At the start of the millennium Robin Back, Charles Back’s cousin, was working as a very successful agent for the Fairview and Spice Route wine brands in North America. In 2011, Robin decided to retire from the industry in order to pursue a Doctoral degree in Management at the University of Massachusetts. After earning his PhD, Robin became a professor at the University of Central Florida, teaching wine and spirits and researching many aspects of the wine industry including wine tourism, a vocation that he still holds today. In 2016 Robin was invited to attend the United Nations World Tourism Organization’s (UNWTO) first Global Conference on Wine Tourism which was to take place in Kakheti, Georgia, in the foothills of the Caucasus Moutains (formerly part of the Soviet Union). Naturally, Robin accepted and attended. Little did Robin know that his trip would spark the start of a whole new chapter for the Spice Route Winery.
For many, Georgia is little-known country, even more so in a viticultural sense. However, their wine industry and wine culture is fascinating and booming! A few things that differentiate the Georgians from the rest of the wine world include:
1) Amber wine, a white wine fermented on the skins in an oxidative style. No SO2 is added and the wine is unfiltered and unstabilized.
2) Georgia has more than 500 indigenous Vitis Vinifera grape varieties.
3) Traditional Georgian wines are made in very large earthenware vessels called “kvevris”.
Kvevri winemaking is the earliest known method of vinification. Remnants of kvevris containing wine residue have been uncovered just south of Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, and dated back to the early Neolithic period, around 6000 BCE! These vessels are believed to have been used for the fermentation, storage and ageing of traditional wine, and were usually buried underground. The process of making wine in a kvevri involves pressing the grapes and then pouring the juice, skins, stalks and pips into the vessel, which is then sealed. The juice is left to ferment into wine for at least five to six months before being decanted and bottled. Minimal intervention winemaking is practiced, with no additives, SO2 or commercial yeasts used.
Robin was fascinated by what he saw. At that stage, amber wine had started to make an appearance at some of the trendiest wine spots in Europe, Japan and the US, but now he was witnessing the 8000-year-old winemaking method first hand. Robin knew that another Back would be just as, if not more, intrigued than he was. Robin took along a couple of bottles of Georgian Rkatsili amber wine for his cousin, Charles Back, on his next visit to South Africa. They enjoyed the wine over an alfresco Sunday lunch, while Robin regaled Charles with stories and photos of his Georgian escapade. Although fascinated and intrigued by Robin’s experience, Charles realized that the amber wines were not so far removed from his own life. His father, Cyril Back, had made a similar style wine at Fairview in the late ‘70s.