Georgia’s spirit is in the grape and her heart beats with a pride born from the awareness that she is the oldest winemaking nation in the world. This belief is backed by archeological findings, which include material evidence of 8,000-year-old grape stones inside many antique clay vessels. Georgia is the birthplace of wine according to a number of the world’s competent experts. The mention of the ancient traditions of vine growing and high quality wine growing in Georgia (or Colchis and Iberia, as it was known in ancient times) can be found in the works of Homer and Apollonius of Rhodes. Even the unique Georgian alphabet is modeled after the shape of the vine’s curly offshoots.
Wine is part of Georgian heritage including architecture, poetry, and songs, and is associated with celebrations, holidays, rituals and most importantly with Georgia’s religion the Christian Orthodox Church. Wine held a central part of pre-Christian pagan celebrations and henceforth with the conversion to Christianity that took place in the early 4th C. AD. According to tradition, when St. Nino introduced Christianity in Georgia, she preached bearing a cross made from vine wood and bound with her own hair. Keeping wine as a sacred part of the sacraments was easily understood and is partially why most of the architectural monuments and Christian icons include vine motifs. Winemaking as an academic course was taught here as early as the 8th and 9th centuries. This included a number of schools and academies including the Ikhalto Academy where viniculture and winemaking were major fields of study.
Georgian feasts are often compared to an academy of learning. This tradition is said to stem from the monastery of Ikhalto, where the abbot would introduce subjects for discourse in the form of a toast. To this day during a meal drinking wine is used as a means to discuss the deeper questions in life, God, Childhood, Love, Ancestors and Beauty. Woven between the toasts are ancient polyphonic songs, some believed to be over 2000 years old. The songs are sung in three part harmony and accompanied at times by a variety of lutes, bagpipes, lyres and bowed viols. Georgian chants and folk songs make up one of the largest collections of ancient choral traditions in the world. Add to all of this a delicious cuisine, full of plum sauces, pomegranates, cilantro, crushed walnuts, roasted meats, homemade yoghurt and sheep cheese. Feasting in Georgia is an unforgettable experience in which wine, the “Nectar of the Sun,” plays the central role.
Winemaking remained the basis of the Georgian economy for centuries. Through the long history of the Georgian nation, the vine has gained iconic significance in Georgia. It is a symbol of regeneration, of wealth and plenty. Perhaps because of this the grape harvest in Georgia, and especially in the Kakheti region where Pheasant’s Tears is based, is more than just a celebration, it is a statement of identity and attachment to the land. In short, this love affair with the grape is still in every true Georgian’s flesh, heart and soul.