The Georgian wine-making tradition originated millennia ago when the cultivation of grapevines began. The first wine in the world was fermented more than 8,000 years ago, in the Kvemo Kartli Region, south of Tbilisi. The remains of the oldest wine were preserved underground, inside the debris of a clay pot, believed to be a Qvevri – an amphora-like vessel used in, and an integral part of traditional Georgian wine-making. A few years ago, funded by the World Bank, the Qvevri School was built in Ikalto, Kakheti.
David, the Bishop of Alaverdi, the Abbot of the monastery with the centuries-long wine-making tradition came up with the idea of building the unique Qvevri School, where ancient wine-making techniques would be preserved and recovered.
It would develop the Ikalto area and ensure the high quality of clay vessels so necessary to produce fine Georgian wines. In 2013, the Qvevri method of wine-making was added to the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
The Qvevri is a roughly-egg-shaped clay vessel, buried in the ground to ensure the even temperature and humidity levels required for the ideal fermentation. A Qvevri is built layer by layer, ensuring it dries uniformly. Qvevri-maker is an unusual profession, only shared within family lines. Not only is the mathematical knowledge of the proportions inherited, but also apparently the mystic intuition and centuries-long experience.
Both types of traditional winemaking existing in the country – the Kakhetian and European (Imeretian) – are based on the Qvevri method. Everything starts with ‘Rtveli’, the grape harvest. Every Rtveli is completed with a feast – ‘Supra’. After grapes are collected, they are put into ‘Satsnakheli’, an elongated wooden vessel, where the wine-maker presses the grapes with his feet. The Kakhetian rule requires that the juice, seeds, grape skins, sprouts, and branches are all fermented together in Qvevri. The European rule indicates that the only the juice should be fermented in the Qvevri.
The Ikalto Qvevri School is the university-like complex where, alongside Qvevri-making, the guests make other clay vessels, study the art of porcelain, enamel and work with gold. Apart from the workshop, the school consists of a museum housing centuries-old relics, a library and a more modern ‘creativity lab’. The Ikalto Qvevri School is equipped with state-of-art gear including craft clay oven, clay mills, and clay washing cisterns.
Apart from the practical appliance of the Ikalto Qvevri School, it also has the spiritual paradigm-like dimension. It is symbolic that the Qvevri School, so intertwined with Georgian history, was built in Ikalto, where the ancient Ikalto Academy existed – the educational jewel of the Georgian Renaissance.
Best time to visit the Ikalto Qvevri School: September – Late October.
How to get to the Ikalto Qvevri School
- Tbilisi – Telavi (100km)
- Marshutka (minibus)
- Telavi – Ikalto Qvevri School (10km)