Wine holds a central place in every Georgian’s life and in Georgian culture in general. It is widely believed that winemaking began in the Neolithic Period (8500-4000 BC). Although there is no definitive proof for Georgia to the location of the first viticulture, the concentration of archaeological evidence and written references incline many scholars to favor the idea that winemaking started in southern Caucasia, then spread to Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece and the rest of the world. The modern English word wine itself is etymologically traced to Latin vinum and Greek oinos, which, some scholars argue, were derived from the Georgian gh-vino. Recent archeological excavations produced evidence of viticulture in Georgia dating back as far as 5,000 BCE.

 The importance of wine in Georgian culture is evident in the Christian tradition of St. Nino baptizing Georgia with a cross made from a vine. Thus, the Christian cross of vine and its final product, wine, became inextricably linked in the Georgian psyche and culture. The elements of vine can be seen incorporated in the architecture of many Christian churches and cathedrals throughout Georgia. Over hundreds of years, an intricate culture developed surrounding wine production and consumption. Georgian families usually owned (and some still are) a consecrated place, or marani, beside their main house, where large clay vessels (kvevri) were buried and the wine was matured thanks to the cooling properties of underground streams. When filled with the fermented grape juice, the kvevri were then topped with a wooden lid and covered and sealed with earth. Winemaking is also closely connected with the Georgian tradition of feasts led by tamadas or men respected for their eloquence, expressive toasts and ability to drink deeply. Aided by their assistants (merikipes), the tamadas propose numerous toasts that lead their guests on a journey through the history and tradition of Georgia.

During the Soviet period, the Georgian wineries dominated the Soviet market and their products were exported for sale to other countries. However, following the declaration of independence in 1991 and the subsequent years of conflicts, the wine industry collapsed and production hit rock bottom. The Georgian wine industry was weighed down by outdated machinery and highly competitive export wine markets. Politics also play an important role for the industry since its largest export market remains Russia, which frequently adopted unfriendly policies towards Georgia. The greatest problem, however, is the widespread wine counterfeiting of Georgian wines in the markets of Russia, Commonwealth of Independent States and Europe. According to Georgian Ministry of Agriculture estimates, international markets contain some 17 million bottles of the two top Georgian red wines – Kakheti’s Kindzmarauli and Racha’s Kvanchkara – even though Georgian wineries can produce some 2.5-3 million bottles of the two wines annually. The Russian wine market alone contains some 120 million to 150 million bottles of wine branded as Georgian and as little as 15 to 16 percent of that total is actually produced in Georgia. The reputation of Georgian wines had therefore been significantly undermined. In recent years, American and French companies have made investments in the Georgian wine industry, which showed signs of reviving.

There are about 500 local vine sorts maintained in Georgia today and some 60 sorts of wines are commercially produced. Some of the best Georgian wines are Rkatsiteli, Saperavi, Manavis Mtsvane, Tsolikauri, Tsitska, Khvanchkara, Pino, Khikhva, Krakhuna, Chkhaveri, Ojaleshi etc.

There are five major zones for viticulture:

Kakheti is a major winemaking region in Georgia, producing about two thirds of all Georgian grapes and wines. Located in southeastern part of the country, Kakheti's lowlands of the Alazani and Iori Rivers and the slopes of the Caucasus, with a mild climate, provide ideal conditions for winemaking. The Kakhetian wines are known for the richness of their palette and vary from high quality dry to naturally semi sweet and sweet wines. Remarkably, Kakheti, a small region by itself, is divided into more than two dozen micro-zones that produce specific wines, i.e. Tsinandali, Kindzmarauli, Napareuli, Kvareli, Mukuzani, Akhasheni, Manavi, etc.

Located in the central part of Georgia, Kartli produces many European style wines, including sparkling wines. The region has a continental climate, with hot and dry summers, The most notable wines produced in Kartli are Goruli mstvane, Budeshuri and Kisi.

Imereti (with Samegrelo):
Located in the western Georgia, Imereti enjoys a moderately humid climate due to the proximity of the Black Sea. The region is known for its traditional methods of winemaking and grape varieties cultivated include Tsolikauri, Tsitska, Krakhuna, Saperavi, Aladasturi, Shavkapito, Dzelshavi, black Pint, Aligote, and Chardonnay. A neighboring region of Samegrelo (Mingrelia) is know for its Ojaleshi grape variety that produces a wine of intensive color and semi-sweet taste.

Located in the northern part of Georgia, on the slopes of the picturesque Caucasus Mountains, Racha-Lechkhumi is known for its peculiar soil and humid climate. The region boasts one of the oldest viticultures in the world, with traces of winemaking dating back to the end of the 4th millenia B.C.E. The region is famous for its Khvanchkara, Usakhelouri and Tvishi wines.

The Subtropical or Black Sea Coast zone:
The black Sea Coast Zone includes the regions of Ajara (Achara), Guria, Semgrelo and Abkhazia. Located along the Black Sea coast, this region has one of the oldest centers of viticulture. The region can be divided into main subgroups, Ajara-Gurian (main grape varieties Tsolikauri, Chkhaveri, Aladasturi, Aligote) and Samegrelo-Abkhazian (main grape varieties Ojaleshi, Avasirkhva, Kachichi, Tskhenisdzudzu abkhazuri, etc).

Since the 1950s, Georgian vineries have been awarded over 270 medals, including some 140 gold.

Alexander Mikaberidze

The earliest theater space in Georgia dates back to the third century BC and can be found at Uplistsikhe. Despite a lack of theatrical texts, performances certainly occurred in Georgia and developed into a unique festive theatrical art with taste for singing, dancing and reenactments of epics. In the Middle Ages, theatrical festivals like berikaoba often became a means of protest against conquerors or feudal oppression and helped preserve oral traditions. Satires and folk performances with masks were common in the period.

The history of modern theater starts in the 19th century. Giorgi Eristavi emerged as the leading dramatist of this age and, in January 1850, he established his own theater where several Georgian plays were produced. In 1879, another company was established in Tbilisi with the help of such luminaries as Ilia Chavchavadze and Akaki Tsereteli. This theatrical center, soon became the famous Rustaveli Theater, became a cultural center of Georgia, where ideas of liberty, humanism and reforms were discussed. The theater quickly gained a following and began producing performances that combined modernity with traditional folk style. Productions varied from Georgian satires and comedies to European and Russian tragedies and plays. The early 20th century was one of the most important periods in the development of the Georgian theater. The theater prospered through the work of Valerian Shalikashvili (1874-1919), Alexander Tsutsunava (1881-1955), Mikhael Koreli (1876-1949), Kote Andronikashvili (1887-1954), Akaki Pagava (1887-1962) and others.

The most important of these artists was the ingenious Kote Marjanishvili, under whose direction the Georgian theater rose to a new level. Marjanishvili himself enjoyed close relations with the finest stage directors of this period, Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko, and merged the elements of Russian and European theatrical art with Georgian romantic and heroic traits. In 1928, Marjanishvili established a new company in Kutaisi, which was later renamed after him, and produced his first play Ernest Toler’s Popola, we are living. He was supported in his work by such prominent artists as Shalva Dadiani (1894-1959), Polikarpe Kakabadze (1895-1972) and others. Among Marjanishvili’s many stage productions were The End of the “Nadezhda” (1909), Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov (1910), Ibsen’s Per Gynt (1912), Offenbach’s Die Schöne Helena (1913), Mozart’s Entführung aus dem Serail (1923), Eristavi’s Partition (1823), Arakishvili’s The Tale of Shota Rustaveli (1923), Shakespeare’s Hamlet (1925), Kutateli’s Midnight Past (1929), Rossini’s William Tell (1931), etc. Following in Marjanishvili’s footsteps was Alexander (Sandro) Akhmeteli, who was instrumental in the further development of the Georgian theater. He sought to create a heroic and monumental stage production that had a unique rhythmical structure and engaging characterizations. Akhmeteli produced such successful theater and opera works as Glebov’s Zagmuk (1926), Shanshiashvili’s Anzor (1928), Lavrenyov’s Break-up (1928) Kirshon’s City of the Winds (1929), Dadiani’s Tetnuldi (1931), Arakishvili’s The tale of Shota Rustaveli, etc.

The establishment of Bolshevik rule in Georgia influenced the development of the Georgian theater. In the 1930s, theatrical productions featured characters of workers, peasants and Soviet revolutionaries and depicted the life on a collective farm or a worker’s toils in a factory. In the 1940s, theater performance shifted its focus to the Georgian past in an attempt to appeal to nationalism during World War II. In the 1950s, plays based on works by European authors were staged, including Shakespeare’s Othello, Antony and Cleopatra, Richard II, Sophocle’s Oedipus Rex, plays by Lope de Vega, Carlo Goldoni, Pierre Augustin Beaumarchais, Bernard Shaw, Alexander Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov, Nikolay Gogol, Fyodor Dostoevsky and others. The period produced directors such as Vakhtang Tabliashvili (1914-?) and Vaso Kushitashvili (1894-1962) and the actors Akaki Khorava (1895-1972), Sergo Zakariadze (1909-1971), Erosi Manjgaladze (1925-1982) and Akaki Vasadze (1899-1978), designers Ioseb Charlemagne (1880-1957), Irakli Gamrekeli (1884-1943), Vladimir Sidamon-Eristavi (1889-1943), David Kakabadze (1889-1954), Elene Akhvlediani (1901-1975), Tamar Abakelia (1905-1953), Peter Otskhali (1907-1937) and the great Suliko Virsaladze (1909-1988).

In the 1960s-1980s, Georgian theater gradually turned away from realism and experimented with new genres and styles. The period is noteworthy for the works of Giga Lordkipanidze (1928- ), Robert Sturua (1938- ) and others. Sturua emerged as a master of the epic form and gained worldwide fame for his direction of Shakespeare’s plays Richard III (1979) and King Lear (1987) and the critically acclaimed direction of The Caucasian Chalk Circle (1975). Playwrights N. Dumbadze, G. Abashidze, T. Chiladze, A. Chkhaidze, Sh. Shamandze, Lali Roseba and others authored many successful plays. During the period of civil strife in Georgia in the 1990s, the Rustaveli Theatre continued to operate under the artistic direction of Robert Sturua, producing new performances including such experimental ones as ABC, Life is a Dream, Macbeth, Lamara, Irine’s Happiness, Women-Snake and others.

The two most important theaters in Georgia are the Rustaveli and the Marjanishvili Theaters. Another company, the Tumanishvili Studio Theater of Film Actors, was established in 1977 and serves as a stepping ground for less known artists or recent theatrical graduates. The Royal District Theater operates since 1992. The Opera and Ballet Theater functions in Tbilisi since 1851 and produced performances of Z. Paliashvili’s Abesalom and Eteri and Daisi, Taktakishvili’s Mindia, Dolidze’s Keto and Kote, Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades, Swan Lake and Nutcracker, Bizet’s Carmen, Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana, Puccini’s Tosca and La Boheme, Verdi’s La Traviata and Rigoletto, Mozart’s Don Giovanni and many others The Griboedov Russian Drama Theater, founded in 1845, and the Armenian Drama Theater, established in 1863, are other major centers of theatrical art in Tbilisi. The smaller Rustavi Theater exists in Rustavi, the Meskhishvili Theater in Kutaisi, the Dadiani Theater in Batumi and the Youth Drama Theater in Akhaltsikhe. The Abkhazian and the Sukhumi Georgian Theaters operated in Sukhumi prior to the conflict in Abkhazia and several Georgian and Ossetian theaters were open in Tskhinvali. In 1986, the Theater Studio was established on the Rustaveli Theater’s Small Stage. Tbilisi is also the home of the Russian-Georgian Youth Theater and the Russian Youth Theater. In 1982, the State Pantomime Theater was established in Tbilisi and developed under the direction of Amiran Shalikashvili and Kira Mebuke. The Marionette Theater of Rezo Gabriadze has been successfully performing for decades now and gained worldwide fame for its works.

Currently, there are forty theaters in Georgia, drawing some 266,000 spectators annually. In addition to classical theaters, Georgia is also famous for its dance theaters. In 1886, a Georgian Ballet Theater was established under the direction of Maria Perini and later Mikhail Mordkin. But it was Vakhtang Chabukiani who transformed the classical ballet by introducing Georgian traits and characteristics. He became the ballet company’s leading dancer and brought a unique spirit and energy to his dances. Chabukiani worked as the choreographer and artistic director of the Paliashvili Theatre of Opera and Ballet in 1941-1973 and ballet master and director of the Tbilisi Choreographic Academy in 1950-73. Under his direction, the ballet developed a new archetype of a male dancer with strong legs, general athleticism and uninhibited energy. Among many productions of this period were Heart of the Mountains (1941), Sinatle (1947), Laurencia (1948), Gorda (1950), For Peace (1953), Othello (1957), Demon (1961), Bolero (1971), Hamlet (1971), Apasionata (1980) and others. Simultaneously, Iliko Sukhishvili and Nina Ramishvili founded the Georgian State Dance Company in 1954 and played a crucial role in refining Georgian folk dances. The Sukhishvili Dance Company toured worldwide with great success and remains the finest dance company in Georgia.

Alexander Mikaberidze