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ACCORDING TO A GEORGIAN LEGEND, GOD TOOK A SUPPER BREAK WHILE HE WAS CREATING THE WORLD. He became so involved in his meal that he by accident tripped over the high peaks of the Caucasus and as a result he spilled his own food onto the land below. The land below blessed with the scarps of Heavens table was Georgia.
Due to its location, the country has been invaded several times over the course of history by for example the Greeks, Persians and the Ottomans, to name just a few. The invasions mean that much of the antique and Islamic worldview still exists at the country’s borders- which are a unique cultural situation. The invasions have also left its footprints on Georgia’s food- and drinking habits and traditions. This has resulted in the existence of many different gastronomical and culinary branches in the foodway’s of today’s Georgia.
The beginning of human civilizations is closely connected to the development of agriculture and the history of cultivated plants, and Georgia played a crucial role in this process. One of the reasons for that is that wine culture in Georgia can be traced to early prehistoric times. The research of linguists indicates that the root of the Indo-European term for ‘wine’ – u(e/o) iano which means wine – might derive from the Georgian word Rvino [Rvino].
These linguists are of the opinion that the word would have been transferred into the Proto-Indo- Europian language before this language started to separate into its various branches in the fourth millenium B.C. The separation transformed the word in different ways, leading to the English ‘wine’, Italian ‘wino’, and Russian ‘vino’, to give but a few examples.
The archaeological discovery of cultivated vines in Georgia supports the linguistic theory of the origin of the word ‘wine’. Cultivated grape pips have been found on the archaeological site ‘Shulaveris Gora’ (situated in the trans-caucasus region of modern Georgia). The site is dated to sixth – fourth millienium B.C. and belongs to the Shulaveri-Shomu Tepe chalcolithic culture.
Even if there is a large time span for the culture itself C14 (Radiocarbon dating is a radiometric dating method that uses (14C) to determine the age of carbonaceous materials up to about 60,000 years old) analyses of the cultural layer where the pips were found gives a dating of 6625±210 years millenium B.C. At other sites belonging to the Shulaveri-Shomu Tepe culture a ceramic vessel which had ornamentation in relief was found. The ornamentation appears to show grapes and could very well be the earliest ‘label’ for grapes and wine that it is known of today. In the vessel also sediment was found that after analysis showed too consisted of wine residue.
WINE WAS, THEREFORE, THE PRIMARY REASON WHY THE VINE WAS CULTIVATED. It is not only grape pips that appear in the archaeological sites that can be linked to wine. At a site belonging to the Trialeti Culture (third – second millenium B.C.) a superb example of toreutic art, a silver wine cup richly decorated, was found. This cup has become known as the “Silver Cup Of Trialeti”. There is ongoing debate about what the scene depicted on the cup means.
A special kind of artifact known as a ‘kvevris’ has been found in the course of many excavations. Akvevri is a wine vessel which became known as an amphora during Antiquity in Greece and the Roman Empire; In Georgia, however, this kind of vessels has always been termed ‘kvevris’and still is. It is known from sites that can be dated as far back as Antiquity, that the kvevris was placed up to its neck in the ground and then filled with grape juice.
The kvevris was sealed with a lid and the juice was left to ferment. The wine-farmer looked after the fermentation process until the wine was ready. The wine was then transferred to bags made of animal skins. In Georgia, there is no tradition of carrying wine in kvevris; skin bags have been used for this purpose since antiquity – perhaps even at an earlier period also.
Georgia was one of the world’s first Christian countries, and dates such as 337 A.D. and 319 A.D. have been put forward for the country’s adoption of Christianity . Georgia’s conversion to Christianity is closely linked to St. Nino. According to one tradition, St. Nino was from Kolastra, Cappadocia (in today’s Turkey) and she was a relative of St. George (the patron saint of Georgia). She was said to have come to Georgia from Constantinople. Other sources claim that she came from Rome, Jerusalem or Gaul.
St. Nino’s tomb is still shown at the Bodbe Monastery in Kakheti – which is also the main wine region– in eastern Georgia. She has become one of the most venerated saints of the Georgian Orthodox Church and her attribute, a Grapevine cross, is a unique cross in the Christian world. Since, according to the legend, it was the Virgin Mary, who told St. Nino to go to Georgia and teach Christianity, the Grapevine cross became a symbol for and of Georgian Christianity.