How to produce Qvevri wine?

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Kvevris, Tonamphoren zur Weinherstellung, im Garten von Inavarde Wines in Kachetien, Georgien.

How to produce Qvevri wine?

Since the groundbreaking archaeological finds from 2017, it is, at least according to today’s knowledge, clear: The area of today’s Georgia is the cradle of wine. Nowhere else on earth older traces of wine production have been found so far than in the small South Caucasian country.

For at least 8,000 years, people in this region have been processing grapes into wine in clay amphorae buried in the ground. In this article you will learn how this works, what needs to be taken into account, and what the advantages of amphora wine are.

Hygiene in the cellar, caution when pressing

Most of what makes the wine as a final product happens in the vineyard. We will go into this in another article. Today, we’ll focus on what happens after the grape harvest.

In the wine cellar, there is one top priority and this is hygiene. Not only the Kvevris must be meticulously cleaned, but also all other equipment used such as the press or the hoses.

When the grapes arrive in the cellar – and this must happen as quickly as possible – they are immediately crushed or pressed. Here, quality takes precedence over quantity: it is important to press the grapes gently, with moderate pressure, and to destroy as few grape seeds as possible so as not to release undesirable substances and aromas.

The mash is directed into the Kvevri, which is filled to a maximum of 80%. Indeed, if too much mash is poured into the Kvevri, it can foam over and overflow during the fermentation process.

Mash in a Georgian Kvevri during fermentation.

Alcoholic fermentation with natural yeast species

After 1-2 days, the alcoholic fermentation begins. During this process, yeast cultures convert the sugar present in the mash into CO2 and alcohol. Some winemakers trigger this process by adding selected yeasts from the laboratory. Our vineyard is so healthy that it perfectly works with the yeasts that exist in our vineyard and thus on our grapes naturally. This can be different cultures every year, which always gives the wine a different note.

During about a week the so-called intensive fermentation takes place. The mash heats up, large amounts of carbon dioxide visibly rise as foam, it fizzes and bubbles in the Kvevri. The intensity then decreases, the process passes into slow fermentation. Throughout the alcoholic fermentation, we regularly press down the marc cap with a wooden tool, so that the cap does not dry out and oxidize. In this way we also regulate the temperature and activate the yeasts.

At a certain point, when the alcohol content reaches a certain level or when there is no more sugar, the yeast cultures die and sink to the bottom of the Kvevri.

Alcoholic fermentation is now complete and there is already wine in the Kvevri. However, the process continues. Next, the winemaker decides whether to continue leaving the wine on the mash or part of it, or to separate it. In our example, we decide to do the latter and pump out the liquid with a wine pump. We put the wine into a smaller Kvevri, which we fill completely

A Kvevri filled with Saperavi red wine

It's time for the malolactic fermentation

Now we close the Kvevri, but not hermetically, because it is important that fermentation gases can continue to escape. After the alcoholic fermentation, the biological acid degradation begins, also known as malolactic fermentation. During malolactic fermentation, the somewhat harsh malic acid is converted into milder lactic acid, and carbon dioxide is released.

While in Europe malolactic fermentation is used almost only in red wines and is deliberately suppressed in white wines to retain acidity, we let it happen both in our red and white wines.

Kvevri, a Georgian clay amphora, closed with a glass cover.

Once no more carbon dioxide escapes, we hermetically seal the Kvevri until the following spring.

During winter, the wine has undergone a natural filtration and all sediments now accumulate at the bottom of the Kvevri. We pump the wine again into another vessel, where we let it mature for at least another six months before bottling it. For red wines, we even give the wine one to two years.

Kvevri wines are healthier and more ecological

The Kvevri production method offers various advantages. Since the vessel is buried in the ground, constant temperatures prevail naturally. Energy-consuming heating and cooling devices are not necessary, which is why Kvevri wines are more ecological. The constant temperatures as well as the porous nature and conical shape of the amphorae have a highly positive effect on the wine,

The comparatively long contact with the mash, during which many tannins are released, ensures that the wine remains stable in a natural way – without us having to add any substances to it for preservation.

In spring, winemakers open their Kvevris, after the Georgian clay amphorae were closed during winter.

The fact that we ferment not only our red wines but also our white wines on the mash gives them colors that are mostly unknown in Europe or in the US: The spectrum ranges from amber to orange and almost to brown. However, not only colorants, but also a broad spectrum of tannins and other phenols such as the very healthy procyanidins end up in the wine.

Conclusion: For the European palate, Kakhetian wines, especially the white ones, may initially take some getting used to. Once you fall in love with them, however, there is usually no turning back. Kakhetian Kvevri wines are more aromatic, complex, exciting, and thanks to their naturalness, much healthier than the European and industrially produced wines.

Inavarde Saperavi dry red wine from Kvevri 2021

Saperavi Kvevri 2021

Dry red wine, rich in tannins, excellent with meat dishes.

Wine box Inavarde

Box of Saperavi Kvevri 2021

Kakhetian bomb: Six bottles of our most popular red wine.