Baia's Wine, in collaboration with Cardano Foundation, is preserving the 8,000 years history of the Georgian wine industry.
Baia Abuladze is a young 25-year-old winemaker who is making some of Georgia’s buzziest wines. Baia, her sister (Gvanca Abuladze) and their family in Obcha, Imereti in the west of Georgia, are bringing new life and energy to a region with a storied history. Baia’s and Gvanca’s wines all centre around indigenous grape varieties of Imereti. She produces her wines using the traditional method of Qvevri, where large earthen clay jars are buried under the ground.
Georgia: The Homeland of Wine
The country of Georgia is now considered the birthplace of wine as recently unearthed winemaking artefacts are discovered to be more than 8,000 years old — these are the oldest winemaking remains in the world! And culturally speaking, specific regions within Georgia such as Kakheti, Kartli, Imereti, Racha-Lechkhumi, Svaneti and Abkhazia are famous winemaking locations; legends and recorded history document centuries of continual winemaking. Vessels discovered in the Anaklia region have proven Georgians were making wine in the Neolithic era in a manner that would be familiar even today.
There are about 450 unique vine varieties in Georgia and most of these would not be familiar to western palates. Unfortunately, during the Soviet period when winemakers focused on massive production, some rare varieties that needed special care were abandoned and are now mostly extinct.
After the fall of communism in Georgia, many winemakers in the country started a retrospective of wine grapes and winemaking techniques that had made Georgia so unique in the winemaking world to begin with. In 2013, a couple of maverick Georgian winemakers (such as Baia Abuladze and her sister Gvantsa) started to rediscover the rarest species of wine grapes in Western Georgia and to focus on bio winemaking techniques. The rediscovery process continues until today: Baia Abuladze, together with her winemaking family, stands among those Georgian winemakers who work to identify and classify local vine varieties.
Baia and her younger siblings—Gvantsa (Sister) and Giorgi (Brother)—were born and raised in Obcha in a friendly, traditional family of winemakers. They spent a happy childhood watching how their parents and grandparents were involved in diverse winemaking processes. As children, they were also allowed to arrange their own small farm with vineyards, greens, household animals and plantations, and spent their free time exploring the wonders of nature. At that time, the Abuladze family traditionally produced wine using Imeretian technology — the maceration process (soaking the juice of the grapes with the skins and sometimes also the stems) was shorter and only 5–10% of grape skin is used during fermentation in Qvevri.
After graduating from college, Baia moved to the capital city of Tbilisi to continue her studies. However, she did not find the intense urban life interesting and returned to her small hometown of Obcha after completing agronomical university. Since then, she has been actively promoting the wines of Imereti and growing her family winery.
New Life for the Winery
In 2015, the Abuladze’s family business participated in a local agricultural startup competition and won a grant of GEL 5000 (about $2,000 USD at the time). They used the grant to buy a used wine bottling machine, which helped them to increase the production and quality of their wines. At the same time, Baia officially established the new wine company and the Baia’s Wine label was born. Accompanied by her younger siblings, she completely remodelled the winery’s production structure and shifted its focus to organic winemaking techniques. The family’s attitude towards each step of winemaking changed: the maceration process increased up to 3 months, each Qvevri was treated individually — more time was aligned for degustation to decide whether the liquid is ready for further treatment; and the decision about what percent of the grape skin is used during fermentation and ageing was given priority.
Next came a new chapter for wines from Imereti. They studied each of their varieties and their terroir. Their first organic wine — a white dry Tsolikouri was bottled in 2015. Soon afterwards, the women-empowered family business became one of the first organic wine producers in Bagdati Municipality.
Despite the family’s winemaking experience, the first steps for Baia and her siblings were not easy. Baia’s passion was to create a sustainable vineyard and to learn everything possible about a winemaking process that reflected nature. Within that mission, her younger sister Gvantsa travelled to Mosel, Germany, as an intern to one of the best biodynamic wineries in order to obtain knowledge and a deep dive into the magic process of making organic wine.
The grant that Baia won allowed the family to bottle a higher standard wine, but she could not afford to buy a car to deliver those first bottles to Tbilisi. With her siblings’ help, she was able to carry them by train and deliver to each distribution channel by Tbilisi public transport. Amazingly, those bottles turned into a massive success: restaurants and wine bars ordered more bottles immediately and customers gave great feedback. Soon afterwards, the family business became part of the Georgian Farmers’ Association, which, in its turn, brought publicity in popular TV shows, as well as print media.
Publicity and fame brought another challenge: as restaurants ordered more quantities, the young entrepreneurs found it quite hard to manage large-scale production from bottling to delivery in a timely manner. In parallel with running business, all of them had their university studies ongoing and their parents were not familiar enough with Tbilisi streets to deliver the bottles to their partners’ establishments. The young trio accelerated their production by organizing equipment: they gathered and washed the old family pitchers that had been long forgotten and were able to harvest enough grapes for about 8,000 bottles. Business continued to grow. As the current younger generation of winemakers are more focused on innovative organic techniques, the siblings decided they needed to expand their agricultural knowledge. Giorgi decided to study enology and Gvantsa was enrolled in the master of agronomy at Georgian Agricultural University.
A few years after starting with white wines, the trio offered red wine from Otskhanusi Sapere and Aladasturi grapes. Today, they produce wines from indigenous Imeretian vine varieties such as Tsolikouri, Tsitska, Krakhuna, Aladasturi, Otskhanuri Sapere. Each grape cluster is chosen carefully only from the Abuladze’s Obcha vineyards. The grape crushing, fermentation and ageing is all done by the trio in the family cellar, to proudly offer the highest-quality organic Georgian wine to the world.
About Obcha Village
The village Obcha boasts a unique microclimate for growing grapes. The location is unique: sitting in the eastern part of the Sairme Mountains, which gives a slightly higher angle for the rays of the sun and a greater solar intensity. At 324 meters of altitude, the land offers an ideal location for growing premium wine grapes. The well-balanced geography, micro-climate and well-draining soil come together to create the perfect environment for Baia’s exquisitely handcrafted wines. The heavy cold air collected between the high peaks during the night drains off the heights, much like water, joining cold moist air, creating a double cooling effect. The cool nighttime temperatures are critical in developing high quality grapes. The alluvial soil, with clay, gravel, sand and limestone has another significant influence on wine quality. The limestone offers good drainage in the wet years, retaining much needed moisture in the dry vintages, while adding various mineral elements to the soils, which transfer to the gorgeous grapes.