Ajara is one of the oldest wine-making regions in Georgia – a fact seen in the great number of local vine varieties, centuries-long wine-making tradition and by archeological findings. Although the conquest by the Ottomans in the 16th century, along with the spread of the Muslim religion, in general weakened the wine-making industry, Ajaran farmers managed to maintain a number of their unique vine varieties for future generations, with many of those varieties having made it to the present day.
A comprehensive ampelographic study and cataloging of Ajaran vine varieties began in the 1930s and led to the rediscovering of several vine species. The greatest credit in this deed goes to famous ampelographer Maxime Ramishvili whose fundamental work, titled “Vine Varieties of Guria, Samegrelo and Ajara,” is considered among the most reliable guides even today.
It is from this very study that we learn how the experts of those times traveled around the region’s villages and cataloged local vines. The names of some vines had even been forgotten, since, in over three centuries of Ottoman rule, wine was not made due to religious considerations- many grapes grew unattended and were only consumed as fruit. As a result, in the study, such nameless varieties were given the names of the villages they were found in (for example, Almura) or the names by which they were described by local farmers (for example, Forest Vine or Forest Grape).
Ajaran vine varieties on the brink of extinction were moved into special vineyards and studied in the following years, namely: White Almura, Black Almura, Akhalaki, Batomura, Garden Grape, Brola, Burdzgala, Butko, Gorgouli, Vaio Saperavi, Tetra, Turvandi, White Kaikatsishviliseuli, Kviristava, Kibura, Kirtsitela, Klarjuli, Koloshi, Kordzala, White Livanura, Black Livanura, Matenauri, Magara, Mekrenchkhi, Miskieta, Mortskhula, Mtsvanura, Adjaruli Mtsvane, Orjokhuli, Povnili, Salikvlevi, Adjaruli Saperavi, Satsuri (Satsuravi), Skhaltauri, Forest Vine, Forest Grape, Korkauli, Shavshura, Shishveli, Adjaruli Chitistvala, Chkhushi, Tsvite, Adjaruli Tskhenisdzudzu, Tsvite, Tchetchibera, Tchipakuri, Tchodi, Adjaruli Kharistvala, Khopaturi, Javakhetura, and Jineshi.
The majority of Ajaran vines are quality vines in terms of winemaking. Others can be grown and used as fruit. Academician Niko Ketskhoveli wrote about the great potential of these vines back in the 1960s for the hospitality industry of the Ajaran coast. Adjaruli Tskhenisdzudzu, Povnili, Kharistvala Adjaruli, and some other grape varieties are of particular value as fruits rather than as wine material.
In the last century, with the aim of effectively fighting vine diseases, vines were grown close to the ground (particularly Tsolikouri and Chkhaveri), despite the fact that the majority of the Ajaran vines are high-hanging by nature. Experts now recommend growing Ajaran vines using the "Olikhnari" vine-growing technique which holds the grapes in a position that is neither high nor low, allowing the grapes to be easily taken care of.
In recent years the wine-making industry of Ajara has been on the rise. Farmers have started growing new vineyards- particularly of Tsolikouri and Chkhaveri grapes, the varieties highest in demand and also the most profitable to produce.
A stimulating event for the industry is the Festival of Homemade Wines held in Batumi, seeing vine growers from all over Georgia taking part. In 2010, the wines of Teimuraz Gorgiladze from Vaio village in the Keda Municipality won several medals.
Gorgiladze is an agriculturalist and grows 30 different vine varieties in his vineyard. Most of them are vines unique to Ajara. In 2012, 1500 of his Chkhaveri saplings of were given to farmers in Merisi village of the Keda Municipality within the framework of a joint project by the Caucasus Environment NGO Network (CENN) and the Wine Club.
The best natural conditions for growing vines in Ajara are in the villages of the Keda and Shuakhevi Municipalities where both the climate and the soil allow for the cultivation of the finest varieties. The farmers in Khelvachari and Kobuleti Municipalities are advised to grow grape varieties that are best consumed as fruits rather than wine, however some villages in Khelvachauri also allow for the cultivation of vines for wine-making. Historically, vine growing was also developed in the Khulo Municipality. Worthy of particular mention is Chao village where the afore-mentioned Maxime Ramishvili discovered several forgotten vines.
A good precondition for the revival of vine growing in Ajara is the increasing interest of local farmers in producing wine. Even though most of them grow just the Chkhaveri of Guria and the Tsolikouri of Imereti, you can also occasionally come across several native Ajaran vines. This, at least, is a foundation to build upon.
Photo source: GoBatumi
By Aleko Tskitishvili