Saturday 30 September 2017

Ramaz Nikoladze

The first time I tried to write about Ramaz Nikoladze* I killed the story with facts. I talked about him being Georgia's representative for the Slow Food Movement, a bit about soil and rocks (calcareous clay!) and how, in 2007, he and another winemaker, Soliko (Our Wine), combed the west of the country looking for others that worked the way they do — according to ancient tradition and low interventionist, organic practices — assure them they were on the right track, convince them to bottle and, I quote myself, ‘focus the energies of natural winemakers in Georgia into an organised front’.

I explained he’s a fourth generation winemaker still working a parcel of land at his family home which the wine world calls ‘uncultivated’ and I call fucking wild and where, until 2015, he made his wine using the old style, outdoor crush pad and generations old, outside qvevri. (Since 2015 he makes his wine in his own marani which means cellar in Georgian). Then I described the place: down a kill-your-axels dirt track bordered by hazelnut trees, apple, pomegranate and brambles and in the metaphorical shadow of a looming, brightly red rock.

Said 'it's beautiful'.

Next I repeated some of what I remember he’d told us: how the land was traditionally divided between the family’s sons but is now divvied up between Ramaz and his cousins, how Imeretians don’t really like long skin macerations but he does, how he does everything by hand, how ‘he does everything by hand’ means ‘everything takes hours’ and ‘bottling 500 bottles’ means doing so on something the size of a small sewing machine. How he explained that he realised there was more than one way of making wine when, at the age of 14, he went to visit his uncle across some mountain range and killed a pig there (he didn't describe the wine), and how in 2010 he and a group of Kakhetian winemakers opened Vino Underground in Tbilisi in 2010. That he juggled work between his vines and there for years.

And it’s all true but I feel I missed the point, the point being that Ramaz took us in when we’d turned up for a tasting with no money for the driver, no intention to stay and not much of a plan, paid our fare, fed us for days that when we left five days later I got teary cus I felt like a part of the family.

The point being that if you asked, I wouldn't say, 'Yeah he's got x hectares', but that he listens to punk, eats chillies whole and has a really great cat he once drove 3.5 hours to bring to the vet. I’d say how we spent a lot of hours sitting on the steps outside the kitchen not really knowing what was going on eating watermelon and how this one time we were sitting there and his buddies rolled in and it was like a scene from Mimi, Fifi, Glouglou except Mimi was a skinhead punk in lime green pants and beads whose gigs the soviets shut down by killing the city's (Kutaisi) electricity, and instead of wine they were d√©gustation-ing female leaves weed tea which tasted like sprout water. 

And cus I think it's funny I’d probably tell you how when I asked a stupid question in the cellar about a grape that doesn't exist he said strange, someone wrote about that in an article too, and I said ohmygod that was me! and to think all this time I was at home wondering why the post was getting thousands of hits when it was a bunch of angry Georgian winemakers thinking who's this idiot? (This is that post). 

I’d tell you how we ate outside every night and go on and on and on about his wife Nestan's cooking, her wooden spoons, ALL THE TOMATOES AND FRESH, NEVER BROWNED, GARLIC and how she made polenta when she found out I love it. How, one night, when we got back from another winemaker's, we found Ramaz listening to a crazy Dutch flutist who was in my boyfriend's student society in Amsterdam and how we sweated in our chairs and he gave us a lesson in ‘mufa’ which is the taste of bad qvevri and how it tastes bad — like cork — on the condition that we finished it. 

How often we’d work in silence, how ‘breakfast’ was at 14.00, and how when we were bottling we drank from the bottles and got quite drunk and stuck the labels on wrong. How I found Didimi’s Krakuna too aromatic, how the name ‘Krakuna’ comes from the sound the grape makes when you bite it, how he took us swimming in a fall that was beautiful despite its banks being covered in garbage and how his car key is broken in the ignition — or in other words, different sort of facts.

*You can read my second attempt at writing about Ramaz on The Morning Claret

Also on The Morning Claret: a toast to the 2017 Georgian harvest.

**On Sunday 29 October Le Carton cooked a Georgian dinner to soak up all the wines we'd been suit-casing. Pictures here.

Ramaz Nikoladze
July 2017, Nakhshirgele, Georgia

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