“With my partner Gela, we were lucky to start from a scratch without much funding, so inadvertently we were unable to make any big mistakes,” begins John cordially. Today, they cultivate more than 30 hectares scattered around the country to produce a wide range of still and sparkling wines under the label of Pheasant’s Tears.
“We use grapes from Adjara for still wine, from Terjola for our Tsitska and from the Manavi zone for full-body Mtsvane,” he says. Moreover, Chinuri and other Kartli varieties come from a 14 hectares plot in Mukhrani, and grapes for 7-day skin-macerated Rkatsiteli originate in Bodbiskhevi, Kiziki. Indeed, each grape variety has its own terroir.
Similarly to George Wolski’s experience with Andrias gvino in the Khashmi appellation, John confirms that their initial Tibaani vineyard is sprayed three to four times less than the neighbors in more western Kakhetian micro-zones. He continues, “So-called biodynamics originates in medieval monasteries practices. These days, too much attention is given to Steiner preparations and Maria Thun moon calendar. We do apply compost made from our two restaurants’ kitchens bio-waste and leftover pomace into the vineyards. But we never favour the calendar over the vine.”
The cellar consists of three terraced spaces with one located open-air under a wooden roof. Volumetrically, buried vessels average 2000 liters. The larger the qvevri the higher the risk of fermentation temperature to rise above 35°C, stopping the fermentation and killing native yeasts. Therefore, qvevri were placed in the ring of sand and gravel, where rain water could be poured to keep temperature favourable. On the other hand, sufficiently warmed ambient soil with absorbed heat from primary fermentation aids second, temperature-dependent malolactic conversion to run smoothly. So no electricity is used to guide the processes, which only adds to sustainability of the cellar. Conservative natural winemakers prefer neither temperature control nor modern cheek stainless steel presses to be utilized. Pheasant’s tears has both. But when it comes to managing one’s crop and making sound wine efficiently or intentionally risking it for the sake of “natural wine”, every winemaker decides their own.
“Natural winemaking is always challenging since you can not interfere in the process with any chemical corrections. Even though we bottle a sizable volume of wine, sometimes bacterial problems arise. Thus, we prefer to hold wines in the cellar longer,” declares John. Most Georgian wineries bring wines too early to the market, a year or less after the harvest. Meanwhile, it needs space in the cellar to be matured longer. Pheasant’s tears Kakhetian white varieties stay in contact with pomace overwinter. A noble red, Saperavi may mature for even longer to have tannins and colour molecules polymerized. With warmer vintages occurring more often than before due to climate change, John layers whole bunches of Saperavi with crushed berries to slow down the fermentation: “As broth becomes richer in taste during longer boiling, the same applies to the wine.”
One of Pheasant’s Tears sparklings, white petillant naturel is produced with Chinuri grapes from the Chateau Mukhrani environs. Fresh and glouglou-able, it spends one month in contact with skin: “Until recently we left it just for a month, but it becomes even more delicate with longer skin contact, as we shall do it next vintage.” Still version of the wine is also produced, though with considerably longer six months of skin contact. Shy and introvertive, it opens up after some time in decanter.
Colour mutation of the most planted Georgian vine, Vardisperi Rkatsiteli (pink Rkatsiteli) stays three weeks in contact with skin. Deep salmon colour and unusually light and aromatic nose of raspberry and cherry pie made it a furore among wine aficionados at La Dive Bouteille, a renown natural wine salon in the Loire valley. As John remembers, “I took a couple of clippings six years ago and planted them separately in a little vineyard. We ended up planting a whole hectare because our importers were fighting over the limited allocation.”
John never stops seeking new ventures. A notable French natural winemaker and merchant, Thierry Puzelat from Clos du Tue Bœuf has joined Georgian wine scene with acquiring two hectares in the Javakheti region. As for now, vibrant, layered and flavourful “Soif da Vsvam” is vinified at Pheasant’s Tears in Tibaani. A Meskhetian blend from 16 both red and white varietals hails from grapes grown at a volcanic vineyard nestled in 1000 meters altitude.
In the meantime, the most gastronomic wine produced by John is Poliphonia. Direct press of inter-planted 417 varieties comes from grapes of a designated half-hectare plot in Tibaani. Alluring grapefruit in color, 2017 vintage reveals zesty and tangy palate. Served mostly in Michelin-star restaurants, it superbly accords with spicy food. John confirms: “Imagine tango. To me, a stereotypical match of Pinot Gris or Gewurztraminer with sweet & sour Asian food seems like a man who does not lead but crushes a woman. Instead, the way to go is refreshing lime and lemongrass flavours of Georgian natural wines. And do not forget that Georgian food is no different to Asian with its tangy tkemali and spicy adjika sauces. Orange wine is always a good pair to such a food.”
Pheasant’s Tears produces considerable 80 thousand bottles and moves up to 120 thousand bottles next vintages. Arguably, this is the largest natural wine producer in the republic of Georgia. Which though not affects its quality or artisan nature.
Locally: natural wine bars (Poliphonia, Azarpesha, Crazy Pomegranate, Ghvino Underground, DADI).
Abroad: the US (Terrell Wines), the UK (Les Caves de Pyrene), Denmark (Rosforth & Rosforth), France (Clos du Tue Boeuf), Japan (Nonna & Sidhi), Australia (Vinous Solutions), Israel (Asis WInes) etc.
At fairs: Real Wine Fair (The UK, London), La Dive Bouteille (France, Saumur).
Call John at: +995-599-53-44-84. Mailto: email@example.com