Georgia: History

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

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Wine is integral to the culture of Georgia, a small country whose history is a succession of struggles for independence from such empires as the Assyrian, Roman, Persian, Byzantine, Arabian, Osmanli, Russian, and, latterly, the Soviet Union. Throughout all these struggles, Georgia retains a strong identity, including its own language, customs, Christian religion, and a national reverence for wine which persisted for more than 8,000 years and which is kept alive in Georgia’s famous supra, a feast punctuated by traditional dancing, singing, and toasts, lubricated with jugfuls of wine and moderated by the tamada or toastmaster. Archaeology provides ample evidence that viticulture was long an important occupation of the Georgian people and wine drinking an integral part of their culture. Grape seeds, special knives for vine pruning, stone presses, pottery, silver and gold vessels for wine, and jewellery depicting grape bunches and leaves dating back to between 6000 and 5000 bc have all been unearthed in Shulaveris-Gora and nearby Neolithic sites in Lower Kartli. Rich ornaments of fruited vines are found on the walls of ancient temples in Samtavisi, Ikalto, Zarzma, Gelati, Nikortsminda, and Vardzia. According to Apollonius of Rhodes (3rd century bc), the Argonauts, having arrived in the capital of Kolkhida-Aia (nowadays Kutaisi) centuries earlier, saw twining vines and a fountain of wine in the shade of the trees.