Georgia is home to a wine culture that dates back more than 8,000 years. It’s why wine is such an integral part of Georgian identity and culture from supras to church services. Wine regions within the country can be broken up into Kakheti, Kartli, Imereti, Racha-Lekhumi, Kvemo Svaneti, Adjara, and Abkhazia. Among these, the most popular wine destination is the Kakheti region whose capital is Telavi.
Telavi is known for many things such as its Bronze Age origins, being a major cultural center for Georgia throughout the 10-12th centuries, the birthplace of King Erekle II, and of course, the heart of Georgian winemaking. You’ll find that the sleepy and charming town is busting at the seams with family cellars, backyard vineyards, and homages to ancient wine traditions, namely – qvevri. Our days in Telavi have been my favorite in Georgia thus far. The people, the wine, and the food are everything that makes Georgia so special and Telavi does those things wonderfully. I plan to continue updating this list as I visit more wineries that really knock my socks of but for now, these are the winners! Whether you are planning to visit Telavi on a quick overnight trip or plan to stay a few days, here are a few things to remember.
Opt for family wineries
Telavi and the entire region of Kakheti is chock full of family wineries. Cozy cellars tucked under centuries-old houses, ancient vineyards handed down through the generations, and an overwhelming sense of authenticity that just can’t be found in factories. Who wants to tour icy cold concrete dens of industrial tanks and conveyors when you can gawk at the stories behind the saints that dot the walls of ancient family cellars?
Space out your winery visits
Brett and I love wine. We drink it with nearly every dinner, and while we aren’t sommeliers by any means, we love trying new wines and pairings. We especially appreciate the history, tradition, love, and hospitality that goes into every bottle of Georgian wine. That said, Georgian hospitality is no joke. We thought we could handle two to three tastings per day while in Telavi and not be completely blitzed by 3 pm. We were dead wrong. These are not the fancy-schmancy wine tastings you’d get in Napa or Bourdeaux where you’re kindly sent on your way after your visit – these are down to earth experiences where the minutes quickly fade into hours. Before we knew it, we’d spent nearly the entire day at most of these wineries and had to reschedule some of our other tastings because we’d made new friends and just couldn’t leave.
What is qvevri?
Qvevri are clay vessels that are stored underground for wine fermentation. It is one of the oldest and most unique styles of winemaking in the world. The tradition can be traced back more than 8,000 years when Georgians first started producing wines. You’ll hear “qvevri” mentioned quite a bit when discussing Georgian wine, so just know that it is certainly a very special Georgian tradition.
Here are a few toasts you can use to impress your hosts!
“Gaumarjos!” (gow-mar-jos) /// “Cheers!”
“Saqartvelos gaumarjos!” (sah-kart-veh-los gow-mar-jos) /// “Cheers to Georgia!”
“Megobrobas gaumarjos!” /// “To friendship!”
“Sikvaruls gaumarjos!” /// “To love!”
“Gagvimarjos!” /// (gahg-vee-mar-jos) “To us!”
Best Wineries to Visit While in Telavi
Of all the wineries to visit in Telavi – and there are plenty, Togonidze’s is a must! Technically Togonidze’s wine is located in Shalauri, just a quick taxi ride from Telavi but you’ll be there in no time and it’s well worth it. It’s run by Gia Togonidze and his wife, Lika, who together make it one of the best wineries in the country. We sampled straight from the qvevri and also indulged in his Saperavi, Rkatsiteli, Kakhuri Mtsvane, and more. Each one better than the last with plenty of ‘gaumarjos’ to go around!
What makes Togonidze’s even more special, however, is the hospitality. Gia and Lika are truly some of the warmest and genuine people we’ve met in Georgia thus far. And that’s saying something. Their home and vineyard, which is sandwiched between the Caucasus to the north and the Gombori range to the south, is literally the stuff of dreams. Gia, who is not just a renowned winemaker, is also a painter. His paintings are found all throughout the house and even labeled on a few of his bottles. He’s not the only artist in the family, though, Lika has found a passion for artistry as well in recent years. Antique furniture, shadow boxes, and trinkets can all be found with her handiwork. You’ll notice that most of the chairs, tables, and home accessories are covered in elaborate, colorful designs, all handpainted by Lika. This makes Togonidze’s more than a world-class winery – it’s a home and a special place where people come together to enjoy incredible company, food, and of course, wine. I highly recommend booking their tasting with lunch or dinner on-site – Lika is a wonderful cook and really knows how to put a meal together.
You can contact them via Facebook here. This winery came highly recommended by my wonderful friend Daria who runs incredible wine and hiking tours throughout Georgia with her partner Zviad! Be sure to check them out here: Trails & Wines.
Irakli Rostomashvili runs Rostomaant Marani, and its origin can be traced back six generations to the family’s first harvest in the 18th century. We had a cellar tasting and got to know Irakli and his mother, Irene, over the evening. It was all night on the patio with plenty of laughs and special moments that we shared our love for Georgian music, wine, and food! At his home, we got to see his qvevri cellar and take in his property’s warm and cozy atmosphere. In true Georgian fashion, it wasn’t only the wine that was award-winning – but the hospitality and unforgettable generosity that makes Rostomaant a must-visit. I look forward to going back again and again!
His vineyards are available to visit as well – Rostomaant has two of them that line the gorgeous Alazani river and offers stunning views of the mountains. The family wine cellar is located in Telavi near Nadikvari and can be reached easily by foot from the city center.
You can reach out to Irakli on Facebook here.
This winery screams small family vineyard but has big international acclaim with several exports to Switzerland, Austria, Malta, and a lengthy resume in California on raw wine exhibitions. The winery is run by Zurab Kviriashvili himself, who has turned his family tradition of winemaking into valued wines in Georgia and abroad. We spent the afternoon tasting his wine and learning about his family history in the realm of wine and otherwise. We also had the pleasure of meeting his four of his five adorable children and his mother, who made us feel so at home every step of the way.
Zurab is also transforming his Telavi cellar location into a guest house, which will undoubtedly be a great place to stay once it’s opened up! Be sure to check him out on Facebook for updates on Zurab Kvirishvili Vineyards.
Marani Milorauli operates as a family cellar and guest house in the heart of Telavi near Telavi State University. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to visit (not this time anyway!), but this winery comes highly recommended by my dear friend Liza who runs some of the country’s best wine and gastronomy tours. In Tbilisi, there’s a service called Soplidan that we use to order most of our village specialties like Tushetian cheese, specialty honey, and, more importantly, Marani Milorauli’s wine! Because of this, I know that their wine is of high quality from Rkatsiteli to Saperavi and absolutely recommend it as one of the best wineries to visit in Telavi. They will be at the tip-top of my list next time I find myself in Telavi as they not only offer a huge variety of qvevri wines, they’ve also got a 100-year-old grape tree perched in the garden.
Teleda Orgo is located in Kisiskhevi, just a 15-minute cab from Telavi and came highly recommended by Zurab and some friends of ours. In addition to stellar wine and hospitality, Teleda Orgo has an interesting history behind its name. “Teleda” speaks to Georgia’s thriving ancient history when Telavi was first referred to as “Teleda” by Greek cartographer Claudius Ptolemy in his 150 AD. Yep, Georgia had a Hellenistic heyday. “Orgo” was the ancient stone used to seal the qvevri and is still occasionally used today.
This winery is run by the Dakishvili family, who have been perfecting the art of winemaking for generations and have maintained an authentic homey atmosphere despite being big exporters to the US, UK, France, Japan, Ukraine, and China. They specialize in one of my favorite wines, Kisi, and have some serious bragging rights! Gogi, one of Teleda Orgo’s generational winemakers was the first to bottle it.
I recommend booking a triple wine tasting. Reach out to Tamar on Facebook here.
No trip to Telavi is complete without a nod to Georgian poet, wine enthusiast, and military General extraordinaire, Prince Alexander Chavchavadze. His family estate and museum are located right outside Telavi in Tsinandali and is 1,000% worth taking an afternoon stroll through. What’s more, though, a 7 lari ticket to the Tsinandali Estate comes with a tour through the museum and a complimentary glass wine in the Radisson lobby, which is located on the grounds. Unfortunately, it was raining while we were there, so we couldn’t fully explore the gardens, but the grounds are absolutely beautiful and very walkable.