Roman/Georgian Wine Experiment

2 Weeks ago was the 2019 East Kingdom Brewers’ Guilde Collegium. This is the SCA’s big brewing get together where anyone who is anyone shows up and we do a series of classes on various brewing subjects, do panels for advancement within the guilde, and generally taste each others wares and latest experiments. The weekend was great although we were missing a few faces we normally see. This event always charges me up and inspires me to try new recipes and think about where my brewing is going. And until recently it was pretty across the board.

The hardest thing about brewing is that you are chained to the seasons. Spring is my rhubarb wine, dandelion wine season, summer is a variety of meads and cordials, fall is ciders, perrys and grape wines, and then winter is the world of beers. on top of that, new royal couples come in at about the same time so the need for Royal Brewing Donations is always there. But I digress

If you remember, not so long ago…ok maybe pretty long ago now that i’ve checked…. I did a brief discussion on using large clay vessels buried in the ground for protection of making wine: Roman/Georgian wine.

Creating a large enough container to get down beyond six feet allowed the wine to stay a constant temperature regardless of the weather up above.

So I felt it was time to prove the technique by actually making my own wine using the same process. The hardest part of this endeavor was to scale the recipe down. The reason is because first, I don’t need 200 gallons of wine, regardless of how good it comes out. If it failed, I also didn’t need 200 gallons of vinegar either. Another obstacle was that although clay may have been cheap in both Roman and Georgian times, it is at best $20/5 lb block today. By the time I made a 200 gallon Dolum, I might have better spent that money purchasing a new car. Let’s not talk about the 3 to 4 days of heating the clay to cure it, then line the inside with either wax or pitch the way it was done in period. The cost of the grapes… well I could go on and on about how expensive this would be. Suffice it to say, we’ve scaled it down.

The first thing we did was visit my friend up the road who sells food grade barrels to see what he had available. Lo and behold! these wonderful plastic food grade barrels for 5.00 each met our requirements wonderfully. They formerly held olives packed in olive oil so I knew there would be little to no off flavors (possibly period but I haven’t really researched that aspect). I cleaned the barrels thoroughly and set them aside for when this project would be started. In the meantime I had to do some research. In the Roman research, I found reference too “Golden Wine”(1) which was a combination of many grape types thrown together and fermented out. This wine came out looking gold/yellowish and was given to the soldiers who were out serving their Empire. Usually the wine was cut half and half with water to drink. Drinking straight wine was considered uncouth.

The references I found concerning Georgian wine spoke of grape varieties such as Rkatsiteli, Mcvane, Hihvi, Kisi, or Kakhuri mcvane . All of which were grapes grown locally. Whether they were mixed or kept seperate, it was not clear but, the process required the grapes to be loaded into the giant vase, which was already in the ground and then capped and left for most of the winter undisturbed. Come spring, the container would be opened and the “now wine” would be drawn off, possibly into another container where it was held to use later and also clarify.

Not the freshest grapes but they were Italian

So, it was November when this project was started which was unfortunate because my selection of grapes was not good. I had a choice of 4 or 5 varieites. The prime time to go get your grapes apparently is August and the choices are much wider and fresher.

Muscat Canelli was suggested to me by the produce distributors. I purchased 3 flats which was guaranteed to give me 5 gallons of juice. The grapes were put directly into the containers and crushed using a pounding staff that I made by hand using a draw knife.

After all the of the grapes were pounded the lid was lightly secured to allow gases to escape but not allow bugs or bacteria to get in. The containers were originally going to be put into the ground but after speaking to several people we realized 2 things; the container was not clay but plastic, and too small to not freeze placed into a 3 ft hole. The other thing was that the container would not go below the permafrost line to get the earth’s heat to keep it from freezing. It was decided the containers could simulate the effect by placing them in the darkest, coldest section of the basement for the duration. The temp ranged between 40*F-50*F for most of the winter. As per the documentation, it was supposed to sit there from Harvest time (Oct/Nov) to the first weeks of Spring (April/May). As planned, the containers were brought up and filtered into a holding container allowing time for the residue to settle out before bottling for presentation.

The racked off wine. Still very cloudy.

The initial draw of the liquid was very cloudy as seen above, however even after the first overnite period, the heavy yeasts were settling out. By the time it was bottled we had a beautiful color in the rackoff.

This picture doesn’t do it justice but the color is a bright orange color that goes right to the edge of the bottle and doesn’t become watery or fluctuate in any way. The aroma is very light and hardly alcoholic in nature although the grapes do come through. There’s no tannic tang. The flavor was also very enjoyable. It had a light alcohol taste with a young fruit. No doubt if this was allowed to age the alcohol would end up being low but the fructose sugars would bloom and it would be very smooth.

So at the paneling it scored a 77 (Master’s Score). As always there were things the judges wanted changed about the research. I will have to delve more into an “actual recipe” for this but I am overall impressed with how well it came out. There was some talk about trying to get a more period type flavor. We had discussed possibly using a piece of pottery like a flower pot dipped in beeswax to influence the same kind of flavors that the vintning container would have but we were more worried about what kinds of chemicals could be found in those pots. As always, there’s room or improvement and ways to attempt a more period product.



  6. Wine process-   
  8. (added 9/1/2020)

2 thoughts on “Roman/Georgian Wine Experiment

  1. Pingback: Pennsic 38 brief recap | Inn of Bards Rest

  2. Pingback: Off the Beaten Path | Inn of Bards Rest

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