March 27, 2024

New Life for Unique Meskhetian Aboriginal Vine Varieties

New Life for Unique Meskhetian Aboriginal Vine Varieties

With support from the Global Environment Facility, UNEP, the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture of Georgia, and the Regional Environmental Centre for the Caucasus, endangered Meskhetian vine varieties are being restored and distributed across the Samtskhe-Javakheti region.

Meskheti, one of Georgia’s oldest viticulture regions, was once rich with diverse grape varieties. However, during the Soviet era, hybrid varieties replaced indigenous ones, leaving only small traces of the original Meskhetian viticulture. Today, vineyards in Samtskhe-Javakheti cover 30 hectares, with only 10 hectares dedicated to native Meskhetian vines.

Local farmers are bringing legends to life by cultivating unique local grape varieties and reviving the Meskhetian wine culture. “This is a unique opportunity for the local population. People are restoring terraces and growing vine varieties that haven’t been cultivated here in years. We hope to see Meskhetian wine flowing from these vines soon,” said Mr. Amiran Lazarashvili, head of the Aspindza Information-Consultation Center.

Ms. Marina Tabatadze, a farmer from Nakalakevi, Aspindze municipality, added, “I am thrilled to grow vines and offer wine to tourists alongside bread made from local Meskhetian wheat. Our diverse cuisine is unimaginable without local Meskhetian wine.”

The project “Sustainable Management of Agrobiodiversity in Vulnerable Ecosystems and Rural Communities of Samtskhe-Javakheti Region in Georgia” supports farmers by providing planting material and training. In March 2024, experts selected 72 beneficiaries, distributing 26,630 certified seedlings of various native grape varieties. The newly planted vineyards cover 11 hectares.

The restoration of Meskhetian viticulture, particularly the terraced vineyards, is prioritized. These vineyards, known as Oroko, Dariji, Bakani, and Sakve, are key to preserving local agrobiodiversity.

During 2023-2024, the vineyard area reached 13 hectares, with 33,230 certified virus-free aboriginal Meskhetian vine varieties distributed to farmers. Demand for these endemic varieties has quadrupled in one year, highlighting their cultural and natural heritage importance.

This initiative is part of the project “Sustainable Management of Agro-biodiversity in Vulnerable Ecosystems and Rural Settlements of the Samtskhe-Javakheti Region,” financed by the Global Environment Facility and implemented by UNEP in partnership with the RECC.