Viticulture and grapevine local germplasm in Georgia
D. Maghradze, L. Vashakidze, I. Mdinaradze, R. Chipashvili, E. Abashidze, Sh. Kikilashvili
Institute of Viticulture and Oenology, Georgian Agrarian University
13th km Davit Aghmashenebeli Alley, Tbilisi 0159, Georgia.
History of grapevine cultivation
Georgia as a part of the South Caucasus is considered to be an important domestication and cultivation region of the European grapevine Vitis vinifera ssp. sativa Beck. Many archaeological findings are related to viticulture and wine-making activities in our country. The palaebotanical artifacts (vine stem, seed and pollen grain) that are associated with viticulture, large number of local varieties and wide distribution of wild grapevine Vitis Vinifera L. ssp silvestris Beck in Georgia provides sufficient evidence to suggest that Georgia is the grapevine domestication center. The other historical, ethnographic, religious and toponymy information provides additional arguments to prove this theory (Hehn, 1870, De Candolle 1883, Vavilov 1931, Negrul 1949, Kighuradze 2000, Ramishvili 2001, McGovern, 2003, Forni and Failla, 2010, Myles et al. 2011).
The ancient palaebotanical remains, which are discovered at archaeological sites of the ,,Shulaveri’’ culture monuments and dated as 6000-4000 BC, confirm that grain crops and grapevine were distributed in our country's territory in the ancient times. The grapevine cultivation and its integration into the country's economy should be regarded as an important achievement of the Georgian tribes. One of the earliest archaeological evidence of this fact is a wine jar with grapevine bas-relief images. Another findings from the same archaeological sites - archaeological fragments of a thin-walled jar with stylistic relief images of grapes and sculptures of Goddess of Fertility (Chilashvili 2004, Kighuradze 2000) - provides further evidence in support of existence of the well-developed viticulture and wine-making in ancient Georgia. The grape seeds identified at the "Shulaveri’’ archaeological sites have features of cultivated Vitis vinifera ssp. sativa varieties.
The viticulture and wine-making was a continuous activity in the entire territory of Georgia during the Mtkvari (Kura)-Araks (IV-II millennia BC) (Japaridze str, 1971, Licheli 2007, Rusishvili, 2010), Trialeti (I half of II millennium BC), Colchian (XIII-VI centuries BC) and Iberian (Lortqifanidze, 1980, National Council, 1995, Ramishvili-, 2001, Zerbini, 2010) culture periods. Their development continued in the Christian era (IV century AD).
The archaeological findings of "Marani" (the wine cellar) with Kvevri (clay pitchers for wine fermentation and storage) (Ghlonti 2010), "Satsnakheli" (a mechanical wine press) and other agricultural tools for wine making and care, as well as irrigation systems and equipments necessary for grapevine cultivation are associated with this period. Grapevine became one of the main decoration ornaments of the Christian churches in Georgia. Throughout the whole Middle Ages the grape and wine production dominated as the leading culture and agricultural activity (Licheli, 2007).
Viticulture and wine-making developed further in the 19th and 20th centuries and became the dominating field of agriculture and one of the main cornerstones of the Georgian economy. In the 21st century, this trend is being maintained despite the challenges of the world wine market.
Traditional methods of wine-making
The centuries-old Georgian viticulture and wine-making traditions provide several local wine-making methods. Kakhetian and Imeretian dry table wines, Atenuri sparkling and naturally sweet wines are produced locally through different fermentation methods. Besides, the Georgian wine-making has managed to retain the original clay pitcher (Kvevri) for wine fermentation and storage. Kvevri has different synonymous names in different parts of Georgia, but deviates only slightly from the original ancient types.
While the wild grapevine (Vitis vinifera ssp sylvestris) was very widespread in Georgia, the ancient people were aware of important properties of the plant. They began experimentation by selection of the best forms and planting them near their habitats for grape and wine production. As a result, Georgia has become widely recognized as one of the oldest countries of the grapevine cultivation and domestication (Vavilov, 1926, Olmo, 1995, McGovern 2003).
Grapevine local varieties
The Georgians cultivate grapevine and make wine over the long and continuous history of viticulture and wine-making. As a result of such long practice they have developed more than 500 local varieties with various berry color and agronomic characteristics. The total number of Georgian varieties included in "The Ampelography of Georgia "(Ketskhoveli et al., 1960) amounts to 525. These varieties were originated in different historical - geographical regions of our country, such as Kakheti, Kartli, Imereti, Racha, Lechkhumi, Samegrelo, Guria, Adjara, and Abkhazia. In the 20th century, new breeder’s varieties were added to the list of indigenous varieties.
Dr. A. Negrulis in his classification system ascribes Georgian grapevine varieties to two eco -geographical groups (Proles) of the Black Sea (P. pontica subproles georgica Negr.) and the Eastern grapevine (P. orientalis subproles caspica Negr.). The groups evolved within the Colcheti and Alazani grape domestication areas (Ketskhoveli et al., 1960). The majority of the Georgian varieties belong to the group of proles pontica subproles georgica Negr.
Conservation of grapevine genetic resources
Conservation is an essential activity to maintain grapevine varieties. The history of grapevine collections in Georgia is dated back to the nineteenth century, when V. Staroshelski (1892) established a collection of the Imeretian grape varieties and American rootstocks at the Sakara experimental station in 1890. Two years later, based on his studies of local varieties, he published an ampelography of studied Georgian grapevine varieties.
Numerous national, regional and institutional grapevine collections with impressive diversity of varieties were established to serve different purposes in Georgia. For example: the Dighomi grapevine collection, which was established in 1967-1968, included 300 Georgian and introduced foreign varieties.
The grapevine collections were used for conservation research, characterization and selection of the best varieties for further cultivation. Evaluation of the varieties facilitated selection of a wide range of parent pairs, which increased the efficiency of the breeding programs and resulted in development and release of new table and wine grape varieties.
Georgian grapevine germplasm diversity is of the great importance for the international agricultural society and for the international institutions with a mandate to advance the conservation and use of plant genetic resources. As a result, during the last decade Georgia is permanently involved in European projects, aimed to study and protect the cultivated varieties and the wild grapevine resources.
Description of varieties
The professional description of local grapevine varieties has a paramount importance for their identification and conservation. It started in Georgia in the first half of the XIX century with the F. Kolenati`s publication of 1846, which is the oldest description of the Georgian varieties and wild grapevines. Other descriptions have been published since then, among which are: The "Ampelography" (Cholokashvili, 1939), "Racha - Lechkhumi grapevine varieties" (Mirotadze, 1939), "Adjara, Guria and Samegrelo grapevine varieties" (Ramishvili, 1948), "Kakhetian grapevine varieties "(Tabidze, 1954), "Study of the Kartli grapevine varieties" (Kikacheishvili, 1963)," Ampelography" (Ramishvili, 1986), "Classification of Cultural grapevine" (Tsertsvadze, 1989); " Ampelograpy of Georgia" (1962, bilingual), " Ampelograpy of USSR" (1946-1970, ten volumes in Russian); "La Vite e l'Uomo (Del Zan et al. 2009, Italian); “Caucasus and Northern Black Sea Region Ampelography“ (2012, in English) and etc. In 21th century, the old traditional publications are enriched with new descriptions. Besides Georgian varieties have been registered into the international electronic databases, particularly in Vitis International Variety Catalogue http://www.vivc.bafz.-de/index.php) and Euroepan Vitis Database (http://www.eu-vitis.de/index. php).
We hope that Electronic Catalogue Genetic Resources of Georgia, which brings together a number of the most prominent grape varieties, will facilitate their conservation, study and use for the benefit of the country.