“Basically, the Italian winemakers, who took kvevri from Georgia and make kvevri wine, have created a category for the Georgians,” said Chris Terrell, a California-based importer of Georgian wines. “Their [Italian] wines are already selling very, very expensively, so now these [Georgian] wines come in and they have very good value for the people who know.”

Josko Gravner amphora wines, made with Georgian kvevris, range from $50 to $150 in the US; more than a twofold difference with the retail price of one Georgian-made kvevri wine sold in New York City.

Terrell says that the kvevri wines he imports from Georgia fare better in the “high quality, organically-farmed, all-natural wines” market than do Georgian mainstream brands in the table-wine segment. “The quality is getting better, but the labeling and packaging could use some improvement,” he elaborated.

Along with such improvements, observers also say that Georgian wine needs aggressive advertising to raise its profile in new markets like the US. To further this goal, a recent wine symposium, sponsored by the US Agency for International Development, drew a crowd of western oenophiles to Kakheti to experience kvevri culture amid the grape-harvesting season, or rtveli.

At Alaverdi, a 6th-11th century monastery set against the Caucasus’ soaring backdrop, monks served up from their kvevri cellars a heady, dry red Saperavi and a pungent, amber-tinged white Kisi wine.

As the visitors sipped the brew, one New York City restaurateur reported a growing customer interest in Georgian wine, while a Texas potter recounted how a surprise kvevri order from a local wine producer had prompted his decision to travel to Georgia and study the craft.

Yet despite all the fascination with the kvevri, specialists caution that the time-consuming, painstaking nature of making the amphora and its wine will prevent the method’s use from becoming widespread. Larger companies within Georgia are building kvevri wine cellars, but these serve as smaller attractions for tourists and wine aesthetes; not as mission-critical infrastructure.

Using amphoras, a wine company “can produce a maximum of 20-25 tons of kvevri wines,” said Tevzadze. That compares with a volume in the hundreds of tons for more modern methods. Each of the 15 Georgian wineries in the Kvevri Foundation produces just three to 10 tons of wine per season, he added.

“Making wine in a kvevri is so laborious and also expensive that it will never become mainstream,” said Tevzadze.

One successful American winemaker based in Georgia, though, says this is not necessarily bad news for the country’s kvevri winemakers. John Wurdeman, owner of the Pheasant’s Tears winery, believes kvevri aficionados should stay true to the terra-cotta vessels’ reputation for earthy-tasting wines of small volume, but high quality. Said Wurdeman: “It’s a niche product for a niche market.”

via Georgia: Betting on Clay and Kvevri for Entrée into International Wine Markets | EurasiaNet.org.

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