A good wine is like a good music – it consists of a number of notes the combination of which gives us its unique aroma. Georgian wine resembles Georgian songs. We can tell that it is as polyphonic and diverse as the songs are.
During making this article I talked just about wine with those people for who music and wine represent the main components of their life. My hosts were musicians Niaz Diasamidze, Robi Kukhianidze, and ethno-musician Tamaz Gabisonia.
“I can’t say no on you and wine.”
I met with Niaz Diasamidze in the rehearsal room of Group “33a” in Vake Park. For the last years the subject of wine has been moved to front in the works of this Georgian musician. The last album of Group “33a” is titled “Usakhelouri”, and the previous record produced in 2011 was called “Saperavi” (names of unique vine species). The part of songs entered in these records is dedicated either to the wine or to the vine varieties. In the text of song “Saperavi” only the names of Georgian grape types are mentioned.
All Niaz’s friends are aware of the fact that he loves wine. This is well felt in his Georgian-French song “It’s Time to Love” in which he sings:
“I wanted to tell you that
I can’t say no on you and wine,
I can’t say no on talking with the God,
And, the war does not close its eyes…”
There are scattered different things, books, and old photo-cameras in the rehearsal room. In one corner are placed old Georgian instruments, and beside the Niaz’s chair, right on the stage there is lying a “Churi” (pitcher), which has the trace of red wine in it. For a musician wine is the key for finding answers on big questions. According to Niaz, for him the relationship with vine and wine is some kind of mystic, great love, that can’t be explained in words. He retells: “It’s already 15 years I myself press grapes and make wine. During the contact with wine sometimes you talk with it and if someone looks at you from aside, he may be astonished but it is like some belief, one of its components. There may be a love between a man and a wine even if he has never tasted it. There are such farmers who don’t drink wine at all but they are nursing the vineyard and wine with great care. The thing is not only in drinking wine. When you grow vine, nurse it, press grapes, make wine and take care of it you have your relations with this drink without having it. The main thing is that this love not to grow into hard drinking, or not to be cut off the world with being drunk.”
The musician thinks that it would be good if the system of education foresees to provide the children from their early years with the information on wine culture and, at least, take them to the vintages. As for the students, they can participate in harvesting the grapes and this would be a great support to the farmers as well.
Niaz Diasamidze’s grandmother is a French lady and she often visits France, she knows French well and is well aware of French wine traditions. In France every year during vintage period the young people living in towns arrive to the villages as volunteers to help the farmers in harvesting the grapes. The musician says sadly that unlike Georgia the whole country is involved in French vintage.
He is worried as consumption of alcohol is obviously malicious in Georgia. Niaz thinks that the roots of this strange tradition should be found in the last century. Most French people have two glasses of red wine a day: first glass of wine they have at the job, during the break, and the second one – when they come home. The right dose of wine regulates the pressure. In France the average length of life is 85. My grandmother is 92, she lives in Paris, and I have never seen the blood pressure measuring device at her house. And, in our country even young men refuse to drink red wine as they are afraid of high blood pressure. It comes out that they can drink 2 bottles of alcohol or 3 liters of white wine, and they are afraid of having two glasses of red wine. I am sure our ancestors mostly used to drink red wine at dinner. I like white wine too.”
The musician likes dry and red wine. For the last ten years he always makes wine of Cabernet and he explains the reason smiling: “I have chosen Cabernet as I have a French grandmother and besides Georgian blood French blood also runs in my veins. I make wine from the Cabernet grown in Kakheti only with Georgian wine-making method.”
Niaz Diasamidze retold me the story of his song “Saperavi” which became rather popular for the last years. Once he suggested his musician friends to write by one song of the vine variety which grew in the regions they were from by origin. He wanted to make a good album of these songs. Other musicians could not complete this suggestion, so he himself wrote a song on the Georgian vine species, called it “Saperavi” and sang it himself. However, the suggestion is still valid.
I was curious what kind of relations Niaz has with kitchen. The musician stresses that his wife is such a good cook that he himself does not need to prepare any dishes. However, he likes to cook “Chakapuli” during Easter Holiday.
The musician also referred to the wine drinking vessels. To his mind, the best vessel to drink wine is the classic wine glass with foot. He likes small vessels to say some special toasts to someone or something. He has an interesting theory of drinking wine with a tile and told us such a story: “In old times when the enemies attacked Georgia first of all they started to cut down the vineyards as they knew how important vine was for us. The enemy who did not drink wine at all and used to get opium or other kind of narcotics to be stupefied tried to torture Georgian man using what he loved most of all. So, they found this way of torturing – they used to make the prisoner sit on his knees and poured wine into his mouth through the tile. The one who survived this torture would become the hero. To my mind, the tradition of drinking wine from big distinguished vessels started in Georgia with this history. And, it is not excluded that this kind of torture became the beginning of some kind of a competition among Georgians.”
The front-man of “33a” does not like big “kantsi” (horn for drinking wine) and huge vessels. Among other alcoholic drinks Niaz Diasamidze prefers beer, especially, when he is tired, to reestablish the energy after the concert, or when it is too hot to kill thirstiness.
At the end of our talk he apologized in front of the reader that he did not intend to teach something to anybody, first of all, he just talked of himself. The pleasant influence of wine over Niaz’s recent music is really felt. Here is a strophe from one of his song included in his new album to be published:
“The casks are dozing in cellar,
Waiting for someone to take a glass of wine,
And, tell me, how I can stand so much,
Being in sober mind.”
“You need to love wine like a babe in arms.”
Robi Kukhianidze – the guy from Kutaisi, the founder of the Group “Outsider” is known as one of the most rebellious musicians in Georgia. They call him either the “Pioneer of Georgian underground or Punk music”, or simply, “Robertia”. Besides this protesting aspiration in his music we can also feel rather abundantly the Georgian nature. His manner of performance is extraordinary and impressive from the very first touch with it. At the stage he is rather brave but not indecent. And, the manner of his talk is very free and Kutaisian style.
I have talked to Robi at his house where the walls are covered with different presents from his fans, paintings, posters, bills and poems. During his talk Robi recalled how he was pressing grapes and making wine together with his friend Niaz Diasamidze in Tbilisi. The leader of the Group “Outsider” also recalled his childhood when in his native village Mamatsminda the adults allowed him and his cousins to go into the winepress to press the grapes, saying that with it the wine would get the pure goodness of children.
Robi Kukhianidze does not like the wine drinking rules spread throughout Georgia today – with vases, bowls, and big vessels, and the competition in drinking wine. And, he considers the most cultural people of this sphere are those farmers and wine-makers in the villages who better know the value and the goodness of wine.
Robi says: “In Georgia people drink much because they want to extort from one another more information, to get more reasons for quarrelling and do many bad things. Some people believe that the parties make people come closer, but, to my mind, to drink wine with close people is better, isn’t it so? It’s something awful to go to parties to get acquainted with more people either to 300-person weddings or 500-person funeral repasts. To my mind, this is the expression of the lack of culture. Consumption of wine in the wrong way is put subconsciously in many of us and that’s why we are fallen to this level.
Why do we start drinking from early morning? I have also done it, and whatever I say, first of all, I tell it about myself.
I think, the so called Georgian feasting is the worst thing to see, – continues Robi to talk of the same subject, – the music is tuned at the highest volume, and people stay at table with their small children till 2:00- 3:00a.m. …while you need to love wine like a babe in arms. Sergo Zakariadze touchingly sings a song to vineyard in film “The Father of a Soldier”. Having seen this, how can people have feasts like those ones we have talked of above?
If we have a look at our history we will read that our kings used to drink wine diluted with water not because they liked watery wine, they simply had the culture of drinking wine, they tried not to become over-drunk and not to call names to each other.”
Robi is a good cook. Actually, he can cook tasty dishes out of nothing. The other people give some names to the dishes created by him. He is proud that he can feed 5 persons for 3 Lari and he laughs at those women who consider cooking is a shame for them. He does not like the TV programs on cooking the dishes because there are many starving families in Georgia and it is inconvenient to broadcast such programs by TV.
The musician thinks that the government should provide support to the farmers during grape delivery and natural disasters with full compensation. The assistance should not be provided only due some political views, i.e. the government should not start clearing whether the farmer voted for this government or not.
The front-man of the “Outsider” prefers wine among the drinks for bringing him to good mood, and he greatly respects whisky due to different values. He also likes alcohol made of Chacha. Here Robi makes a very important conclusion: “Do you know why a Georgian man did not get drunk in the past? He used to work very hard, and being tired he would not drink much wine and due to this he used to drink until it was pleasant for him. And, today in Georgia we can’t bear drinking wine because idleness reigns everywhere and we don’t get tired. Most of all, I like to drink wine in Wine Club “Underground”, as there is such a cozy environment and such a big choice that you won’t allow yourself to get drunk with one type of wine. This is a journey in the world of wine”.
I would wish everybody and among them myself to have an interesting journey together with Robi within the wine aromas. I would advise those who have not seen even once the live performance of the Group “Outsider” to attend its concert. And, about the relations of Robi and wine I recalled the words from a song of American musician, poet and actor Tom Waits: “The piano has been drinking, not me”.
“Wine in Christianity is the epithet for the Virgin Mary and the Savior”
Tamaz Gabisonia, Associate Professor of Ilia State University and Ethnomusicologist, hosted me in the building of the Giorgi Mtatsmindeli Church Chant Higher Institution. Mr. Gabisonia is also the Dean of this institution. We have built our talk referring to the relations between the Georgian church and folklore music and wine cultures.
The professor considers that wine takes an important place in the Georgian man’s consciousness and besides the fact that wine represents a concrete economic product it is some kind of cultural phenomenon bearing religious, symbolic and mystic meaning. Mr. Tamaz Gabisonia mentioned that: “Wine is associated with vineyard, and this latter in Christianity is the epithet for the Virgin Mary and the Savior. Let’s recall the famous chant of the Virgin Mary “The Virgin Mary, Thou Art a Vineyard newly blossomed giving the fruit of life”. We also know the famous iambus written by Damiane or Demetre 1st, “You are the Vineyard”, which is performed not only during divine service but it also may be sung as a chant outside the church.
A Georgian man knows very well that he was born in the country inherited to the Virgin Mary that is an additional factor to respect the phenomenon of vineyard and wine.
Additionally, the Dean of Church Chant Higher Institution speaks of how close was social life of Georgians with Christianity. In western Georgia, “Boghlitso” (bread soaked in wine) on the commemoration day of the dead means communion. Today, when we pass the vessel with wine to other guest at table, we say: “Alaverdi is passed to you”, while instead of it in old times they used to ask: “Will you serve Christ?” and that person used to answer: “I will!” and take the vessel.
According to Mr. Tamaz Gabisonia, any kind of movement at table related to wine represented the part of Christian culture. The historical sources also prove that the Christian worshipping parties, the so-called “Aghapebi”, was some kind of divine service and at these parties communion was also served. Till today Georgians have kept the subconscious perception of table, as continuation of divine service.
The professor declares: “If we look through the sequence of toasts we will notice that this phenomenon is analogous to “Kvereksi” (Lord Have Mercy). At the beginning of the service the priest says: “In Peace Pray to the Lord!” At the beginning of a party the first toast is made to peace. Let’s recall the song “Peace to us”, it seems, its original words would have been in this way: “Glory to the Lord, peace to us, strengthening to our host”. Today this sequence is broken and now they say: “Peace to us, good day, and victory to our host”, we see that “glory to the Lord” is missing. We should also mention here “Mravaljamieri” which is the church genre piece of work and is performed in the first part of liturgy. In Georgia the great importance of “Mravaljamieri” is conditioned with the fact that we have moved the church table into the nation. Russians and Greek people are not less religious lots but they don’t have such rich table traditions as we do.”
In the opinion of the Associate Professor of Ilia University, becoming deadly drunk among Georgian people is caused due to losing traditions during the godless period, when even talking of religion was forbidden, and especially, performing religious rituals was restricted. Mr. Tamaz declares: “Earlier the religious leaders also used to attend the parties and after certain period they used to leave it. But today you can rarely meet the clergymen at tables. It’s true that the toasts to the church, to the patriarch are made at tables but it is also a newly established tradition that after one or two toasts people start to make personal toasts”.
According to Mr. Tamaz Gabisonia, during old feasts the songs and chants were very important factors with the help of which time at table was managed, and the people at table were given the chance to enjoy the dishes and talk to one another, that helped to increase intervals in between the toasts and excluded becoming over-drunk. The people used to enjoy not only with eating and drinking but with talking and singing. Later, this kind of aspects of getting pleasure at tables has been reduced gradually, and this vacuum was filled with plenty of drinks and competition in drinking.
Mr. Tamaz Gabisonia retells that famous Artem Erkomaishvili, in general, the Erkomaishvilis, Varlam Simonishvili, Vano Mchedlishvili, Levan Sabashvili or as he was called “Dedas Levana”, Dzuku Lolua, Rema Shelegia, Noko Khurtsia, Platon Dadvani, Ivane Margiani, and others were very respectful guests at tables due to their singing skills. It also points out on the fact that singing was more valued rather than drinking. Of course, drinking and being “Tamada” (table master) had their own place.
I was very much interested in how the subject of wine was presented in Georgian folk songs, and I received the following answer from the host:
“The subject of wine is widely opened in songs: “Let’s have red-red wine, let’s tie the red-red wine”, “Ateni Wine”, “Agideli” (that they used to sing in Guria during working in vineyard), “winepress workers’”… By the way, there are very few songs created on the subject of wine that speaks of that fact that at table more important were Christian motifs of wine rather than wine itself.
When a Georgian man was working in the vineyard he used to tell “sdzlispirebi” or perform chants. All of us remember the shot from the movie “The Father of a Solder” how the aged hero of the film pets the vineyard and sings in a low voice the chant “You are the Vineyard”. The Ajarian song is also very interesting “The vineyard grown on the other side where has gone and where to find”. This is some kind of longing of the vineyards hewed out during Muslim expansion.
The professor also considers that the state education system should assist our children to form correct approach to winemaking and viticulture. They should be taken on tours to vintages, wine producing companies and they themselves should participate in wine-making process. Like our two previous hosts, Mr. Tamaz Gabisonia has also participated in making wine with his own hands. For several times, he himself has made Tavkveri wine and was very content with the result.
And, once again, about wine and table the Professor of Ilia University declares: “In the 19th century, Alexader Jambakur-Orbeliani separated crooning as a variety of singing. This was the feasting chant to be sung at tables, just without words, and more improvised and freely though coming out of chant. We have Imeratian, Gurian, and Megrelian crooning which very often do not have any texts. They are built on one syllable, glosolalias, semantic words and syllables (the so-called samgherisi), let’s say they are built on “Dilavardila”. It also comes from the style of chant”.