Welcome to wine country, the amazing land of Kakheti. If the mountains are the crown of Georgia’s superb landscape, then Kakheti is its glowing heart. This wide and fertile valley presses up against the white topped Caucasus to the north and the Azerbaijan basin to the south. Kakheti is the birthplace of wine. It was here, at the dawn of agriculture that humans first worked out that storing grape juice in clay pots underground created something very special – and that’s something the Kakhetians have never forgotten. The history of winegrowing in Kakheti starts in the 6th millennium BC. The earliest known evidence of viticulture – grape residues on potsherds, have been discovered dating from this time in Kakheti. Other finds testifying to the antiquity of Kakheti’s wine industry include whole wine cellars, the world’s oldest known wine press and even a figurine drinking a horn of wine dated to 900 BC. Of approximately 2,000 grape varieties in the world today almost 500 are Georgian, and some believe that the word ‘vino’ from which the English word ‘wine’ comes from, is actually a derivation of the Georgian term “ghvino”. Ever since the Bronze Age, it seems, Kakheti has been obsessed by wine. The stupendous cathedrals of the 12th and 13th centuries are surrounded by enormous fields full of wine pitchers. At the Alexander Chavchavadze house Museum, the cellar contains vintages dating back to 1814.Today, vineyards cover the best parts of the region. Georgia’s most famous terroirs are mainly found in Kakheti, some protected by European law, including Tsinandali, Teliani, Napareuli, Vazisubani, Mukuzani, Akhasheni, Gurjaani, Kardenakhi, Tibaani, Kindzmarauli, Manavi, Eniseli, Gremi. While large companies have started producing top quality wines for global export, the most authentic way to drink Kakhetian wine is in the home of a local. Everybody in Kakheti produces their own vintage, and each one seems better than the last. The blazing august sun is hot enough to ripen any grape to perfection, the morning fog and the abundant rivers flowing down from the high Caucasus help fill them with bold flavour. From the full bodied and fruity reds like Kindzmarauli, to the clear, crisp, pale-straw coloured Tsinandali, Kakhetian wine has something for all palettes. But there is more to Kakheti than wine alone.
The region was for a long time the most prosperous in Georgia, and contains some of the country’s largest and most lavish churches, such as the magnificent Alaverdi. The Ikalto Academy was a great centre of learning back in the eleventh century, akin to the contemporary universitiesof Oxford and Cambridge. But today, the picturesque city of Sighnaghi is probably Kakheti’s main attraction. The city is surrounded by one of the world’s longest extant town walls – each tower on this wall was a sheltering place for local families during times of war. Now however, peace has well and truly descended on Sighnaghi, and many Georgians call it by its nickname ‘the city of love’. Winding streets with overhanging balconies, vine covered courtyards and plazas, as well as excellent restaurants and hotels, make Sighnaghi the ideal place to explore the rest of the region. And thee is plenty more to explore in Kakheti. The stunning Vashlovani National Park in the South is more like Africa than Europe, and is home to Georgia’s only remaining population of native leopards. Nearby are the fabulous monasteries of David Gareji, set in an unforgettable semi-desert landscape. In the north of the region lies the Great Caucasus range, and the hidden world of Tusheti – an almost medieval landscape of castles, watchtowers and shrines. But as is the case in all of Georgia, the best thing about Kakheti is the Kakhetians themselves. Known throughout Georgia for their wry sense of humor, as well as their hard working attitude, it’s no wonder these people produce some of the world’s best wine. Kakhetians always have a smile on their faces and a song in their hearts, and visitors to Kakheti always leave with exactly the same.