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Qvevri, a large, ancient Georgian winemaking amphora-like clay vessel, which is granted the status of an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Georgia, is traditionally used to make wine and to store grains. However, this unique clay vessel can be useful for other important purposes, except for its traditional function which is fermentation, storage and ageing. By using qvevri it is also possible to make whisky and this method has proved to be successful based on an example and experience of the ENPARD’s beneficiary Aleksander Kvernadze.
Whisky is a strong alcoholic beverage, an aromatic drink, which is made from fermented grain mash in oak barrels. There are number of varieties of whisky but qvevri-made whisky is something unique. The author of this method is Aleksander Kvernadze who prefers to use qvevri for making whisky as a way of distillation.
Aleksander Kvernadze lives in the village of Alekseevka of Georgia’s Tetritskharo Municipality. Producing exclusive whisky is his main activity, but not the only one – his brand ‘Alexander Distillery’ also unites production of different varieties of wine, Sharbat (subcontinental drink prepared from fruits or flower petals) and Chacha (a strong spirit similar to vodka or brandy).
Besides, together with his friends Aleksander Kvernadze also manages a family type hotel, a holiday home, which is opened in the village of Alekseevka. Kvernadze plans to develop wine and agro-tourism with the funding received after winning the grant competition announced by the ENPARD in the Tetritskaro Municipality.
Aleksander Kvernadze was born and grown up in Tbilisi. After graduating the Technical University he worked at several institutions of the Academy of Sciences; he has published academic papers in various fields. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Alexander Kvernadze has adopted a new profession and became a lawyer in the field of intellectual property. From the age of 35, he actively works as a Patent Attorney and helps companies and individuals protect patents and trademarks.
Aleksander Kvernadze rarely visited his village – once in a year for about one month – but over the course of time he has been renovating his house and yard in Alekseevka and giving it a new life. One day he became obsessed with the desire to make crucial changes and return to his village.
“I do not know what has happened, it was like my land was calling me to come back. The fact is that it became harder for me to stay in the city. Even today it is unbearable for me to stay in the city”, says Aleksander Kvernadze.
Aleksander Kvernadze shared his idea of making crucial changes to his wife and made her agree to move to the village. Since 2005, the family has been actively renovating the house purchased in Alekseevka, while in 2011 Aleksander Kvernadze and his wife - successful doctor of biological sciences and professor – moved from capital of Tbilisi to the village of Alekseevka.
„I could not stay in the village without working so me and my wife decided to get into farming. We made a huge effort in renovating our house and yard. At the same time I was continuing my legal activities”, says Aleksander Kvernadze.
Winemaking has never been unfamiliar for Aleksander Kvernadze and accordingly he became involved in this activity. As Tetritskaro Municipality is a high mountainous region of Georgia grape does not grow there. So Aleksander was buying grapes from one vine-grower, living in lowland, and producing wine. At the same time Aleksander was helping him to grow and care for Asuretuli grape variety. This man has become his main supplier of grapes. Over time, Aleksander turned this hobby into his main business, built a wine cellar and buried several qvevries in the ground.
At the same time, Aleksander Kvernadze started making of chacha but in this process he saw that it was almost impossible to distill a quality chacha with the existing pot stills. While searching the ways how to produce high quality spirit, Aleksander came up with an innovative idea such as distilling chacha in a qvevri. This is an innovative technology which gave completely new idea to Georgia’s traditional winemaking vessel qvevri. Aleksander Kvernadze has already patented a method for making chacha using Georgian qvevri.
This invention brought Aleksander to another innovative and exclusive idea – he became interested in distilling grains such as corn, barley or rye and age them in oak barrels. It turned out that a high quality and tasty spirit was possible to make by using this technology. And accordingly, whisky was created, which was much loved and praised in Georgia as well as abroad.
Aleksander believes his method of making whiskey is unique compared to other types of spirits. He explained that the clay from which qvevri are made purifies alcohol in ways other technologies do not. "I think the forms of qvevri is also very important. The distilled product turned out absolutely free of raw brandy oils and the taste is wonderful”, said Aleksander Kvernadze.
As of today, Aleksander Kvernadze also produces Saperavi wine variety and white wines. He has an exclusive inventions in this direction as well – this is a Sharbat, aromatized and fortified wine (a wine to which a distilled spirit, usually brandy, is added). Sharbat is also made with unique technology and recipe based on the 11th century Georgian Karabadin Medical Handbook.
„We want our production to be distinguished. Each product should be unusual and unique. Each bottle is special for us and it takes really hard work to make one. My wife and I have worked together to create design solutions and unique handmade labels. Our product is exclusive – this is how our customers see us”! – says Alexander Kvernadze.
Aleksander Distiller is a craft, family distiller, which produces from 100 to 200 bottles per year. 145 bottles of Sharbat are produced annually. As for Asuretuli Shavi (a minor red grape variety. Name generally means “black from Asureti”) its production is depended on how plentiful the harvest is. For example, in 2016, 200 bottles of Asuretuli Shavi were produced, while in 2017 – only 100 bottles. This year, it is expected to produce 250 bottles of Asuretuli Shavi. Relatively small volume of Chacha as well as whisky will be produced this year.
When Aleksander Kvernadze started producing wine in 2011 he also became interested in tourism. He made the first steps in the field of tourism together with his friends thanks to the financial support from the state. Three friends arranged a family type hotel and wine cellar, which today offers the guests to taste the production of Aleksander Distller, to have dinner and spend night there.
As of today, this small hotel can accommodate 10 people. The guests are able to stay at the houses of Aleksander’s friends, which have been transformed into a family type hotels. Guests can relax in the yard spread over 2,000 sq.m. which is covered with about 130 rose bunches and different flowers. There is a terrace, hammock and the perfect environment created for guest to enjoy their time at Aleksander’s boutique winery and craft distillery.
Tourists from various countries of the world visit Aleksander’s hotel. They call the place as ‘Aleksander Distller’ which makes the hotel more attractive and understandable for the visitors.
Three friends not only own, but also manage the hotel, where the guests are able to stay for several days. One of the friends is involved in agricultural activities and supplies the hotel with all necessary products. Aleksander Kvernadze’s wife also helps them and takes responsibility on hosting the guests with delicious cuisine. She also takes care on beautiful rose garden and yard. Furthermore, the original design of bottle and label was created by her.
“Our family type hotel is located along the road and accordingly it is easy to find. First four people came here from Paris and when they told me that they wanted to spend the night at my place, I was quite hesitant. But I agreed, and opened the door of my house. Since then everything has been changed in a positive way and today we host a lot of people from different countries of the world”, says Aleksandre Kvernadze.
While developing his tourism business, Alexander learnt about EU-supported Tetritskaro Local Action Group (LAG), which had been established within the EU-funded project ‘Rural Development for Sustainable Growth of Tetritskaro Municipality’ under the second phase of the European Neighbourhood Programme for Agriculture and Rural Development (ENPARD).
The project is implemented by the consortium led by Association Rural Development for Future Georgia (RDFG). The four-year project aims to improve living standards in Tetritskaro municipality by implementing innovative socio-economic models. The total budget of the project is €2.4 million.
The second phase of the ENPARD is based on LEADER model – a European approach to rural development. Its goal is to involve people in developing the agriculture so they could contribute to the development of this field and not only be the beneficiaries. With this goal in mind, Tetritskaro LAG was created in 2017 as a multi sectoral cooperation platform that brings together the civil, private and public sectors to stimulate the local development of the Tetritskaro municipality through a balanced, participative and inclusive local development strategy.
The LAG combines all 20 communities of Tetritskaro municipality. Its members are different religious and ethnic minorities, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and eco-migrants residing in the municipality, out of which 40% are women and around 30% are youth.
Tetritskaro LAG has already adopted a Local Development Strategy that reflects priorities for developing Tetritskary municipality. To achieve those priorities, the LAG selects local development initiatives under a multi-stage competition and supports them with EU grants.
Alexander Kvernadze became the Tetritskaro LAG member from the day of its formation.“LAG helps people to see their work differently and realize that there is a prospect of development. This is very important for rural people. What matters the most is that it’s not just a random sponsor who gives you development stimulus, but it’s the EU that provides a serious and steady support. At LAG we have had many meetings and trainings, also discussed local needs. We have participated in creating the local development strategy”, says Aleksander Kvernadze.
Membership in LAG encouraged Alenksander Kvernadze to further expand his business. He, along with his friends, took part in the announced EU grant competition, wrote a project and won the grant.
„From the very beginning I realized that ENPARD could help us expand our business. This was my main interest. But, at the same time, I was thinking about the benefits our activities could bring to the region. We were attending very useful trainings from which we learnt for example how to write a grant application. These trainings were delivered by highly qualified experts. This was not an easy task as writing project in a professional way turned out to be quite difficult and extensive process. Despite the years of experience in this direction, LAG’s technical trainings and information meetings were very fruitful for me as well as for other contestants”, says Aleksander Kvernadze.
Thanks to the EU’s ENPARD programme Aleksander Kvernadze’s business will expand in three main directions: First of all, Aleksander plans to increase the productivity of whiskey. To achieve this goal the entrepreneur is going to purchase ecologically valid energy equipment. While today Aleksander Distiller produces 1,000 liters of whisky, with the ENPARD support this volume should be increased by three times.
The second important priority for the entrepreneur is to improve the wine cellar, add more qvevris and produce more wine. Wine cellar will be built with innovative technologies, which will further promote wine and agro tourism (which is one of the main directions of development of Tetritskaro municipality) in the village of Alekseevka.
ENPARD’s financial support is also important in terms of developing tourism infrastructure. More specifically, it implies proper arrangement of the garden and the acquisition of inventory for it. Furthermore, one of the partners of Aleksander Kvernadze will receive a tractor from the EU, which will help the entrepreneur to produce agricultural products more effectively and supply the touristic place (family type hotel run by Mr. Kvernadze and his friends).
There is no doubt that Aleksander Distiller does not face any sales-related challenges. The product is quiet expensive but much demanded at the same time. The product is sold at several wine stores and touristic places in Georgia, including the family type hotel in the village of Alekseevka.
Demand on Aleksander Distrell products is also very high in different countries of the world – around Europe, Asia or the United States. For example, during the last two years almost the entire production of Sharbati has been exported to Hong-Kong – first year of production 100 bottles of Sharbati was exported to Hong Kong, while this year – 150 bottles.
Meanwhile, whiskey is very demanded in the United States. The production of the Alexander Distiller has even passed the accreditation of the US central market. However, the challenge is small production volume of the Aleksander Distller which significantly increases the cost of transportation.
“There is a high demand on our products, but so far our resources have been limited. Now, after winning the ENPARD grant competition, we hope to increase the production volume and accordingly to improve export performance. With EU support we will enter European as well as the US markets”, says Aleksander Kvernadze.
Aleksander Kvernadze still continues his legal activities and cooperates with several respectable companies. However, he has less time for this work as Aleksander is mainly involved in managing the hotel in Alekseevka which significantly contributes to improving the economic life in the village and attracting more locals in economic activities.
“Living by inertia is destructive for rural people. ENPARD’s development approach helps revitalize rural areas. Many people in Georgia do not believe in the opportunities of funding to develop a business idea. When we started economic activities, nobody was perceiving us seriously, but it turned out that the support was real. Following our example other people living in the villages also started thinking about launching their own businesses. There are not many similar touristic places like our hotel in my village, but we can certainly say that tourism has been developing in Tetritskaro municipality. Everything does not happens at once, but gradual and constant development is important”, says Aleksander Kvernadze.