Qvevri, Churchkhela and Chacha

1049 Reviews

Star Travel Rating

4/5

Review type

Things to do

Location

Date of travel

June, 2023

Product name

Qvevri Making with Zaza

Product country

Georgia

Product city

Vardisubani

Travelled with

Couple

Reasons for trip

Culture/Sightseeing

Although we’d only been in Georgia for a few days, we’d heard about their traditional way of making wine in Qvevri or clay vessels and tasted the wine. The next step was to see how the Qvevri were made, and so we visited the workshop of Qvevri master, Zaza Kvilashvili, in Vardisubani.

We were shown the local clay, which is mixed with a little water before the vessel is created and moulded by hand. At first Zaza sits on a low stool, but as the Qvevri gets taller, he stands and eventually uses steps for very large vessels.

In a second area, 10 x 1400 litre Qvevri were drying before being coated with concrete for protection. After seeing a 6,000 litre Qvevri made by his grandfather in 1956, we moved on to the oven, so huge the 10 drying Qvevri would fit in easily. The temperature slowly builds to 1200 degrees over a week, as if it is done too quickly the vessels will crack. Similarly, the cooling down process is slow, and when cold, the inside will be lined with beeswax to increase the flavour.

A final building displayed the other pottery Zaza makes and fun drinking vessels.
We were then invited into his wine cellar where 10 Qvevri, each containing 150 litres, were sunk into the ground. He grows three types of grapes Kisi, Chinuri and Georgia’s most famous, Saperavi, which are harvested in September and left in the Qvevri until March, by which stage, the grape skins have floated before sinking to leave clear wine on top. The wine is then taken out and placed in a clean Qvevri where it is stored until required.

It was then my favourite part, the tasting, and we sat at a table with ‘black’ and ‘orange’ wine (red and white to us) in elegant decanters, along with cubes of cows’ milk cheese, walnuts, dried apricots, fresh cherries from Zaza’s garden and shoti bread.

It was here we were introduced to Churchkhela or Georgian snickers – a traditional candle-shaped candy made from grape must, nuts, and flour. According to our guide Sergi, Georgian nuns sent them to Russian nuns as a gift, but they were returned with a note saying the candles didn’t burn well. We loved them so much, we brought them home for friends, who also thought they were candles.

Zaza was very enthusiastic and voluble, giving Sergi, who was translating, a headache as the facts and stories flowed as fast as the wine. Making a Qvevri takes around 2.5 months from start to finish, costs $1 for every litre, but if well-made, can last 100 years. The maximum Zaza has made in one year is 32 and they have been exported worldwide including Canada, Italy and Kazakhstan.

Over the delicious wine, we heard the story of a Georgian lady who was the oldest person in the Guinness book of records for living to 132 – her secret was a glass of Saperavi each night as it contains 22 times more antioxidants than other wine.
We then moved on to pale green shots of chacha infused with tarragon – this was a strong spirit made with the grape residue or pomace, left after making wine. At over 50% ABV it certainly packed a punch.

We also heard about the legendary Georgian hospitality, which means there should always be food and wine on the table when guests leave and, despite our best efforts, this turned out to be true.

Helen Jackson

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