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Mtskheta’s Church from 603 ad, and Iago and Marina’s Feast

by Max Hartshorne

Our day of travel and exploring across western Georgia began at the home and winery of Iago and Marina Bitarishvili in rural Mtskheta.  This consonant-heavy small town is also the home of one of the country’s oldest churches, which was built high on a hill around the year 603.  Seeing a church built in a year with three digits is pretty spectacular, as is the view from atop this protected sanctuary, which is also a World Heritage site.

There are no stained glass in these Georgian churches, instead, the dusky brown exterior is punctuated with slits for windows. Georgians, we learned, were constantly having to defend their rights to be Christians and in all cases proved they would rather die than be forced to convert to Islam or any other faith.

Iago and Marina are winemakers who use the traditional qvevri, oblong clay pots sunken into the ground where the grapes, seeds and stems are all mashed together to age.  Iago showed us how he stirred up his current batch of Chinuri grapes. I asked him how he identifies which wine is which in the six subterranean qvevri and he answered “I have only one wine!”  His white wine has the familiar amber color and rich body consistent with the other white wines we’ve tasted here.

A symbolic cow head at the Mtskheta Church from 603

Mtskheta Church, a sanctuary from invading hordes and pilgrimage spot for centuries.

You can enjoy a wonderful meal in their house by the fire if you call ahead, and our feast included the typical tomato/cuke salad, cheese bread triangles, and pork chunks cooked on their fire. In addition Marina brought out the bread she bakes herself,  a crock of kidney beans simmered low and slow, some dreamy stuffed mushrooms and plenty of their fine wine. It costs around $10 per person, contact them ahead at 995 593 352426, or chardakhi@gmail.com

Iago and Marina Bitarishvili at their vineyard and home.

Qvevri, used to age wine in Georgia.

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