Feiring, Alice. 2016. For the Love of Wine: My Odyssey through the World’s Most Ancient Wine Culture. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
One hears more and more buzz about the Republic of Georgia from the wine media. Winemaking, after all, may have originated in Georgia, where clay qvevris were the original fermentation vessels. This method is still used today and involves prolonged skin contact for both red and white wines. Native yeast and absence of chemicals in the vineyard are hallmarks of a tradition that results in “natural wine” in its truest form.
In Alice Feiring’s latest work, For the Love of Wine: My Odyssey through the World’s Most Ancient Wine Culture, she outlines the struggle to maintain those ancient and “natural” winemaking traditions against a backdrop of repeated invasion. The Ottoman Empire pulled up vines in areas under their control and wine production is now nearly absent from those parts of Georgia. The Soviets industrialized wine production and nearly eliminated traditional winemaking. In the current age, the invaders are more insidious. Western influence is attempting to introduce efficiencies and western varietals in an effort to make winemaking more profitable. It is in this current setting that Feiring tells her story.
For the Love of Wine unfolds as a tale of discovery, in which Feiring is guided through her exploration of Georgia by a handful of friends and local winemakers. At times Feiring is resistant to the direction of her companions, but it is a country that holds many surprises and each new adventure leads to amazing discovery. The journey is woven into a brilliant tale that includes the discovery of grapes thought to be extinct and ancient winemaking traditions that are hanging on or being revived in each region she visits. Survival of tradition is not ensured and the siren song of western influence is attractive, but Feiring describes a fierce insistence, among many Georgians, that the old ways be preserved.
As you read Feiring’s account, you will find that she is a strong, almost fanatical, supporter of natural wine, Georgian tradition and preservation of local varietals. At times, as she rails against western techniques and their proponents, I felt that she came across as a bit overzealous. By the end, however, I found myself cheering at each new discovery and I came away a proponent of Feiring’s position.
Wine traveler and wine enthusiast alike will find this an informative and easy read. In addition to championing Georgian winemaking tradition, Feiring describes the fierce beauty of the country and provides insights into a culture that revolves heavily around food, wine and hospitality. Even if you do not embrace the author’s point of view, For the Love of Wine can still help enrich your understanding of a country that is far removed from our own cultural norms.