A cloudy, warm, oppressive day in Tbilisi, May 2015. A light drizzle is falling, most of the vendors on the Dry Bridge junk market have gone home. Tourists interested in Russian cameras, watches and plastic or metal Red Army insignia can still find a few cloths spread out, though. And under the trees, a group of four young to middle-aged Georgian men have on display a handful of colorful and silver decorated portraits of saints – icons. They use the stone ramp of the stairs leading to the northern extension of Dedaena Park as their display table.
Tatjana, my companion this afternoon, starts a conversation with the men, in Russian. I am interested in the icons, but stay back a bit. I don’t speak a word of Russian, let alone Georgian. I am also tired, want to move on, go back to my hotel. The men want to know where we come from, why we are here. Tatjana, never at a loss for words, gets deeper into the conversation, translating little bits for me in English. She tells them we are here for the wine, the New Wine Festival. And then the jerrycan appears, and a plastic cup. Oh no, no wine, please, no more wine. We have tasted a lot that morning, at the Festival. We have had enough, and another evening with wine is waiting. We want to avoid headaches or worse. But we have to, don’t want to be rude. We sniff and sip as little as we can. Actually, it tastes and smells good, a bit rustic, though.
The youngest of the men understands we don’t want an alcoholic drink at this moment, and has a solution for us. Please, follow me to the car. It is parked over there. We do, we have to. We drag our feet, get to the car. The trunk is opened, and there is another huge jerrycan. No, not again, please. Our host makes it clear: don’t worry, drink. It is good. No alcohol. He is right. It turns out to be grape must, very sweet, very sticky. Again, we do not want to be rude, and sip, as little as we dare.
Finally, we are able to say goodbye, holding the cup with the sweet juice. We walk away, to our taxi stand, to the hotel. When we are out of sight of the icon sellers, I throw away the last sticky drops in the bushes.
And now, ten months later, I still feel ashamed. Ashamed at not having had the courage to accept their hospitality fully, to accept their drinks offered in friendship. Ashamed at having thrown away their tokens of kindness. Here I was offered a true taste of Georgia, of Georgian wine, a homemade orange wine, and all I wanted to do was leave. It is certainly one orange wine I truly regret not having drunk. And even the alternative I spurned. I have promised myself: if ever I go back to Georgia, I will make amends. And try not to be such a stiff Western European.
In May 2015, I was a guest at the New Wine Festival in Tbilisi. Our guide for the whole trip was Ketevan Akhobadze, a very knowledgeable and warm person, who has started her own wine tourism company since. Check out her website Geo Wine Tours. If you are considering a trip to Georgia to experience wine and culture, I can highly recommend Ketie and her company.