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Lado Uzunashvili is a Georgian winemaker based in Adelaide. But it might be more accurate to call him an Australian citizen and a flying winemaker. Whichever way you look at it, he has incredible insight into the world’s oldest wine producing nation. And he is keen to see the Australian wine industry benefit from Georgian viticulture and winemaking knowledge. Nathan Gogoll reports.

Lado Uzunashvili is prepared to share his Georgian wine knowledge here in Australia.

Lado Uzunashvili is prepared to share his Georgian wine knowledge here in Australia.

“Georgian viticulture is now working with 525 varieties and about 45 are commercially grown. There is great history to be drawn up and matched to modern practices and technology,” Lado said.
“In the New World, dense planting is new thinking. But in Georgia it is traditional to plant up to 11,000 vines per hectare. As long as there was enough room for the horse to walk between the rows. There is some thinking that spur pruning can give growers more control – no, no, no. We know from experience with cane pruning, the percentage of mistake is minimal. You can’t always follow what has been done in other regions, while in some cases the French structure is working there are other options to look at for Australian conditions.“Back in Georgia, one big company forced their Saperavi vines into spur pruning, but Saperavi refused it 100 per cent. The quality of fruit and the health of the vines, many things that had an influence were better when the vines were cane pruned.
“There is a saying about grapegrowers ‘of those who really love wine, the growers with the least fruit are the happiest’. You can find the same mentality today in Australia wherever the primary focus, whatever the vinification process, is on the quality of the fruit.”

“Today’s ways of vinification allow you to take the great knowledge of the process, but be flexible in your approach. The traditional Georgian way of doing things offers huge potential to draw on a great history of winemaking, where the techniques have been authentic and untouched,” Lado said.
“If we make these styles of wines here in Australia, I don’t think the resulting wines will be as strange to people’s palates as some people think. But we need proper cultivators of the ideas and the flavours of the wine.”
Here in Australia, Lado said we have plenty of winemakers experimenting with techniques he said have already been refined and perfected in Georgia. He’s seen virtually the same techniques described by Aussie winemakers as either full skin contact, or extended maceration.
As a result, Lado predicts a big future for both Georgian winemaking techniques as well as additional Georgian varieties here in Australia.
“It will be a harder road to match the white wine styles, but I’m sure it will be achievable.”
And he’s ready to help.
“I’ll be looking for proper partners to set up a winery using the techniques known to Georgian winemakers for the past 8000 years. I’m excited to trial winemaking in Australia that can draw on these traditional Georgian methods and to see the resulting wines side-by-side with how they are already being made here in Australia.”
Lado says the current demand for imported wine shows there is a consumer demand for styles and varieties not usually produced here at home.
“Just a few years ago Australia imported only five or six per cent of its total wine consumption, today it is more like one-in-four bottles. To take some of that share back we need to make the styles of wine that imports have attracted consumers to.
“We will end up diversifying what we’re doing and diversifying the Australian wine offer as a result.”

One area Lado is keen to see more discussion is fermenting in clay vessels. He is adamant the current industry adoption of the term amphora should be replaced with the correct Georgian name, Qvevri (Kvevri). Amphorae have handles and were traditionally used for transporting wine; Qvevri are larger vessels, fixed in place for wine production – both fermentation and storage.
“Australian winemakers have a big issue with the confusion of amphora, which were for moving wine around, and Qvevri, which are static,” Lado said.
“I think Australia is ready to take delivery of properly-made Qvevri, which are made from the right clay and with the right architecture. You have to be looking at the chemical combinations of the clay you use, even how it is kilned. And then you have to match the size and shape to the temperatures of the ferments you are working with. Everything makes a difference and every case needs to be studied.
“In Georgia you find Qvevri up to 15 cubic metres in capacity, but the size needs to be match to the temperature control of the ferment.
“There are excellent Georgian producers of Qvevri and it doesn’t cost that much to get them here.”

“I truly and honestly believe there is going to be a cultural education of the industry. Because at the moment, I think the winemakers are not as ready for this as Australian wine drinkers are,” Lado said. “But it won’t take long to find the balance, or combination of the traditional Georgian techniques with and Australian-made approach. Research has shown Australians have the most open approach to different wine styles and this tells me there is great potential.”
Lado has been living in Australia for the past 19 year and he thinks he has at least “part-adopted the local way of thinking”. So he’s perfectly placed to bring the history of Georgian winemaking into the modern Australian methods.
“Winemakers are doing all sorts of experiments with skin contact and ferments in clay vessels, but with all respect to them, they are not authentic.
“If you look at winemaking techniques today, about 80 per cent of all of these can be observed in Georgian traditions. Sure, they are modernised versions of the ancient techniques, but I don’t think this makes us any more clever today than our ancestors were in some ways they were doing a better job of looking after their production and their environments in the past. Genius is often in the simplest version and when that is achieved there isn’t any marketing that needs to be created – you have the facts and the history and the process to talk about.”
He said just a bit of understanding of Georgian winemaking, where these techniques have been perfected and are still in use, will make the world of difference.
“Unless we know where we come from we don’t know where we stand. I’m absolutely confident with the proper information, properly set up winemakers will be able to draw on all the history that is not exclusively Georgian, but belongs to all winemakers.”
However, Lado believes the range of Australian varieties that can be successfully made on skins in Qvevri could be quite limited.
“Dry-grown Grenache would be the first I would look at, some Shiraz as well. But I would not even look at Cabernet for long maceration. White varieties will be more difficult but I would look at the Georgian variety Chinuri as well as Sylvaner, maybe, and Verdelho given its background with fortified wine. But the experimenting won’t take long because we already know so much about the biomechanical make-up of the varieties.”

This post has been adapted from an article first published in the May 2015 Grapegrower & Winemaker magazine. Not a subscriber? Visit www.winetitles.com.au/gwm/subscribe/ or email subs@winetitles.com.au to access the wine industry’s leading monthly information resource package.
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