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Growing Interest in Rare Grape Varieties in Adjara

By Aleko Tskitishvili

The viticulture and winemaking practices have been developing quite rapidly in the Adjara region. Five or ten years ago it was hard to imagine that local farmers would start planting vineyards or that new competetive wine companies would be established. Indeed, vine-growers have been showing interest in Adjarian indigenous varietals, which makes it possible that in the course of 2-3 years, the wines made from Satsuri, Mekrenchkhi, Brola, Butko and many other grapes will appear on the market.

Today, the most common varietals of Adjarian viticulture include: Chkhaveri and Tsolikouri, also Ojaleshi, Aladasturi and Satsuri (which is the synonym for Satsuravi). Interestingly, among all these grapes, Satsuri is the only indigenous varietal of Adjara region. The rest of the grape varieties were spread throughout the region from the neighbouring regions (Imereti, Guria, Samegrelo) in the beginning of the 20th century and soon became popular due to their practical qualities.

In recent years, first, Adjarian Wine House and later, Kakhetian Traditional Winemaking companies have played an active role in the revival of viticulture in the Adjara region. These companies started to pay local vine-growers relatively higher prices for Chkhaveri grapes – 3-4 GEL per kilogram. This fact encouraged farmers and many families to start planting vineyards of Chkhaveri grapes. Grafting practices in agriculture have also been rekindled.

Adjarian Wine House  produces dry Rosé wine from Chkhaveri grapes named “Porto-Franco.” Since 2012, the company has reduced the amount of Chkhaveri purchase from the local vine-growers, which has caused their dissatisfaction. However, the very same year, Kakhetian Traditional Winemaking company became active in the region. It has serious plans to carry out in Adjara. A symbolic capsule was laid into the foundation of a new wine factory that is under construction in the Keda town, Adjara, by Archil Khabadze, the Head of the Government of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara, and by Zurab Chkhaidze, a General Director of Kakhetian Traditional Winemaking. The factory will have the efficiency to process around 1,500 tons of grapes each season and will open in two years. After the foundation was laid, 15 wine-growers were gifted 300 plants of Chkhaveri grapes.

According to the press service of the Government of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara, the wine factory will accelerate the development of wine in Kedi Municipality and improve social and economic conditions. The vine-growers of Kedi will be able to sell their grapes on the spot. The wine factory will also be an attractive site for tourists to visit.

Not long ago, National Wine Agency announced the start of a new program in Adjara. According to Interpressnews, the agency program aims to bring back those indigenous and rare grape varieties, which used to be grown some time ago, but nowadays, they are produced either in small quantities or are no longer grown for various reasons. As part of the program, a nursery garden was built in the Autonomous Republic of Adjara, which preserves rare Georgian varietals such as Tsolikouri, Aladasturi, Mekrenchkhi, Butko, Satsuri, Chkhaveri, Jani and others.

According to Levan Davitashvili, the Chairman of National Wine Agency, Kakhetian Traditional Winemaking company will give vine plants to the local vine-growers for free in order to ensure that the company will be able to purchase the grape harvest from the very vine-growers in return. As reported by the agency, 7,000 plants have been given to the vine-growers as of now and starting from fall, 70,000 plants are going to be distributed. At the same time, the program helps wine companies to find the vine-growers who will become their future partners as well as it assists agricultural nurseries to establish contacts with wine companies. The program will be carried on in the following years as well.

Levan Ujmajuridze, the head of the Research Center of Ministry of Agriculture talked to us about his plans regarding the cultivation of aboriginal grape varieties in Georgia. As he stated, one of the main goals of the center is to popularize and disseminate the unique varietals. In 2013, the center supplied healthy and virus free plants to one of the leading nurseries –Agro Service Center (NNLE), which has a 5-hectare-nursery garden of vine and fruit breeds in the village of Gvara, Kobuleti Municipality. The center owns a conservatory and greenhouses, where the breeds of vine and fruit plants are grafted. Since 2014, the Agro Service Center has started giving away vine plants in Adjara. The vine-growers are mainly given Chkhaveri and Tsolikouri plants since traditionally, there is a great demand and interest in these particular grapes. In addition to this, the nursery has the vine plants of rare varietals not only from Adjara region, but also the ones that come from other regions of western Georgia including Satsuri, Brola, Mekrenchkhi, Batomura, Jineshi and others.

It is worth noting that Research Center of Ministry of Agriculture uses the resources of the National Centre for Grapevine and Fruit tree Planting Propagation of Saguramo to implement these types of projects. The stated agricultural entity was established by Kartu Group and Bidzina Ivanishvili several years ago. Since 2013, it has become in charge of the Ministry of Agriculture. It preserves about 440 unique vine plant varieties, a number of which has been given to the Planting Propagation for reproduction and for later distribution to farmers. Levan Ujmajurize, Professor and Doctor of Agricultural Sciences, has been the head of the center since its establishment and has become the Director of the Agriculture Scientific-Research Centre. One should also mention that his responsibilities have grown while being in this position as the functions of the Agriculture Scientific-Research Centre have also broadened. Besides the production of vine and fruit perspective breeds, the center also administers the production of long-term and alternative planting materials, the description of genetic resources of local domestic animal species, the creation of genetic and information banks, etc.

As Levan Ujmajuridze stated, Agro Service Center of Adjara is a successful partner of the Agriculture Scientific-Research Centre. The vine-growers from Adjara and other regions of western Georgia request for not only the vine plants they already produce, but also rare breeds of vine from Ajdara nursery garden.

Historicaly, there have been 50 local vine varieties in Adjara. They are: White Almura, Black Almura, Akhalaki, Batomura, Bagis Kurdzeni (garden grapes), Brola, Burdzgala, Butko, Gorgouli, Vaios Saperavi, Tetra, Turvandi, Tetri Kaikacisshviliseuli, kviristava, Kibura, Kirtstsitela, Klarjuli, Koloshi, Kordzala, White Livanura, Black Livanura, Matenauri, Magara, Mekrenchkhi, Miskieta, Mortskhula, Mtsvanura, Mtsvane Acharuli, Orjokhuli, Povnili, Salikvlevi, Saperavi Acharuli, Satsuri (Satsuravi), Skhaltauri, Tkis Vazi (Forest Vine), Tkis Kurdzena (Forest Grapes), Korkaula, Shavshura, Shishveli, Chitistvala Acharuli, Chkhushi, Cvite, Tskhenisdzudzu Acharuli, Tsvite, Tchetchibera, Tchipakuri, Tchodi, Kharistvala Acharuli, Khopaturi, Javakhetura, Jineshi.

The characteristics of these varietals have been studied more or less by ampelographers as their papers provide us with a valuable information about their qualities. For example, which village and what kind of soil is compatible with a specific variety. The fundamental work – “The vine varieties of Guria, Samegrelo and Adjara,” written by a famous ampelographer, Maxime Ramishvilinotes, notes that phylloxera and other grape vine diseases were spread in the Adjara region relatively later on in the 19th century, by the time the farmers from other regions already knew how to treat those diseases. For this reason, the varietals of Adjara were able to survive the diseases. In 1940-50s, as famous ampelographers were describing the grape varieties of these three regions – Guria, Samegrelo and Adjara, and studying their agricultural potential, they found out that there were twice the number of the survived varietals in Adjara compared to the Guria region and three times the number – compared to the Samegrelo region.

Besides encouragement programs and private initiatives from large wine companies, active engagement of individual enthusiasts is something to favor. One of those enthusiasts is Teimuraz Gorgiladze, an agrobiologist and a scientist at Batumi State University, who grafts thousands of vine plants for Adjarian vine-growers. He also makes the best wines from Chkhaveri and Tsolikouri grapes, which have been awarded many times at Batumi Artisan Wine Festival. Lado Shavishvili from Vaio is another successful winemaker, who owns one of the well-cared vineyards and the best Marani (wine cellar) in the region.

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