Georgia’s wines may be enjoying increasing fame, but there are still plenty of people out there whose first question will be “you mean the state in America, or the republic in the Caucasus?” A new producer based in the republic has made it all the more confusing. Its vivacious co-owner Anna Addison grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, but now makes wine in Kahketi, Georgia.
There’s a lot of investment pouring into new wineries and winemaking projects in Georgia, and definitely a feeling of bandwagon-jumping with somewhat variable results. Bought in grapes and bought in winemaking talent only gets you so far. So I was a bit sceptical when I heard about Anna’s project – a new winery based in Eniseli, Kakheti, but not a qvevri in sight.
Nine Oaks was co-founded by Amsterdam-based creative director Anna, who is originally from Russian heritage, and her business partner and geomapper Mamuka Khurtsidze, who’s also the winemaker. “I’ve always had a strong connection with Georgia, from my childhood visits onward”, Anna explains when I ask about the motivation to create a winery. Khurtsidze is an old friend, and when the opportunity to buy some land came up, the pair decided to go for it. Like most Georgians, Khurtsidze grew up surrounded by winemaking, however his skills have essentially been honed “on the job”, with help and advice from others in the region.
Khurtsidze and Addison are clearly in this for the long-haul – they planted vineyards in 2011, and made their first vintage with the 2016 harvest. Vineyard work follows organic farming practices, and the estate will shortly apply for certification. The choice of grape varieties includes Kakhetian staples such as Kisi and Rkatsiteli, but also the much rarer Khikhvi. It seems like a surprising choice to make the wines only in stainless steel, but clearly the investment had to be staged.
Tasting the wines was enlightening. Despite the use of steel tanks for fermentation and ageing, these wines are unmistakenly Georgian in character, with rich, concentrated herbal notes and glorious gold-amber hues. All three 2016s had about four months of skin contact, so a little less than the no-holds-barred six-nine months that ultra-traditional Kakhetian winemakers might deploy. They’re unfiltered and unsulphured.
Everything impressed, but my top pick is definitely the Khikhvi 2016. The aromas are of ripe apricot, pickled peach and khaki fruit, with a hint of earth and herbs-de-provence. The texture is gloriously open, with soft and structured tannins and a long, generous finish. The fruit is opulent and expressive, and despite relatively low acidity, there’s harmony and balance in spades. It’s a clear demonstration that top quality grapes make a huge difference in macerated wines. Wines made from 100% estate grown fruit are still a relative rarity in Georgia, and this is a great achievement for Nine Oaks.
Some might quibble with the clear glass bottles – surely not the best idea for a wine that could (and should) age for 5-10 years, yet this is part of the Nine Oaks style – an unashamedly modern take on Georgian wine, with the bottle and Anna’s smart label design all calculated to show off the aesthetic qualities of the wine as much as its taste.
The pair have now installed their first qvevris, so future vintages should offer a yet more authentic experience. I can’t wait to see what this dynamic duo come up with next.
Nine Oaks wines have just the shores of the US, but they’re not yet available in Europe outside their country of origin.