Marilyn Bruya, Professor of Visual Arts, University of Montana, Missoula, MT
All of Georgia in a Bowl of Wine
We arrived shortly before Vespers at the Martvili Monastery on the afternoon of June 23. The bishop was in attendance. John and Shergil sang with the men chanters, alternating with the women chanters.
We stayed for part of the service and were then shown a loft room at the back of the church, now made into a small museum, where King David the Builder (12th century) would attend services and pray and study. As a child, David had been raised by the Bishop of Martvili, we learned, and had always returned for Great Lent fasts.
Because John knew one or more of the monks, we were then invited to visit the Monastery's wine cellar, where wine was made according to Georgian tradition. Grapes, skins, seeds and stems are all pressed and aged in the particular Georgian vessels called qvevri, underground beeswax-lined clay vessels. Nothing is added. The grape skins themselves contain the yeast to ferment the wine.
A monk poured a clay bowl of red wine for each of us. There were toasts and the singing of chants. I did not want to offend by not drinking it, as wine has always made me ill. But I took a sip. It was the color of dark red velvet. It had a rich texture. The taste was complex, earthy and mellow. It was unlike anything else called wine.
I had heard stories about the meaning of wine to Georgians over their history, experienced the Supra tradition where Georgians toast to the health and long life of everyone at the table, and I grew up with Bread and Wine as the Sacrament.
But I had never experienced wine as in that clay bowl.
Georgian music drew me to this country. Music and Georgian hospitality draws me back. Here I was in a Monastery cellar, with its history of prayer and endurance, its saints and martyrs. I was in a place described as “probably the most beautiful country on earth,” and I was drinking it all in, in that clay bowl of red wine.
I slowly savored every drop and gave thanks for the gift of that moment.