The Georgian legend says that only truly great wine can make a pheasant cry.....
Pheasant’s Tears was established in the Khaketi region of Georgia in 2005 by John Wurdeman and Gela Patalishvili. As the Georgian wine industry was in the midst of modernisation, preservation of traditional Georgian grape varieties and the traditional way of making wine in qvevri were in grave danger of being lost. John and Gela wanted to ensure that these traditions were not lost.
With limited resources the two set about buying their first vineyard and later building a cellar on the vineyard and production at Pheasant’s Tears commenced in 2007.
Today they have small holdings vineyard in several regions, preferring to have the native varieties in their traditional regions where they are naturally suited, rather than one site. That said they have an ambitious project underway to plant a library vineyard housing all 520 known Georgian varieties and to make a single vineyard wine from it. At last count they had planted around 400 varieties and a wine is already being produced.
All vineyards are managed organically, the vines tended by hand and the grapes hand-picked in the cool of the morning. The desire here is to express site through the chosen variety.
All the wines are fermented and aged in qvevri, the traditional Georgian earthenware vessel whose name in Georgian means simply “beneath the earth”. Shaped like amphorae (but pre-dating them), the qvevris are coated on the inside with beeswax, but not sealed, and on the outside with a mix of lime and rock, which works as a natural antiseptic when the vessels are buried in the ground. Unlike amphora used today, all qvevris are buried in the ground and fermentation and aging in the earth is crucial to the success of these wines because the constant cool temperature of the surrounding earth promotes a long steady fermentation and evolution. Qvevri making is a dying art and Pheasant’s Tears work predominantly with used vessels as they are no longer built to the same quality. Some of their qvevri are over 200 years old.
Grapes, white and red, are crushed by food in a wooden bath shaped vat made from a hollowed out log and fed directly into the qvevri. Varying degrees of stems are added back according to the variety, vintage and time on skins. The amber (orange) wines are aged for up to 6 months or more on skins and stems, while the reds take a more modern line of around 2 - 3 weeks on skins. The wines are fermented using natural yeast and once the fermentation is completed and the cap has fallen, the opening of the qvevri is sealed with a slate lid and clay, and buried with sand. During extended skin contact with the amber wines the grapes and seeds will collect in the pointed bottom, keeping the seeds with harsh tannins away from the wine. After the desired period of skin contact the qvevri is opened and the wine is drawn off its skins and seeds to another qvevri for further aging or prepared for bottling. Aging is exclusively in qvevri and no oak, fining or filtration is employed. Minimal or no sulphur is added.
In Georgia the aging of wine with skins, seeds and stems is traditionally referred to as leaving the wine with its ‘mother’ as the chacha (pomace) ‘feeds’ the wine. Conversely wines fermented without their skins are said to have no ‘mother’.
Typical old Georgian homes would all have a qvevri room where smaller sized vessels would be buried awaiting a feast when they would be ceremoniously opened and served to guests, and any remaining wine would be consumed in the weeks following.
These amber wines are some of the most profound wines in the world today. Intensely savoury they have shed primary fruits for secondary and tertiary characters and typically carry more complexity than most red wines, and often as much tannin. These are soulful natural wines that possess an umami quality that pairs with an amazingly wide range of food. These are the original ‘orange’ wines made with the ancient Georgian knowledge that have inspired many of today’s iconoclastic producers such as Gravner.