Georgia\u2019s 8,000-year-old wine history makes it one of the oldest winemaking countries in the world. These days, it\u2019s also all anyone in certain corners of wine can talk about.\r\n\r\n\u201cWith the interest in natural wine on the rise in the U.S., Georgian\u2026wine is quickly finding its way onto the shelves of local retailers and then into the hands of their customer base,\u201d says Elaina Leibee, lead sommelier at Esters Wine Shop & Bar, wine director at Erewhon Market and wine buyer for Canyon Gourmet, all in the Los Angeles area.\r\n\r\nGeorgian wines feature hundreds of indigenous grapes, many of which are made using clay amphora called qvevri, skin-contact fermentation and naturally occurring yeast. These are among the low-intervention principles embraced by contemporary natural winemakers worldwide. In many ways, Georgia may be the spiritual home of natural wine.\r\n\r\n\u201cI buy for five retail locations and simply cannot keep this style of wine in stock,\u201d says Leibee, who is dedicated to small producers practicing minimal intervention viticulture. \u201cGeorgian qvevri wines tick all these boxes.\u201d\r\n\r\n\r\nWine in Georgia\r\nRoughly the size of West Virginia, Georgia is bordered by the Black Sea to the west, Russia to the north, Turkey and Armenia to the south and Azerbaijan to the east.\r\n\r\nThere are more than 500 identified indigenous Georgian grapes, 45 of which are regularly used for commercial wine production. The most widely grown red grapes are Saperavi, Takveri, Shavkapito, Chkhaveri, Ojaleshi, Aleksandrouli and Aladasturi, while the most common white varieties are Rkatsiteli, Mtsvane, Chinuri, Kisi, Tsitska and Tsolikouri.\r\n\r\nWhat Leibee finds most remarkable about Georgian wine is its survival through the millennia. \u201cGeorgians have been conquered numerous times through the ages, and yet their dedication to the vine and qvevri wine\u2026is woven into the fabric of their daily lives and has not been lost,\u201d she says. \u201cEven when Georgians were under the rule of Soviet occupation and the demand for industrial winemaking became a priority for Russian consumption, the family winery prevailed. Just as a family would grow a garden, each family grows grapes and makes their own wine for the year.\u201d\r\n\r\nAlthough Georgian wines are not nearly as common in the U.S. as those of France or Italy, they\u2019re on the rise. Georgia exports wine to 53 countries. In the first six months of 2019, U.S. imports reportedly increased 88% over the same period in 2018.\r\nClay Aging\r\nThe Georgian winemaking industry utilizes the same techniques used since around 6000 BC. Winemakers fill qvevri, which vary in size from 20 to 10,000 liters, with grape skins, seeds, juice and the natural yeast on the grapes. All combine to ferment and create wine.\r\n\r\nThis technique, handed down through generations, is so ingrained in Georgian culture that in 2013 it was added to UNESCO\u2019s list of customs that make up the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.\r\n\r\nWine is usually fermented in large qvevri, then transferred to smaller vessels to age. It\u2019s similar to wine fermented in large stainless-steel tanks and then aged in oak barrels.\r\n\r\nWhile many of the qvevri used today have been in service for many decades, there\u2019s still a thriving \u201cindustry\u201d where artisans hand-mold them using local clay and then dry them in giant wood-fired kilns.\r\n\r\nAs demands for natural wine and orange wine have grown around the world, the same type of qvevri that cost about 100 euros ($110) some 15 years ago now fetches more than 1,000 euros ($1,103). Wineries can wait up to two years for qvevri.\r\n\r\nThere are slight differences in the qvevri made in the east and west of the country. Those made in the east have wide tops, while those from the west feature narrower openings. The clay composition also varies from east to west. Eastern vessels are redder, while qvevri from western clay have more of a yellow cast.\r\n\r\nThis won\u2019t be obvious to most visitors to Georgian wineries, as the majority of the vessels are buried beneath the wineries, with just the tops rising above the winery floor. This maintains a consistent temperature during fermentation, which alleviates the need for temperature control often necessary with stainless steel tanks.\r\n\r\n\r\nWild Yeast\r\nGeorgian winemakers clean and re-line their qvevri between uses. From there, naturally occurring yeasts from the grape skins cause fermentation, and the tannins present in grape seeds and skins impede spoilage. The qvevri\u2019s egg-like shape causes yeast and sediment to fall to the bottom, while wine circulates within the more spacious middle area.\r\n\r\nDuring fermentation, qvevri are loosely covered with glass discs that allow for the release of carbon dioxide. During further aging, however, the tops are sealed with additional beeswax to hinder oxidation.\r\nSkin Contact\r\nThe processes of whole-bunch pressing, including stems, and extended skin contact contribute to a fuller texture on the palate. Aging in clay without filtration before bottling can also add a soft grittiness to the mouthfeel.\r\n\r\nWhite wines fermented and then aged on grape skins will have darker color than expected, which range from deep straw and medium gold to amber or even orange. Wines may be cloudy, which could be considered a sign of a potential flaw if produced in a more \u201cmodern\u201d manner, but it can be expected in a natural wine.\r\n\r\nMany of Georgia\u2019s white grapes produce aromatic wines to begin with, but the bouquet and flavor profile can be much more complex due to the winemaking process. The nose will vary, but one can expect notes of peach, apricot, flint, leather, smoke, toasted nuts and roasted meat.\r\n\r\nThese notes will be found on the palate as well, on top of bright fruit flavors like grapefruit, lemon and green apple. Some of the same aromatic notes may also be found in red wines, bolstered by tart fruit flavors like cranberry and pomegranate, or deeper tones of black currant and cassis.