Kakheti, the birthplace of Georgia’s winemaking industry. Of the many wineries in the area, one stands out: Twins Wine Cellar in Napareuli, where one can tour a truly incredible museum of winemaking. Its name is no accident either – seeing as it is ran by twin brothers Gia and Gela Gamtkitsulashvili.
Napareuli is located in central Kakheti, 110km north east of Tbilisi. A rather fine motorway takes us from the capital, in 2 hours, straight there, into the heart of the beautiful Alazani valley, stretching between Gombori ridge and the Great Caucasian mountain range. The village includes a few hotels and churches, a basilica from the beginning of the previous century and fortified walls dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries. The town is surrounded from all sides by lush green organic grape plantations.
Many of those visiting Georgia might consider Napareuli not to be on their “not to be missed” list, simply one more charming but non-essential place to maybe see, if it wasn’t for the fact that it is known as a winemaking micro-sphere with the only winery-museum of its kind in the world.
Aim for the ginormous kvevri
The Twins Wine Cellar building, made of stone and wood, also known as the Twins Old Cellar, is impossible to miss. In order to reach it, one has to turn from the main road left, passing by several buildings to reach a spot where nothing remains except some grape orchards and that utterly unique winery.
And it really is a striking sight, for the museum building supports a unique, ginormous kvevri vessel – a replica of an 8000 year old clay pot used for the fermentation, maturation and storing of wine – the original kvevri is kept in a museum in Tbilisi. This Napareuli kvevri is so massive, it rises above the window lines and the surrounding tree tops! Even more interestingly, the drawings which decorate the amphora are based on those which appeared on similar vessels discovered during archeological digs in the area.
Museum, hotel, restaurant
The winery is literally drowning in lush greenery, enhanced by a small lake with a bridge over it, offering lovely views of the majestic Caucasian peaks on the horizon. Ideal for resting up in unspoilt natural settings. But before we take a break, let us first enjoy the attractions awaiting us inside.
Brothers Gia and Gela Gamtkitsulashvili run the hotel and restaurant Qvevris Mze, which serves Georgian dishes and delicious wines from their own vineyard. Yet most importantly of all, the building is home to the most interesting museum of winemaking in Georgia, combining the past and the present in the most entertaining and insightful ways.
Georgian winemaking traditions
I know folks for whom the very word “museum” is enough to have them running for the nearest hills. While I do sympathise, the Twins Wine Cellar is a completely different cup of tea – it’s impossible to go in and be bored, seeing as it offers a range of different ways to explore its wonderful exhibitions. 15 GEL pays for a ticket which allows entry into a most unique Museum of Wine and Kvevri, its new and old wine cellars, as well as the chacha distillery (producing Georgian spirits, made of fermented grape pulp). The most interesting option is for those who pay 22 GEL, offering additional opportunities to taste chacha and three different types of wine from the Twins Wine Cellar – ecological and produced exclusively in traditional kvevri amphoras (at present, such amphoras are only produced in five villages in three regions of Georgia: Kakheti, Imereti and Guria).
If one travels in groups of four to five persons, we can opt for a more advanced stay programme, which depending on cost (33-70 GEL) takes in tours and tastings of locally produced alcohols, dinner and various fascinating workshops, such as vodka distillation, baking local breads and the making of khinkali dumplings, khachapuri pancakes and Georgian churchkhela sweets.
At certain times of the year, 20 GEL buys us entry to the museum and plantation, where we can take part in grape harvesting and their pressing, which is done using our own bare feet. If this was not enough, one can also order individually bottled wines which are poured from a kvevri amphora opened especially for this occasion! Wine lovers will cherish this opportunity, for although Twins Wine Cellar wines are exported all over the world (to the UK, USA, Japan, China, Russia, Germany, Poland and Lithuania, Latvia and Ukraine), any bottle brought directly from source will have special meaning and value.
Twins Wine Cellar, the only such winemaking museum in Georgia
Twins Wine Cellar – with its coat of arms featuring twin identical linked amphoras – is a place where wine is part and parcel of everyday life. The brothers Gamtkitsulashvili have turned the efforts of hundreds of local workers into something really extraordinary.
In 2005, Gia and Gela restored an old cellar called “marani”, used for the storage and maturation of wines. The brothers were actually raised in this house, according to our tour guide.
Almost a decade later, in 2014, the owners set up a unique museum complex, in order to conserve antique equipment and help exhibit the traditions of Georgian winemaking processes. It represents a key element of Georgia’s historical and cultural heritage: known and passed down from generation to generation for a trifling 6000 years, while also being totally unique in global terms, in the way wine is produced in the region (more details to be found in this article), and for all the reasons outlined has secured UNESCO recognition and protection. The brothers Gamtkitsulashvili have taken it upon themselves to nurture these winemaking customs – their museum features not only displays of historical processes, but allows visitors to touch and of course taste much of what has been made here.
The Twins Wine Cellar Museum features the aforementioned eight metre tall kvevri amphora and several exhibition rooms dedicated to the process of producing Georgian wines (pressing, cooking, natural filtration, extracting the wine and pulp) as well as the methods of producing and using kvevri amphoras.
The most precious items on display at the museum, which has been collecting its exhibits now for over 15 years, are three amphoras which could hold an imposing 500 litres of liquid each, cut to 1/3 scale and covered in glass. Many other winemaking treasures are on display, and are more than worth seeing.
“What we have here is a sacnacheli, which is a Georgian winemaking press. These were used to press juices up to around 80 years ago. Now, they remain an interesting antique” our tour guide explains.
Soon enough, we get to see more such wonders. Static exhibits, many featuring archival photographs, various kvevri vessels, along with tools and machinery, in addition to collections of grapes and other alcohols made from local grape varieties (amazingly enough, of the 1400 known varieties of grape in the world, 524 come from Georgia!), are enhanced with various interactive elements, including films. Professional guides help us learn all there is to know, including the skills needed to clean the insides of the larger kvevri, involving the need to climb inside using ladders to then wash the inner walls (soaking ourselves in the process of course…).
All this allows us to best discover the colourful ways in which local grapes are taken from plantations in order to become the essential ingredients in the most delicious varieties of Caucasus’ elixir of the gods – white or red, fully organic, produced with passion and love evolved over centuries.
- Twins Wine Cellar opening times: every day 9am to 10pm.
- Entry cost: from 15 GEL (5 GEL for students, children up to the age of 6 free entry) to 77 GEL, depending on the tour package and additional attractions.
- Detailed information about the museum (restaurant, hotel, museum, workshops): http://www.cellar.ge/en.