“Sorry, but this is absolutely nuts!”, says one member of our group during a visit to restaurant/apartment/winery Bina 37, and he’s merely stating what everyone else is thinking. We’re talking with Zura Natroshvili, a medical doctor turned traditional winemaker. Well, almost traditional. Most winemakers don’t install their cellars on the 8th floor of a city residential block.
Bina 37 is the address in Georgia’s capital Tbilisi, where Zura, his wife and children live. But while refurbishing the 570 square metre apartment (it’s on two floors), Zura had an idea that one suspects his wife may have needed a little time to get her head around. Casting his eye over one corner of their expansive terrace with its impressive views out over the city, he decided that instead of turning it into the children’s paddling pool it could be a winery.
With buried qvevris, no less.
The idea became a reality in 2015, and there are now no less than 43 qvevris “buried” in sand and pebbles on a raised, roofed plinth. Each one holds between 200-400 litres. Two larger 1,000 litre qvevris are sited in the neighbouring apartment block at Zura’s brother’s apartment! Grapes are trucked in from Kakheti, and then winched up to the terrace before being pressed, then fermented and aged in the qvevris.
We tasted Bina 37’s Rkatsiteli 2015 which was, to my slight surprise, an absolutely textbook example of a qvevri-fermented Rkatsiteli. It has a firm, spicy grip, light notes of honey and dried herbs and great balance between fresher citrus notes and the riper more autumnal elements coming from the skin contact. A red qvevri wine, the 2015 Saperavi, was less successful, with rather odd vegetal or herbal notes that seemed to indicate that all was not well with the harvest – geosmin perhaps.
The whole idea is of course quite bonkers, yet Zura is to be applauded for making it work. Bina 37 is hands down the most unique and romantic location one could imagine for dinner on a Tbilisi summer night, and the fact that the restaurant serves its own wine is a stunning coup.
That Saperavi does however illustrate the problems of relying on bought-in fruit and having to truck it for a couple of hours to the winery. This is an issue by no means unique to Bina 37, as many vineyards are still owned by farmers who don’t make wine commercially but just sell their grapes.
The experience of eating and drinking here can be highly recommended – the traditional Georgian food is top notch, and those who are very lucky (like us) might just be joined by this extraordinary group of young singers – who launched into powerful Georgian polyphony in the middle of our meal.