One of the world’s oldest winemaking countries, Georgia rests heavily on tradition. It’s customary for men to make wine and for their wives to pour and serve food without even being introduced. But Keto Ninidze has made her mark on the wine industry here, as well as in the greater wine world.
Beyond breaking boundaries by simply producing wine, she brings attention to women and domestic violence through controversial wine labels that feature images of naked women. A former journalist, she co-authored the book A Gently Fermenting Revolution: Women in the Georgian Wine Business and has been a pioneer for wine tourism to Georgia’s Samegrelo region.
Why did you want to become a winemaker?
I graduated with a degree in philology from Tbilisi State University and for many years worked as a researcher of Georgian literature. When my husband started his wine business, I was also very much interested in wine but had a feeling that I couldn’t enter that magic space, couldn’t gain legitimacy because I had no education, no family tradition as everybody else does in Georgia, and was a woman.
It happened that the Georgian Wine Club asked me to write about wine. That same year, after hard, intensive research and writing experience, I decided to experiment with my with own wine, Oda Naked Ojaleshi.
“My winery was one of the new-wave pioneers in Samegrelo, which made its contribution to start popularizing local grapes.” –Keto Nindize
What is your proudest achievement?
The Samegrelo region of Western Georgia, where we live, once had great winemaking traditions. Sadly, it has been forgotten since the 19th century, when fungal diseases attacked its vineyards, and then, during the Soviet era, the state decided that vineyards in Samegrelo would be a great headache for their big industry.
As a result, [the] winemaking practice lost biodiversity of our local vines, of which there were 55 indigenous, regional varieties. Samegrelo, as a wine region, was almost deleted from the wine map.
My winery, Oda, was one of the new-wave pioneers in Samegrelo, which made its contribution to start popularizing local grapes, and Samegrelo as a vine-growing and wine-tourism region of Georgia.
What was the most surprising experience or encounter you’ve had as a female winemaker?
I deeply realize that leading a family winery in such a conservative culture like Georgia, where both family and wine stand on patriarchal value structures, isn’t an easy job at all.
But on the other hand…some sexist attitudes—for example, when people say that wine made by women is not worthy to drink, or that men have to restrict women’s entrance into the winery or [only let them] wash kvevri, or we are just the exotic marketing projects of our husbands, fathers or brothers— make me, as a human being, always surprised.
What is your advice to someone interested in entering the wine business?
I would tell them to listen to nature. There’s no greater value in wine than nature, and at the opposition between nature and culture, the latter will always fail. Thus, we have to turn this relationship into cooperation and not consumption. The most difficult thing is to find the border between these two, but the main purpose of every grower has to be finding that very point.