“Georgian wines, the great ones, are in demand. France, Italy, London, Japan and increasingly New York are importing. Japan is super nuts over wines from this country” Alice Feiring
Pheasant’s Tears estate vineyard plantings flow down the slopes of the eastern Georgian Kiziqi province overlooking the Alazani Valley and snow-capped Caucasus Mountains. The site itself is located near the village of Tibaani in the shadow of the 6th century monastery of St. Stephen. The terroir here is special, with long summer sunlight of over 14 hours a day and evenings cooled by the breeze from the gorge. The soil is composed of limestone, chalk and dark clay on the surface, whilst a metre deep lies a sandy loam mixed with gravel, providing excellent drainage for the vines’ root systems.
Winemaker Gela Patalashvili grew up in a farming family learning from their grandparents and parents how to grow grapes and make wine in qvevri. Gela, along with John Wurdeman, are helping to preserve the traditional winemaking techniques that have made Georgia a home for viticulture since 6,000 BC.
Qvevri were the first vessels ever to be used for wine fermentation, with archaeological finds dating back to 6000 BC. Qvevri are clay vessels lined with beeswax and completely buried under the ground where the temperature stays even throughout the year, allowing the wines to ferment in the natural coolness of the earth. Pheasant’s Tears qvevri vary in age but some date back to the mid 19th century. The cellar is built in the vineyard itself to minimize the damage to the grapes in transportation, allowing harvesting and process before the heat of the day takes effect. In accordance with Georgian traditional winemaking methods, the ripest of stems are added to the grape skins, juice and pits, for both reds and whites. The maceration time depends on varietal and the size of the qvevri and varies between 3 weeks and 6 months.
Pheasant’s Tears are also committed to seeking out rare indigenous varietals, of which Georgia has over 500 species of grape, many limited to tiny micro-regions at specific elevations and most unfamiliar even to the most knowledgeable Georgian wine consumer.
And as to the name of the winery – the pheasant is a bird believed to have originated in Georgia (The Latin is something like pheasantas colhidas, and Colhida is an ancient name for Georgia). In the region of Kizikh there is an old saying that only the finest of wines can compel a pheasant to cry tears of joy!
Poliphonia: “Harmonic chaos” is how John Wurdeman describes this blend of 417 indigenous Georgian grapes.
‘Polyphony or Poliphonia is a mixed planted field with 1-10 vines of each of the 417 varieties. This micro-vineyard is harvested in 3-4 sweeps, as the grapes all ripen at different times, so one ends up with white, golden greenish, blue, purple, grey-pink grapes at various level of ripeness that eventually finish co-fermenting together!
90% destemmed 10% whole bunch, everything is naturally fermented in buried qvevri, after a five day maceration the must is pressed.
The wine itself is delicious, more like a dark rose than a red, with sappy fruit and a nice herbal twist. The idea behind it is lovely – this is, of course, about conserving and promoting autochthonous grapes, providing a raison (raisin?) d’etre for them to be replanted. The wine also riffs energetically on the idea of Georgian folk song; different voices at different pitches and interval coming together in tonal fusion. With wine as with music you have to surrender to it to cultivate the message. Georgian wine seems atonal if we can extend that metaphor; oddly coloured and oddly shaped texturally, and then with the food and the occasion it makes perfect sense, as if you were shaping around the wine.’ Doug Wregg