. I ended up finding an apartment online and didn’t think much more about who I had contacted on couchsurfing.
A week after I got to Georgia I received an email from one Giorgie, one of the guys I had contacted through couchsurfing. He asked if I was interested in coming to his parents’ village to help pick grapes over the weekend. Of course I was! I knew an adventure was afoot.
Giorgie picked me up Saturday night and we drove to the village so that we could be up bright and early to work on Sunday. When I got up, I discovered that there was a Russian girl and a Mexican girl there too who had been sleeping in the next room. We barely had time to become acquainted before we were being herded into vehicles to go to the field.
After a 15-minute drive in a 50-year-old soviet car, we arrived at the grapes. They had about a dozen rows, each about 100 paces long. As we were admiring and sampling the grapes, breakfast was being served. Seemingly out of nowhere, Giorgi’s mother had produced a breakfast feast and laid it on a sheet on the ground.
There was a fresh bread, cheese, a whole chicken with homemade garlic sauce, sausages, tomatoes, and a fantastic creamy eggplant salad. What was missing? Well vodka, of course! Giorgi’s dad produced a bottle of homemade vodka and insisted we have at least one shot during breakfast. Not only have I never had vodka with breakfast before, it was the strongest stuff I’ve ever had. With the food and drink, my mood had improved significantly!
Then, the hard part started. We took knives and cut off each bunch of grapes and put them in our buckets, starting in the middle of the rows and moving back down towards the truck that held our grapes. After I had been working for what seemed like a long time, I took a break to get some water and stretch my weary muscles. When I checked the time, I found it had only been an hour and twenty minutes. Oh no! It was going to be a long day.
We worked hard for another 3 hours before we finished our rows and Giorgie told us to pack our buckets into the truck. I was elated as I was so tired I didn’t think I could go on much longer. We got in the vehicles, and they promptly drove to the other end of the grape rows. We were only getting ready for the second half! Arrrgghhh! I was in trouble.
Then, as I was starting work again, a funny thing happened. It actually started getting easier! During the day we had all become better acquainted, and by the afternoon we were trading stories about our backgrounds and travels. We joked and laughed and began to forget about the weariness. The second half seemed to take half as long as the first. It’s amazing how relative time becomes, and it shows the power of camaraderie to make life easier.
We finished all the grapes in the afternoon and headed back to the house for coffee and snacks. After a few more hours of socializing, Giorgie’s father started a bonfire to get the coals ready for the Shashlik, or barbeque. It was difficult to smell the delicious chicken sizzle with such an appetite, but soon it was ready for dinner. And course, it was another feast. Everything from breakfast with the addition of the perfectly grilled chicken. And wine. Lots, and lots of homemade wine.
The grapes we picked that day were mostly sold to other vintners. We picked enough to make over 3,000 liters of wine! However, enough of the grapes are kept to make homemade wine for the year. Talk about win-win.
Every 5 minutes during dinner, one of Giorgi’s family members would give a long toast and we’d all have to clink glasses and have some wine. With all the amazing food, wine, and camaraderie, I was in fine spirits indeed. I even made a few toasts myself, which only the Russian and Mexican understood, but still brought many smiles and nods.
I didn’t get home until midnight, but I couldn’t have been happier about getting the chance to experience authentic Georgian country life and take part in a tradition that goes back thousands of years. I can’t imagine a better international experience.