Qvevri or Kvevri – also known as Tchuri in Georgia ‘A country located at the intersection of Eastern Europe and Western Asia’. Qvevri is a large vessel shaped like a jar amphora without handles. Some examples of these large amphora clay jars were found buried in the ground in the South Caucasus region, dating back to the Neolithic period (ca. 6,000 to 5,000 BC). Evidence from organic compounds absorbed into the vessel, grape pollen, and other remains associated with one of the earlier potteries made. These vessels were used to serve as preserving and storing food and drink.
The clay vessel can range in size from 20 litres up to 10,000 litres. 1,000 litres to 2,000 litres are the most popular. Qvevri winemaking is a family tradition in Georgia and here all the family, neighbours, and friends join in harvesting and winemaking.
The production of Qvevri is very labour-intensive and only a few skilled and patient potters continued such production. The Qvevri is produced by hand, no clay wheels or machinery are used. The clay used is direct from the earth after it has been cleaned from any stones or other residues it is patiently formed evenly into a dough. The vessel making starts from the thick solid base, after the base is finished the clay is added gradually in a circular layer, leaving it to dry. This process is repeated till the top part maintains the right shape, the vessel is left to dry always in a cool shaded place and sometimes covered in sheets.
A brick large tunnel is used to fire Qvevri, the Qvevri are transferred by hand on tyres or with the help of cattle and carriages. All the Qvevri are placed gently in the brick tunnel. The brick tunnel is the then closed from the front entrance by building a brick wall the same as the structure, some openings below are left open to insert the wood and light the fire, this process is done slowly but with high temperatures meanwhile people take it in turns day and night making sure that the fire is kept burning. When this process is ready, they are left to cool for a couple of days.
The clay vessels are then lined with limestone from the outside with a steel wire going around gradually on its surface for more strength. Beeswax is used for the inside of the vessel as an antiseptic property this also protects and prevents in case any invisible cracks are formed. The vessel is now ready to be buried underground below the level floor or in basements cellars. This is normally found beneath the house of the winemaker, usually, this has no windows at all to keep the temperature constant and low. The Qvevri outlet top part is located at the brick or stone surface usually surrounded by a brick wall. The top opening is covered by glass to keep the content visible while the fermentation process starts.
Qvevri is used for the fermentation and storing of wine. The grapes are hand-picked and crushed, the juice is transferred in the Qvevri with skins, some stems, and pips. The fermentation starts after a couple of days and the cap is visible. The punching down method is used to release colour and flavours to the wine juice, moving the cap downwards during fermentation. Punching down is done as often depending on the winemaker’s choice. After the fermentation of the fruit is ready, sediments rest in the bottom of the vessel. The fine lees form a layer on top of the sediments. The grape sediments and lees have no negative impact on the wine since the vessel has a unique shape and a particularly pointed bottom, the wine above is completely clear. The wine is usually left to age for a minimum of 6 months before bottling, this is a winemaker’s choice depending on the grape variety or style a winemaker wants to achieve. The vessel top is sealed tightly with a stone top and a cloth or a layer of clay, this is then covered with sand for controlling temperature, light, and any air having contact with the wine. These wines have the potential to age for months or even years.
White wine from Qvevri method has an amber colour, 'orange' nothing like the classic white wine we normally find and are used to drinking. This amber colour is due to skin contact during the winemaking and the method used. Wine often is fermented to dry with a medium to a high level of alcohol, full-bodied, gentle tannins and moderate acidity. On the nose, it is quite nutty and spiced. Wine often has some oxidative notes, once the wine is left aerated it will represent a riper melon, walnuts, dried apricot and honeyed taste. The wine can be well paired with hard and semi-hard cheeses, Walnuts. Caramelized roasted vegetables. Curried rice. Lamb and pumpkin dishes.
Red wines from Qvevri method are deep and rich, retaining good fresh acidity. Tannins are high but smooth with ageing. On the nose leather, earth, and vivid red berries are pronounced. These wines represent a rustic example with ample cooked fruit, smoke, wild mushroom, and herbaceous taste. This wine can be well paired with coloured peppers, aubergines, and wild mushrooms particularly grilled or roasted. beef steaks, meat stews. Peppered sauces or red fruit sauces.
Located in Malta, EU, I had the chance to taste some of the Qvevri method wines made on the island, at Mar Casar Natural wines. The winemaker makes premium quality natural, chemical-free, vegan wines. Eco-friendly viticulture is practised with a holistic approach. The Qvevri used here are made with Caucasian clay containing gold, silver, and magnesium. The contribution to the wine in Qvevri winemaking is having a perfect product and natural wine with distinctive characteristics.
Qvevri is found to be one of the best vessels for fermenting and ageing wine in a sustainable and eco-friendly way. Achieving balance and stability, temperatures vary are very minimal during winter and summer, obtaining natural storage for maturation and avoiding costly equipment, cooling systems, and other machinery. The contribution to the wine is characterised by its natural element, unique style with distinguished aromas and flavours and ageing potential. However, the Qvevri unique vessel, its impact on the wine, and all the positive natural factors have not been given adequate attention and studies are not yet taken further.