(hvino.com) 28.04.2013. With Georgian wine’s reputation growing all the time, we were delighted to hear that Isabelle Legeron MW, author of the website That Crazy French Woman, has set up her own Georgian wine project in Kakheti, producing the natural, artisan wines that are so close to her heart. We caught up with her to find out more.
You have set up a new winery called Lagvinari – can you tell us a bit about it? Where did the name come from?
Lagvinari is an old Mengrelian word for kvevri. The vineyards are
located in Kakheti at about 400 m above sea level, with
chalky/clay/gravelly soil. A bit of a mix. Climate is very cold and
snowy in winter (given that we are in the foothills of the Caucasus) and
baking hot in summer, which is why it helps to be at a little altitude.
You are currently growing organic rkatsiteli and saperavi grapes for
your wines. Why did you choose those two grapes in particular, and what
are their characteristics?
Rkatsiteli is a Kakhetian grape, meaning ‘red horn’ as the stem of the
grape is pink/redish when it is ripe. Rkatsiteli is very popular in the
Alazani Valley in Kakheti, but is can also be found in Kartli and in
small quantities in west Georgia too.
Rkatsiteli prefers hot climate conditions but it is a
pretty resilient variety that adapts well to its surroundings, which is
why it is quite widespread in Georgia. It is also quite a vigorous and
high-yielding variety, which I presume is why the Soviets favoured its
adoption for mass production, so it does need some restraining. We
decided to produce our first wine using rkatsiteli because it is readily
available and since I am only interested in working with organic grapes
we were also that much more constrained. I was also curious to see
whether or not it was possible to create a truly fine wine from such a
tough, workhorse grape, and we were delighted with the result.
Rkatsiteli is excellent for producing traditional Kakhetian style wine.
Saperavi means “colouring” in Georgian – more specifically, “peri” means
“colour” because this is a teinturier variety, which means that it
gives off a LOT of colour when you press it. In fact, last autumn I made
a tiny test batch of saperavi that I was experimenting with in our
friend’s kitchen in Tbilisi and even though I decided to separate the
juice from the pips and stems after only 10 mins, the juice was already
thick and very dark purple – our arms and feet took days to scrub clean!
Like rkatsiteli, saperavi is widespread in Kakheti, mainly because it is
hardy (it can survive in extremely cold weather conditions) and because
it is a high-yielding variety. Saperavi shows surprisingly different
tones depending on its place of origin and the microclimate of the area.
In fact, we founded the vineyards where we did precisely because of an
old Georgian Ampeological Research manual from the 1960s that stated
that “the best full-bodied, traditional saperavi wine came from
Kardanakhi & Bakurtsikhe, where rich forest soils dominated”.
Many people might consider the presence of stems in a wine as a
mistake or a fault, but like many other kvevri wines you macerate the
wine on the skins and stems for up to 6 months – why is this? What
impact does this have on the final product?
The use of stems in white winemaking is a practice that dates back
thousands of years. Stems, when ripe, add floral notes and more complex
tannins to the wine. Stems are widely used in red wine making so why not
do the same with whites?
Do you have plans to increase your number of grape varieties?
Absolutely. Our long term goal is to use indigenous grape varieties from
other regions as well, especially from west Georgia and Kartli, which
are home to some very interesting grape varieties that have been
neglected for far too long.
How would you characterise your wines? Do you have an ethos or a concept behind them?
This is from the back of our bottle:
LAGVINARI is a small, organic winery in Georgia, founded by Eko Glonti
in partnership with THAT CRAZY FRENCH WOMAN, Isabelle Legeron MW. We
work closely with local, artisan grape growers and use both indigenous
grape varieties and ancient winemaking techniques, to promote
sustainable Georgian farming and preserve its rich cultural heritage.
Your wines are produced in kvevri – how is it used in your wines?
What qualities and characteristics does it bring to the wine, and why?
Kvevri making has a long history in Georgia – it is an ancient
winemaking vessel. Thousands and thousands of years old. But what is
perhaps more remarkable is that they are still very much in use today.
It is not just commercial companies that use them, in fact, it is
extremely common for individuals to have their own kvevri in their
backyard or basement!
Kvevris are fermenting wine vessels made from clay, which are buried
underground – which is great as the earth insulates the vessel and
regulates the temperature of the sleeping wine. You basically just
harvest your grapes and you stick them, pips, skins, stems and all into
the pot, which you then leave to ferment and eventually seal off until
spring when you open up your kvevri (always a bit of a gut-wrenching
experience as you are never sure how it will have turned out since you
don’t have a tasting tap like in modern wineries!).
Because the juice is left to macerate on the skins and stems for such a
long time, whites are orange, tannic and show a lot savoury notes like
dried herbs, although our Lagvini is also deliciously aromatic with an
apricot/orange blossom nose. I love it.
The quality of the clay used in the making of the kvevris is very
important and there are particular regions in Georgia that are famous
for the quality of their clay – as kvevri.org once explained to me, some
of the particularly good clays contain high amounts of silver content,
which is of note as silver has pronounced anti-bacterial properties.
Kvevri.org is an NGO dedicated to the understanding and use of the
kvevri and they work closely with German research institutions for the
advancement of ‘kvevri science’ if you like – they are coming to the
artisan wine fair that I organize each May called RAW (www.rawfair) and
are bringing with them a real, life-size kvevri that you will be able to
get up close and personal with!
Kvevri-making is an artisan craft. Each one is handmade and takes a long
time to build – they are effectively giant pots and, because of their
size, can be very fragile. They vary in size but the biggest ones are
generally hold about 2 tonnes of wine, although I have heard rumours
that in times past, kvevrimakers used to build kvevris that were the
size of houses!
Your winery is in Kakheti, where the vast majority of Georgian wines
are produced. Why is Kakheti such a good wine producing region?
The valley floor in Kakheti, where most of the vineyards are located,
has a very rich soil and a multitude of different microzones, which I
imagine must be a key reason for why winemaking developed in Kakheti. It
is also extremely hot and dry in summer in the lead up to harvest,
which makes the farming part a lot easier (less likelihood of mildew or
disease for instance).
Kakheti has been an ancient viticultural land for centuries. In fact,
the oldest winemaking academy in the world (I guess it was probably the
UC Davis of its day!) is located in Kakheti – Ikalto Academi. For
centuries, during the Dark Ages of Europe, Ikalto was a centre of
learning, with a particular emphasis on winemaking and winemaking
Given that you come from France, the most prestigious wine producing
country in the world, what attracted you to Georgia as a country to
produce your wines?
Georgia is a wonderful country, where seasonality and simplicity of
produce are still paramount. This is quality that has to some extent
been lost in western Europe. In Georgia, that is not the case. Everyone
eats properly and produce is delicious – coriander smells powerfully of
coriander and tomatoes of tomatoes. You only have to step into a food
market in Tbilisi to get how true this is. I fell in love with the
country the minute I set foot out there a number of years ago. It is an
Georgian wine making has been completely transformed since we first
started four years ago. How would you characterise the current state of
Georgian wine making, and what major developments can we expect over the
next few years?
I hope we’ll be seeing lots of delicious, organic, natural, kvevri wines
hitting the shelves over the next few years. Georgian wine production
is currently dominated by large, volume-driven brands, focused on
‘European’ winemaking techniques. I hope we will see a renaissance in
high-quality, traditional, artisan wines – there are only a dozen or so
producers who sell this type of wine commercially. I’d love to see more
come out of the woodwork as I really believe that there is a market out
there for them.