Insights: One-on-One with the founders
1. The Meaning of Wine
Q: Wine is so many things, covering the whole spectrum of meanings, from the profane to the sacred. For some, it is no more than a means to drink oneself into oblivion; for others, it is a way to attain oneness with God, no less. What is it about wine that inspires you personally on your path as a winemaker?
ZM: To begin with, wine is so much more than a thing – some consumer product on a par with lemonade and such. It’s above all a cultural phenomenon. It’s a culture in its own right. It encompasses the vast array of unique and intricate techniques employed in grape cultivation and production, and then all the various etiquettes, customs and ceremonies that contextualize and amplify the significance of wine. “This is my blood,” says the prophet in the Gospel of Mark, giving rise to one of the most iconic rituals in Christianity…

It’s an ancient culture. There are not so many cultural forms that can be traced back 8,000 years ago and remain vibrant today, as is the case with Georgian wine. It amazes me as I reflect on this fact. It also fills me with pride as a bearer and custodian of this ancient culture, taking it a step further every day as a winemaker, refining and extending it beyond its original scope, into the world at large, where it truly belongs.

Wine is a global culture. As such, it brings people together, all so different in their backgrounds, traditions, perspectives, tastes and manners. Just as some people journey to the farthest reaches in pursuit of wonders upon which to feast their gaze, others venture this far, crossing uncharted horizons, with the sole purpose of indulging in the pleasures of savoring wines.
Wine has its own grammar and vocab. It is a kind of language. Compared to other languages, it is perhaps the least divisive of all...
As diverse as this culture is, it has its own grammar and vocabulary. It is a kind of language. Compared to other languages, it is perhaps the least divisive of all. Unlike the language of politics, which often splits humanity into opposing groups, wine spells conviviality. It fosters a sense of togetherness, stimulating cordial and enjoyable interactions among people.
In this regard, we may refer to the symposium, which was a key social institution of the ancient Greeks. It was essentially a ritual feast accompanied by uninhibited revelry. Held on a regular basis, symposia featured a variety of artistic performances, poetry contests, storytelling, music and dancing; philosophical debates and sharing of ideas.
These events, with participants from all walks of life, primarily served to forge and strengthen social bonds within a community. Wine played a central role at those gatherings. In fact, it flowed in abundance.

In Laws, Plato endorsed symposia as a means of testing and developing virtue in citizens. While the youth were indulging in wine, the adults observed them inconspicuously, assessing from aside their ability to handle the effects of intoxication. Some would lose self-control by bursting into tears, uttering nonsense, or provoking brawls, while others remained steadfast and composed, exhibiting remarkable self-restraint even in the most inebriated state. From these observations, the seniors drew conclusions regarding the suitability of each for public office.

When enjoyed in moderation, good wine offers numerous health benefits, including improved cardiovascular function and enhanced memory. Some even attribute the longevity of the Georgians to their wines… But it is the sociocultural aspect of winemaking that inspires me most. This inspiration underpins the value system of our company – the philosophy that resonates with everyone at Tbilvino. On top of our commitment to quality, which is the foundation of this system, we believe in the power of tradition, culture, community, and humanity in general. These values guide every step in our winemaking process and business operations.
Some even attribute the longevity of the Georgians to their wines. But it is the sociocultural aspect of winemaking that inspires me most...
I see the global wine culture as a bridge that connects people from across the world, with different mentalities and perspectives, inviting them to come together for a chance to share their heritage, experiences, stories, and laughs over a bottle of good wine. It serves as a medium that facilitates the appreciation of diversity and lights up the celebration of unity. It sparks understanding among strangers by reminding them of their basic commonalities.
The free-spirited, welcoming and cheerful ethos of this culture becomes especially important at a time when the world seems increasingly fragmented and drenched in hostility. It offers a refreshing respite from the seriousness of everyday life, a colorful escape into a world of laughter and mirth. It impels us to let go of our inhibitions, break the shackles of conformity, to embrace spontaneity, and to revel in the pure delight of the present moment. Let us pop the corks and raise our glasses to that!
2. The Ritual Dimension of Wine
Q: Wine has great symbolic meaning in many cultures and is present in many religions. Even Islam, which forbids it in this life, promises wine – literally rivers of it – as a reward in the afterlife. Just as ayahuasca in indigenous cultures of the Amazon, wine has long been used in various rituals elsewhere to evoke mystical experiences...
... One notable example is Bacchanalia, festivals dedicated to Bacchus, the ancient Roman god of fertility, dating back to the third century B.C. There, wine served as a conduit for spiritual transcendence, enabling participants – through frenzied dancing, singing, and revelry under its spell – to access a realm beyond their normal perception and establish a connection with the divine. Given its 8,000-year history of winemaking, cultural ties to ancient Greco-Roman civilization, and the near sacral status of wine in Georgian culture today, has it ever played a similar role in local religious tradition – as a gateway to the supernatural realm?

GM: If only to some extent, as far as I can tell. Most of those altered state experiences can hardly be replicated in the same manner today. And our history of winemaking is devoid of records describing mystical rituals as wild as the Bacchanalia.

Suffice it to say that, as in ancient Greece and Rome, in our culture wine has always been revered as a gift from the heavens above; as well as craftsmanship and artistry involved in winemaking, viewed as a reflection of the divine order and the beauty of nature. It still is. The winemaking process, from A to Z, is a very complex and multilayered affair – all the way from land cultivation to bottling and distribution.
These rituals were mechanisms that helped shape the community and enhance social cohesion within its bounds...
There are countless variables at each stage, and only some are within human control. Hence, the results are always largely unpredictable, full of surprises, both pleasant and not so much. In this area, it is just as surprising when the outcome turns out to be exactly what one wishes it to be. We Georgians stand humbled by the divine mysteries that govern winemaking, acknowledging that even our best efforts and most perfect wines depend on the whims of higher powers. Or nature, which has its own plans, hidden, and we can only do our best to guide this process.

In this context, I can only speak of “rites of passage” in the secular sense, which likely have their roots in the earlier religious practices, of the pre-Christian pagan period, bearing some resemblance to the Dionysian Mysteries and the Bacchanalia, which was the Roman adaptation of the Greek rituals.
Although the primary function of these rituals was religious, they also had a significant social relevance. These rituals were the occasions for communal bonding, fostering a sense of belonging and unity among participants. Wine (which at some point replaced the sacrificial offering of animal blood to the gods) served as a social lubricant, a catalyst to break down interpersonal barriers and bring about the atmosphere of openness, mirth, and excitement. In this intoxicating convivial ambiance, participants engaged in vibrant conversations, indulged in uninhibited interactions, and forged profound connections with one another. These rituals were mechanisms that helped shape the community and enhance social cohesion within its bounds. Essentially, they are “rites of passage”, or ceremonial bridges between the individual and the collective, guiding participants through a transformative process of social self-discovery and full communal integration.
I would say in this regard that some Georgian experiences of Alexandre Dumas, the world-renowned French novelist, celebrated for books like The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers and, most pertinently, Adventures in Caucasia, can be interpreted in light of such rituals, albeit in their residual form by the mid-nineteenth century. His observations bear witness to the special status of wine as an object of almost religious veneration, highlighting the significantly more ceremonial context in which wine is consumed in Georgia compared to elsewhere in the world.

Among other things, he notes that interrupting a toast is a display of disrespect towards both the speaker and the gathering. It is also not permissible to propose a toast without the permission of the toastmaster. Wine is to be consumed immediately after the toast, and no other way, or else one may be fined, or presented with a larger vessel filled with wine and forced to drink it all at once.

There are also specific roles at the gathering, with the toastmaster being the central figure, serving as the leader of the group. At larger ceremonies, there may be deputy toastmasters. The merikipe is the person responsible for pouring wine into glasses, and they are expected to fill them promptly, just as the toastmaster delivers timely toasts. There are always those who sing, dance, recite poetry, and perform various other functions.
Georgian wine is like the blood of the country; it is pure and healthy, it nourishes and invigorates. It is the pride of every Georgian...
— Alexandre Dumas Adventures in Caucasia, 1858
Speaking of “mystical experiences” and “access to a realm beyond one’s ordinary perception,” we can only speculate on the magnitude of one’s cognitive and spiritual transformations resulting from the amount of wine consumed during the opulent feasts depicted in Dumas’ book: “There were about twenty people at the table when I entered the room. The first thing that caught my attention was an enormous jar. This colossal vessel held a quantity of wine easily equivalent to seventy to a hundred bottles. The challenge ahead of us was to empty it!.. As for how much of it I myself consumed, to the tunes of the musicians and the exclamations of the poets, I cannot precisely ascertain...
But I dare say the quantity was respectable, for by the end of the feast it prompted a discussion about issuing me a certificate confirming my abilities…”

The author of Adventures in Caucasia goes on to note that “in Georgia, it is considered an honor to overdrink your companion. Georgian feasts are unlike any other, where even moderate drinkers may consume five or six bottles of wine, and sometimes twelve or fifteen per person…”
3. The Wellspring of Conviviality
Q: I honestly find it hard to believe: Five or six bottles of wine… up to fifteen per person in one sitting? That's a lot by our standards! What's going on here?
GM: It makes me wonder, too. Our ancestors must have had superpowers to handle so much wine. Wine had to flow through their veins, being their blood and part of their DNA – quite literally so. I guess we’ve got some catching up to do!

Though, also, it could be something to do with the quality of wine itself. In his 1856 book of adventures in Georgia, Dumas observes that here more wine is consumed than anywhere in the world, adding that “God has endowed Georgians with wine of the kind that intoxicates without hitting one in the head.” This last point is interesting and, for the benefit of all wine aficionados, certainly merits further exploration.

He writes that Georgian wines are regarded as special “in that they evoke philanthropic feelings in the highest degree. If we could have the entire world savor these wines, all people would at once unite into one harmonious family.” This point is not so far-fetched and corroborated by our contemporaries, if only to an extent.
God has endowed Georgians with wines of the kind that intoxicates without hitting one in the head... They evoke philanthropic feelings in the highest degree...
— Alexandre Dumas Adventures in Caucasia, 1858
One finds an account of Marcello Mastroianni setting foot on Georgian soil in March 1988. The universally beloved Italian actor arrived on a night flight to Tbilisi. A cab took him through the city to his hotel, with an intended short stopover at his friend Sergei Parajanov on the way.

Paradzhanov lived on a hill, in a place inaccessible by car. Mastroianni got out of the cab and continued on foot until he bumped into a woman coming down the street towards him, carrying a bucket of water. She froze when she recognized the actor, dropped the bucket, and screamed in amazement, “Marcello, Marcello has arrived!” Her ecstatic cries awakened the neighbors and reverberated throughout the entire district.

The narrow street quickly filled with people carrying bottles of wine, cheese, and greens. A long table was instantly arranged, and the feast commenced, with Mastroianni seated at the head. The moon illuminated the scene with its pre-dawn glow. Marcello was listening to impromptu Georgian songs and sipping wine, basking in pure bliss. With the first rays of the sun, he was now the one shouting in ecstasy: “To hell with all the Oscars! I’m staying in Tbilisi forever!”...
In Georgia I finally learned how to live and savor life to the fullest. I remember everything: How we sang and drank and laughed… Good heavens, I can’t recall when we ever worked!..
— Pierre Richard 1000 and One Recipes: A Chef in Love
The idea of Georgian wine culture as an endless family-like feast, a generative sociocultural context, finds confirmation in the words of Pierre Richard, a French actor considered to be one of the greatest comedians in the last 50 years. He is also a winemaker: “In Georgia I finally learned how to live and savor life to the fullest. I remember everything: How we sang and drank and laughed… My goodness, I can’t recall when we ever worked!”
1000 and One Recipes: A Chef in Love, a 1996 film directed by Nana Dzhordzhadze, was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film and Pierre Richard won his first-ever award for Best Actor. Following its premiere on French television, he joked about it, exclaiming: “I’ve been acting for forty years! Did I really have to appear in a Georgian film to finally gain worldwide renown?”
4. The Lot of Georgian Wine Culture
Q: Despite its prehistoric origins, the coverage of Georgian wine culture in the global media, including even the most erudite and elaborate reviews, often presents it as a rather recent, largely exotic, almost odd phenomenon. How do you explain that?
GM: This peculiar state of affairs is not so much due to Georgian wine culture per se, but to a host of factors that are largely external to it – a combination of geographic, political, demographic, economic, religious, technological and commercial circumstances of our wine culture.

First of all, it should be made clear that European wine culture – in the format and quality as we know it today – is itself a fairly recent phenomenon, given the millennia of winemaking. In this regard, we can speak only of the last 150 years, when winemaking has evolved to become the domain of art and science.

For example, it was only after the development and widespread deployment of modern refrigeration methods that it became possible to control the temperature of the fermentation process and produce high quality wines in hot climates. The introduction of modern harvesting machinery and other equipment allowed winemakers to enlarge their vineyards; to make all the processes more efficient and commercially viable. Only after the creation of a modern transportation network, reliable and affordable, the European wine culture gained widespread popularity in the world and established itself as a champion in the field. And so on.
Georgian wine culture has been around forever, as a local phenomenon, thriving on its own terms...
The Georgian wine culture is a newcomer and an exotic curiosity only in this circumstantial sense – as a commercial product on the global market, by no means in essence.

It has been around forever, as a local phenomenon, thriving on its own terms. In fact, this culture was micro-local in the days prior to the creation of the first Georgian railway in 1871. Because of the rough mountainous geography, the construction of this railroad was an incredibly daunting task.

Before that, Kakhetian wines had only minimal distribution outside the Kakheti region, just like any other regional wines in Georgia, which were produced by the locals for their fellow villagers from the local grape varieties, using strictly local methods honed over centuries, taking into account the specificities of local terroirs.
The railroad first connected Tbilisi with Poti, facilitating trade between different parts of the country, and then, by the end of the century, linked Georgia with its neighboring countries, greatly facilitating international trade. Georgian wines got wheels! For the country with its local population of some 1.3 million back then, it was an epic breakthrough.

We could go on through the list of external factors that have in the course of history hindered the growth of Georgian wine culture. Its location on the margins of global empires; the centuries of Persian, Roman, Ottoman, Mongol invasions; the Soviet era with its grandiose, yet inoperative apparatus of central planning…

It is hard to tell the effect of those factors in the long run. The curse could have been the ultimate blessing. The authenticity exhibited by this wine culture today can be attributed to all the constraints and pressures that it experienced in the past; to the energy of its resistance to any outside forces, soft and hard. What makes the Georgian wine culture sui generis...
The curse could have been its ultimate blessing. The authenticity exhibited by the Georgian wine culture today can be attributed to all the constraints and pressures that it experienced yesterday...
5. The Mythology of Georgian Wine
Q: It is fascinating how deeply the Georgian wine culture is steeped in myths and legends – all sorts of stories that pass down from generation to generation. The same cannot be attributed to other wine cultures. Why is this so?
ZM: Myths are said to connect the everyday world to the eternal; they give meaning to the mundane. Traditional winemaking in Georgia has always been a very imaginative endeavor. And how could it be otherwise after a few glasses of Saperavi in a jolly good company after a day’s hard work in the vineyard or in the winery! That is why this culture is infused with all sorts of fantastical themes... The “cradle of wine” story is perhaps the only bill that can be taken to the bank.

An oft-told legend relates how soldiers wove a piece of grapevine into the chainmail protecting their chests, so when they died in battle, a vine sprouted not just from their bodies, but their hearts. I like that one.
Myths connect the everyday to the eternal. They give meaning to the mundane...
6. Beyond Hedonism
Q: Alice Feiring has written a book about her travels in Georgia. It reads like a love letter to the Georgian people and their tradition of winemaking. Among other things, she points to the struggle of Georgian wine culture to stay true to its heritage. In other words, this culture is not wrapped up in itself, locked into its formulas, liquids and ceremonies. It also has a political dimension...
GM: That’s true. This culture transcends its self-referential and hedonistic parameters, important as they are. It also encapsulates ethics, aesthetics, metaphysics, psychology, spirituality, community, and many other dimensions of being.

There is a film by Otar Iosseliani, Falling Leaves (1966). Its main character, Nico, a fresh university graduate, begins his career as a technologist at a wine factory, a typical Soviet one. At first glance, Nico lacks self-confidence and discipline, but at heart he is an honest and straightforward person. Predictably, he soon finds himself under administrative pressure and faces a moral dilemma: In order to fulfill the production plans, he is expected to bottle low-grade wine to be sold as premium.

This practice is nothing new at the factory. The workers in such cases take notes of the bottling dates and pass the information on to their families and friends – so that, in the know, they would avoid these bad wines in stores and restaurants. This overpriced rotgut is the fate of all others in the community, who are not so well connected as to be informed. It is up to Niko to defend his dignity and principles against the pressure from his superiors.

This old Soviet film is didactic on many levels. It teaches us something important. Among other things: Wine is a source of national identity, pride and glory; a medium of cultural expression. In this status it can’t be fake! This is very much an ethical position.
What makes Fallen Leaves even more interesting and revealing is the fact that the film was banned by the Soviet censors, who simply could not admit – even indirectly – that its plot in any way reflected the reality of their times. Now, that’s politics!

Georgian wine is more than wine for the Georgians. Alice Feiring, author of For the Love of Wine has got it right: wine is our poetry and our folklore; our religion and our daily bread. It’s the wealth of our nation.
Not the kind of wealth that the British economist Adam Smith had in mind in his classic treatise on the amassment of money and material possessions. Almost the opposite – what makes this culture so positively different and deliciously generous. From Rustaveli’s The Knight in the Tiger Skin comes this wisdom: “Spending on feasting and wine is better than hoarding our substance. That which we give makes us richer; that which is hoarded is lost.”
Wine is the Georgians’ poetry and their folklore; their religion and their daily bread...
— Alice Feiring For the Love of Wine
7. Ghosts Cast no Shadows
Q: Tbilvino was founded ages ago and years before you were born. The year 2023 marks the 60th anniversary of the enterprise. It was once the backbone of the Georgian wine industry and a pillar of the all-Union economy in this sector. How is the legacy of its grandiose past reflected in the current operations of the company?
ZM: Its “grandiose” past is very much like a ghost. As we know, ghosts cast no reflection in the mirror. Because they have no soul. Luckily, neither do they cast shadows, which means the present moment of the company cannot be eclipsed or in any way affected by its past. We can only relate to the future and look ahead. Our path is somewhat like that of Orpheus in ancient Greek mythology. He was allowed to depart from The Netherworld, the realm of darkness, only on the condition that he never looked back.

On a serious note, though, and in all fairness to our precursors, this gaping void in place of their legacy is due to the status of wine culture in the Soviet Union, in general. This culture was neglected, to say the least. Wine was not high in the Homo Sovieticus diet. Our predecessors did their best, but could not possibly succeed in those circumstances. Not on a large scale, let alone on the global one.

There was nothing global back in the days. The world was split into geopolitical blocks by conflicting power structures and impenetrable walls of ideologies. In the twilight zone of the Soviet dogmatism, wine culture was deemed petit bourgeois in essence and decadent in effect. Wine, like jazz and other such things, had a “pernicious influence on the builders of communism”. It prolonged the progression in that direction.
In the twilight zone of the Soviet ideology, wine culture was deemed ‘bourgeois’ in essence and ‘decadent’ in effect....
With its factory, the largest one around, Tbilvino was indeed the backbone of the Georgian wine industry. It is just that it was the backbone of an organism that suffered from chronic malnutrition and hobbling around on crutches. Such was more or less the case in all other sectors of the crumbling Soviet economy. Nevertheless, our predecessors managed to score quite a few points, playing against their fellow winemakers in Moldova, Ukraine, Armenia; as well as their far better nourished and built counterparts in Central and Eastern Europe – Bulgaria, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Romania…

At some point in the 80s, things went from bad to worse. For Georgia, these problems started mounting in the wake of the drought that struck the Transcaucasian region in 1985. In the same year, the Soviet government issued the decree On Combating Drunkenness and Alcoholism, triggering a sweeping reorientation of the industry. In one year, about a third of the wineries in the country switched to producing non-alcoholic beverages, others to food production. Soon all went belly up, anyway. By that time, technical schools had already canceled their programs for mid- and high-level specialists in the field. The production of equipment dropped sharply. Glass factories almost completely stopped producing wine bottles. Vineyards in Georgia shrank from 147,000 hectares in 1980 to 90,000 in 1995; gross yield from 996,000 to 284,000 tons…
In 1991, we bought into a grave, essentially, with a plaque on it that said Tbilvino… in the cemetery that bore the name Georgian Wine Culture.
In all fairness, our precursors managed to score quite a few points, contesting their fellow winemakers in Central and Eastern Europe...
8. From Quantity to Quality
Q: You once remarked that your initial experience in the field was both challenging and exciting. The exciting part aside for now, what was your greatest challenge in that phase?
GM: As Lisa Granik kindly mentioned in her intro, there were no winemakers in our family. I and Zurab, we were pioneers in this field.

To complicate our story, this field was the graveyard of the wine industry in the early 1990s, when the Soviet system collapsed, with its “falling tide running all boats aground”… Describing the legacy of the old Tbilvino as a void and a ghost, not reflected in our business model, I was being merciful. That legacy was actually negative, weighing upon us greatly at that time.

When we came on board, first as minority shareholders in the mid 90s, we didn’t have any leverage in strategic decision-making. All our dreams were dismissed wholesale as idealistic gibberish. We were fighting an uphill battle against what we thought was sheer insanity entrenched at the top. It was the insanity of “doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results,” as Einstein would have it. The company’s vision and modus operandi had not changed much since Soviet times. There were lots of changes to be made!

Just as before, ever since 1962, growers were harvesting grapes and dumping them by truckloads at preliminary wineries. There the grapes would be processed into wine substance, often with no regard to grape varieties in the mix and all other important specificities.
Back then we could only rely on our resolve and instincts. They were both very challenging and exciting times...
This substance would then be taken to Tbilvino to undergo final processing, after which the wine would be bottled, labeled and prepared for shipment. Since there was no control over the full cycle, Tbilvino could not guarantee the end quality of its products. In fact, at that time, quality was not the point of the game. It was all in the name of quantity.

In Soviet times, amidst the scarcity of all and everything, this scheme must have worked wonders for those in charge, and their entrenched insanity assumed that it would carry on like this forever.
And so the main challenge we took on was to dispel this assumption in favor of the faith in quality, as the only path to salvation in the new times.

The new game of quality, the principles of which we instituted following our complete acquisition of Tbilvino in 1999, required oversight of the processes outside the company, starting with the vineyards and their issues as basic as the biotic (living or once-living things) and abiotic (minerals, water, and air) composition of soils. Since we did not yet have our own vineyards, the main task at the time was to build a reliable supply chain involving numerous private farmers and to establish the relationship of trust with them.
The game of quality required oversight of the processes outside the company as well, starting with vineyards...
The task proved daunting. Many vineyards that had survived communism were often in poor condition and they were not necessarily planted with specified varieties. The situation was exacerbated by the fact that many farmers were finding it more practical to convert their land to growing something other than grapes – melons, potatoes, or crops for feeding livestock.

And above all these challenges – like a chair atop Everest – we didn’t have the money to fulfill our quality dream.

We were woefully short of money, which could not be said of the three million liters of crude wine-material, bubbling and gurgling in the cool darkness of the basement, the liquid vestige of the old Tbilvino’s consciousness. Wise people, whom we invited from various countries for consultation, tasted it and advised us not to bottle it, but to dispose of the entire volume wholesale, at an elastic exchange rate of “as much as they will give”.

After all our debts were paid to our creditors, we drove to Kakheti and spent the leftover money on the grapes of our dream.
9. Follow your Bliss!
Q: Your musical analogy works quite well so far. Symphonies, sonatas and other classical forms, as they unfold, do reflect the dynamics of human experiences nicely. Your story begins with an Overture that prepares for what comes next. Abstract, yet it contains elements that will echo throughout the piece. It is followed by Exposition, where the main theme takes shape...
... We are now in Recapitulation mode. Here the main theme is reintroduced and given full instrumental expression. It gains in intensity and valence. At this point everything in the work comes full circle. The period of 2009-2023 marks the current phase of Tbilvino's history. What's so distinct about it?

GM: This phase is special in the sense that during this period we realized most of our original dreams. I’m not saying we fulfilled all of our visions, but certainly all those within the circumstances we could control. What has been happening in the world in the last few years can hardly be deemed conducive to the fulfillment of one’s aspirations in full measure. Nevertheless, these external impediments have not brought our evolution to a halt, and this fact alone gives us great confidence in the future. Indeed, this future is already very much in sight.

Since its is a personal story, and we are now in the final part of that story, which is also the story of Tbilvino, with all its major hurdles resolved and everything else lined up to blend seamlessly into the future, I’ll present another analogy that nicely sums up everything that transpired in the course of our adventure. I want to frame this part in terms of an existential journey, drawing some of these terms from Joseph Campbell’s research in comparative mythology and depth psychology. Informed by this study, his philosophy boils down to a single imperative: Follow your bliss!
If you can see the path laid out in front of you step by step, it’s not your path...
— Joseph Campbell The Hero with a Thousand Faces
This journey has a special itinerary, a subliminal one. And it is universal: All epic characters, whether Odysseus in The Iliad or Avtandil in The Knight in the Tiger Skin, follow their bliss guided by this map. In fact, we are all epic characters, the heroes in the stories of our own adventures, and do just that in the course of our lives, subconsciously.
This journey starts with the moment of realization that something is not quite right with our ordinary lives, that our comfort is crippling our development. Enjoyable as they may be, our easy lives lack positive programs. Personal progress is meaningless unless it is aimed at something beyond our current situation.
It takes courage to step out of the matrix of the familiar. We don’t have enough of it. We look for a mentor to instill in us all the confidence needed for the first move – a real person or a fictional figure who manifests our ideals. And so, having received the blessing, we set our sails to the winds of change and venture into the unknown. This much confidence takes us to the point where we confront our inner demons – fear, anger, laziness and all that which holds us back.

We are likely to fail our first test, but at least we are gaining experience that roughly shapes us into what we want to become in the end. It is at this stage that we come face to face with our enemies. But most importantly, here we meet our allies – themselves on a heroic journey, perhaps.

Encouraged by their support, we prepare ourselves for the ultimate challenge, the supreme ordeal at the bottom of our innermost cave. There we either to die and perish forever, psychologically, or die and reemerge transformed. What we once thought impossible turns out to be doable. We come out of that cave victorious, now as more capable beings, independent and responsible.

We take our “can-do” insight, our greatest trophy, back home to share with others. It’s the kind of knowledge that heals. It is the wisdom that impels everyone to pursue in life what they are most passionate about, to follow their bliss.
The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek. Follow your bliss!..
— Joseph Campbell The Hero with a Thousand Faces
Around 1998, after graduating from business school in Cyprus, I returned to Georgia and started working in the field of international banking and investment. It was a solid nine-to-five office job and well-paid; it offered ample opportunities for career advancement, and other perks. I could go on with it forever. Or so I thought for a while. But then one morning, with my nose deep in a spreadsheet, I heard a whisper that said: “I can’t wait ’til Friday”. Strangely enough, it was coming from inside me. And again the following Monday, this time in a slightly more audible and persuasive manner.
I shared this odd episode with my brother. It turned out that Zurab had experienced about the same thing, under the influence of a close friend of our parents. So heaven itself arranged for us to stick together.

Without waiting until Friday, I said goodbye to everything familiar and predictable in life, stepped off the beaten path, and together with my brother we raised the sails of hope and sailed at our own risk into the open ocean of the unknown, dealing with problems as they arose.
The problems were countless, raining down on us like tetris. The imposition of embargo in 2006 was our supreme ordeal in that avalanche of troubles. It had the most serious impact and almost ruined the company, with our sales down 50% and our debts through the roof. But in hindsight it was the most formative moment and rewarding one in the long run. Indeed, “that which does not kill you makes you stronger.”

The blockade mobilized us and opened our eyes to many things that we had considered unimportant. Under that pressure, we radically changed our strategy, placing the emphasis on revamping our production facilities and finding new markets. Couple of years later, we emerged fully transformed and feeling better than ever. In 2012 we built a new facility in Kakheti. 2014 saw us planting our own vineyards, which in turn prompted the creation of our Special Reserve collection.

We met many people on our journey, far too many to list them here – some malicious types, for sure, as predicted in Campbell’s model, but mainly supporters. The bulk of our know-how came from outside in the form of professional guidance and friendly advice. For instance, the idea of cultivation of our own grapes would not have caught on so easily if it were not for the support of this idea by some heavyweights in the global industry.
It is under that pressure that we radically changed our strategy, placing the emphasis on revamping our production facilities and finding new markets...
10. Horizons
Q: You said that tomorrow is already upon you. In what sense?
ZM: The future has stepped in a year ago, when we started thinking of a major paradigm shift in our business. It spells the structural development of our base and certain finetuning in the spectrum of our products, involving among other things the angle from which our new wines will be introduced. By thinking I do not mean idle musings, but a number of practical steps already taken in this direction.

For a year now, with the help of MUA Architects, one of the most innovative and award-winning teams around, we have been working on a project that would be both a tribute to the Georgian tradition of winemaking and the environment.

Finalized on paper, it is scheduled to commence by the end of the year and be completed at some point in 2025.
Given the special place of wine in Georgian culture, where it is elevated to almost religious heights, this project is conceived as a temple of wine, to be built in the rural heart of Kakheti, surrounded by sprawling vineyards and overlooking the 6th century Nekresi monastery; in the vicinity of Ilia Lake, Gremi Convent and Holy Trinity Cathedral.
Complementing its spiritual role, this place is also to serve a number of practical functions: it houses a Marani, a cellar for several dozen Qvevri vessels and a spacious reception hall that includes a wine bar, a fireplace and a degustation area. In the center of the building, very much in the tradition of Roman and Byzantine architecture, there is a pond to be filled and refilled with rainwater coming in through openings in the roof. A winding staircase takes visitors up to the terrace, which offers the most spectacular panoramic views of the vineyards and the early medieval monastery at a distance.
Complementing its spiritual role,
the temple is designed to serve a number of practical functions as well...
Horizontally generous, this minimalist squat temple is a bow to its scenic surroundings and to the environment at large. It is also a nod of respect to the vernacular architecture of the region, as it draws largely on local materials and traditional construction techniques.
The primary building material in the area is compacted soil – a mixture of soil, clay, silt and gravel. All engineering solutions are aimed at minimizing the use of energy. The building is equipped with solar panels and designed to make the most of natural light, heat, chill and ventilation.
Q: You mentioned “a certain refinement in the spectrum” of your products in the future that has already been unfolding for the company. Should we expect some new Tbilvino wines on the market soon?

GM: The last few years we have been looking for ways to diversify our portfolio with the inclusion of rarity wines which by definition imply their peculiar character, superb quality and longevity. It is well known that the wine culture of Georgia enjoys worldwide attention precisely because of its wonderfully diverse terroirs, distinctive methods of winemaking and the vast array of native grape varieties, most of them unknown outside Georgia.
Georgian wine culture is a veritable paradise for those who have little predilection for standardized delights. To all those who crave adventure, who are attracted to this culture by the surprises it holds at every turn, we are pleased to announce that in the cosmos of more than 500 varieties of indigenous grapes, we have discovered another one. Good one!

And we intend rolling with it for our signature limited edition series. For that purpose we are setting up a plot of land, most fertile and auspicious in every other natural aspect, to be attended to in accordance with the select principles of Biodynamic agriculture. That’s all I can reveal about it at this point.
To all those who crave adventure, who are drawn to this culture by the surprises it holds at every turn. Georgian wine culture is a veritable paradise for all those who have little predilection for standardized delights...