Traditional winemaking tools are still in use today in the country of Georgia. In contrast to California’s modern winemaking machinery, and even to the 18th and 19th century tools in our Collection at the Wine History Project of San Luis Obispo County, these wooden pitchforks, gourds, slabs of cherry bark, and other tools are still in use when it comes to winemaking using qvevris.
According to archaeological evidence, Georgian wines have over 8,000 years of history and the qvevri is the country’s most important and best-known winemaking vessel. It is used for wine fermentation, maturation, and storage, and is an example of one of the world’s earliest examples of winemaking technology. It is a large, egg-shaped clay vessel with a narrow bottom and a wide mouth at the top. Scholars say the word qvevri comes from kvevri, which means “that which is buried” or “something dug deep in the ground.” Qvevri are different in shape and function from clay amphorae used elsewhere; they are uniquely Georgian vessels.
According to the Fifth Annual Ghvino Forum of America conference website, ghvino is the Georgian word for “wine,” and is widely thought to be the origin of the term.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), is a specialized agency of the United Nations aimed at promoting world peace and security through international cooperation in education, arts, sciences and culture. A remarkable event occurred in 2013. UNESCO added the winemaking in qvevri to its catalog of humanity’s intangible cultural heritage because it is so embedded in Georgian culture. This was the first time a wine heritage culture was so recognized by UNESCO.
A Qvevri – Too Difficult to Clean? A Lot of Hard Work.
Citron-shaped amphoras, some describe them as egg-shaped, are made by hand from local clays and fired in hand crafted kilns built around each vessel. These clay vessels identified by Georgians as qvevri are viewed by many as the original container for making wine in the Caucasus region. Qvevri are large earthenware (terra cotta) pots in which the Georgians have made their wine for at least 8,000 vintages. These historical vessels are used for fermentation and storage instead of wooden barrels in traditional wineries in the country of Georgia are a living tradition.
Once they are fired in a kiln, the vessels need to be sealed and sanitized on the inside with propolis. This is a resin-like material made by bees from the buds of poplar and cone-bearing trees. The vessels are strengthened with a lime paint or concrete on the outside. Many believe the earliest qvevri were stored above ground, now they are usually sunk in the ground, or buried with only the rim visible.
In between harvests, the qvevri require an intense cleaning. Water is used to hose down the interior with one hand while scrubbing the interior side to side. It is essential to prevent bacteria from forming so every crevice must be scrubbed. Many different tools may be used to scrape out the inside of the qvevri.
The qvevri typically range in size from 100 liters to 3,500 liters. The largest qvevri are big enough for a person to climb into which is what the winemaker does when it is time to clean a vessel. The winemaker of the qvevri cleans the interior and then seals the inside walls with beeswax.
Wine plays a vital role in everyday life and in the celebration of both secular and religious events and rituals. Wine and vines are frequently captured in Georgian songs and stories. The manufacture of qvevri in village communities and the experience of qvevri wine making are passed down by families. Unique varieties of grapes are grown in these small village communities and both the harvesting and winemaking activities are a communal event. Most farmers and city dwellers use the method of making wine in qvevris where the juice is poured into the vessel, along with the grape skins, stalks and pips and fermented for several months. Wine cellars, called marani, are considered the holiest place in the family home, according to an inscription in 2013 (8.com) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity published by UNESCO.
Several Different Types of Tools for Cleaning the Georgian Qvevri Based on Tradition
A brush-like tool made from the branches of juniper bushes. Like the krazana, this tool is used inside a large capacity qvevri, which a worker climbs inside to clean.
An absorbent cloth attached to a wooden pole that soaks up any water remaining at the bottom of a qvevri after it has been thoroughly rinsed and emptied.
A long wooden board with a hole in its center used in conjunction with a long-handled sartskhi or orchkhushi tool. After placing the cleaning tool in the qvevri, a worker lays the ochiora across the opening of a buried qvevri, fitting the tool’s handle through the board’s center hole. Two additional holes on opposite ends of the board let workers stake it into the ground to hold it secure. The board protects the rim of the qvevri from being damaged by the handles of cleaning tools.
A scrubbing tool made from a bundle of corn husks bound together and lashed to a wooden pole like a stiff mop.
A scrubbing tool with a long handle that can reach deep inside the qvevri. The head of the tool is a block made from layers of pressed cherry tree bark.
A brush-like tool made from the stiff twigs of the butcher’s-broom plant, an evergreen that grows throughout Georgia. The tagvisara can come with or without a wooden pole attached. Workers use the handheld version when they climb inside a large qvevri.