Rtveli period is a truly special one. It is tantamount to something holy, and we Georgians celebrate it with great joy.
Rtveli is a period requiring a lot of preparation and a great deal of work for the locals. Before the harvest starts, it is necessary to painstakingly clean the Qvevris (clay vessels used for wine fermentation) and tidy up the working space in the wine cellars.
Of course, if you’re experiencing Rtveli as a guest or a tourist, you’re going to spend a happy, sunny day full of joy that will inevitably end with a feast. Whether you experience a Kakhetian, Kartlian, Imeretian, Gurian, Ajarian, Megrelian, Rachan, or Lechkhumian supra, you will find the best dishes spread out in front of you.
The weather is almost always good during the Rtveli period, which is no coincidence. Since ancient times, Georgians have determined the date of Rtveli by observing the moon, and they have rarely, if ever, made a mistake with the weather. The quality of the wine is also dependent on the amount of sugar in the grape, and correspondingly, the amount of sunlight the vine gets, so different areas harvest at different times.
That is why you often hear the phrase, “there is a lot of sun in good wine” among Georgians.
Rtveli in Georgia starts in September with Rkatsiteli harvest in Kakheti and ends in December with Chkhaveri harvest in Guria and Ajara.
As not only wineries, but also regular families make wine in Georgia, many relatives come together for the Rtveli. The picking process starts early in the morning with all the family members harvesting sun-drenched bunches of grapes in the long vineyard rows all together.
It is essential for the picked grapes to be pressed the very same day, so that they don’t spoil overnight. The tool used to press the grapes is called a satsnakheli. It can be made of wood, clay, or even stone.
The grapes in the satsnakheli are traditionally pressed by foot. Even though there are now automatic and manual presses available, Georgian farmers believe that foot-pressed wine has a completely different flavor. Do you know why? Pressing the wine by foot does not damage the klerti (stems). If the unripe stems break, the wine is going to be tangy, astringent, and less pleasant to drink.
After the harvest, stomping the grapes and accommodating the grape must in qvevri or barrels, the host will set out a supra. If you are in the East, the restless hostesses will offer you to start your meal with freshly baked tone bread, while in the West you will get a steaming, hot khachapuri.
After this, the work is not done. It is the start of a new process – the important task of setting up and caring for the machari, or new wine. The fermenting grape must has to be stirred several times a day to saturate it with oxygen, until it ferments, and keeping the right temperature in the cellar is also crucial.
The most emotional moment comes in spring, when the winemakers finally taste how good the last year’s wine has turned out.
Georgia has seen at least 8000 vintages. Through millennia winemaking has become an essential part of Georgian national identity. If your visit coincides with Rtveli period, you have to do your best to take part in it.