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Wine and Georgian funeral lunch

One of most surrealist travel experiences ever: attending a random Georgian funeral lunch, exceptionally joyous and alcoholic event

Guess who came around? :-)
Yes, the man thanks to whom I went to Georgia for the first time - in 2012, and thanks to whom I’m in Georgia even no,w Jirka. When we were here he loved Georgia (his Facebook profile picture is still a photo from Tbilisi), so naturally he came for a visit now that I’m here to see more of Georgia.
After one day in Tbilisi and re-visiting a restaurant we both fell in love with when we were here 1,5 year ago and re-visiting some Georgian wine and brandy, the three of us went for another small trip in Georgia. This time we headed to the east to Georgian prime wine region Kakheti. Neither me nor Jirka have been there so we rented a car and hit the road. Spring in Georgia seems to be the rainiest season of the year and it was raining a lot during the weekend so we didn’t do too much exploration and headed straight to Sighnaghi supposedly region’s nicest town. When we arrived heavy fog was just settling in and so I barely managed to take few pictures of this beautiful hill-top village before it disappeared in greyish whiteness.

Upon arrival to our guesthouse we were welcome by a jar of homemade chacha, which is Georgian grappa (grape distillate), a jar of homemade wine and a loaf of bread with some cheese. And so while we were slowly checking in and the sun was slowly fighting back through the fog we were slowly getting drunk, which was anyway the main (and the only) goal for that day. Sighnaghi is very pleasant village, so we strolled around, but let’s be honest, you come here to drink and so we did. The homemade chacha which the guesthouse owner gave us was absolutely great, but the spotlight was on wine.
They say that out of world’s 2000 wine varieties 500 come from Georgia, and Georgia also claims to be the birthplace of winemaking with archeologic artefacts proving that wine was made here 8000 years ago! Now that is some tradition. Typical Georgian wine is different from typical “western” wine, it’s bit cloudy, has much deeper color (looks like apple juice) and indeed it has a bit of apple juice taste. It is VERY different from western wine, almost like a different alcoholic beverage, very refreshing one. The reason is, that while everywhere else the wine is made only from juice of grapes (with only short skin contact, after which skin is filtered out), in Georgia they make wine the ancient way: they take the whole grape, including its skin and pits, put it all in jars/tanks and let it ferment like that. It’s the long-term presence of skin of grapes, what causes the wine to have so unique taste and color. Because of such a long skin contact, local red variety – Saperavi – is of almost pure black color and its name in Georgian means “Dyes everything” and indeed it seems like that.

Luckily we managed not to get totally wasted so next day we could depart and head back toward Tbilisi. Before the departure we were offered one last shot of chacha with words “It’s morning, you have to bless yourselves”. How could we refuse to bless ourselves?
On our way we stopped in what should have been a wine museum. It was someone’s house with old “wine shed”, i.e. a huge shed with huge pot clay jars buried in the ground. This is the traditional way how to make wine. Open the jar, grapes in, close the jar, wait few months, open the jar, wine out. Easy :-)

We got a bit of wine there, but as they did not offer food we continued toward Tbilisi watching out for a nearby restaurant. There seemed to be none around, until we came a Velitsikhe village where suddenly we saw a restaurant which seemed to be pretty full. So it must be really good one, we thought! Upon entering inside we realized something was wrong. It was too full. And all the tables were aligned into long rows, all the people sitting next to each other. This was obviously some private family event. So we turned around and left the door when a 20-something girl came out and talked to us:
She: “Please, please, come inside. No problem. Please come”.
Me: “Ehm, no thanks we don’t want to disturb your family”
She: “No, no, please come. You are our guests”
Me: “Well, then… But what is this is a wedding?”
And then it all became clear…
She: “No, no. My grandmother dead”

Holy shit, this was a funeral lunch! Oh my god.
I felt naturally inclined to decline, because it seemed too inappropriate, but something told me that this is once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and so we consulted the issue between us – me, Irene and Jirka, and decided to do something weird in our lives and so we walked in.
They gave us food and wine for free, so we had a nice lunch. There were maybe 100 people there, but only 1 person in the whole assembly spoke some English. The girl who spoke to us and called us in. Jirka speaks some Russian so he managed to converse with few older chaps, but I soon became a victim of a group of young Georgian tough guys who couldn’t speak a word English, and seemed to me that neither Russian. All the time they were speaking to me Georgian and waiting until I reply. They obviously didn’t understand that I didn’t understand. Maybe I was the first stranger they have ever seen :-) Seriously, it was fascinating how they kept on talking to me and to Irene in Georgian. Finally, to be polite and “answer” I spoke Slovak to them. So there was bunch of Georgians talking to me in Georgian, and me speaking Slovak, telling them that I don’t understand anything. But naturally, they were men of action, not just men of words. One after another, in deadly rhythm, I had to do vakhtanguri. Vakhantguri is way of drinking down a full glass of wine in one shot, while crossing the hand in which you hold the glass with another person’s hand. I was forced to drink one after another, so within 30 minutes I was totally drunk. Luckily my beloved girlfriend accepted position of a designated driver, so she was not drinking, so that at least one of us could drive us back to Tbilisi.
After maybe one and half hour spent at the lunch the crowds moved somewhere else, and although we were invited to join them in the next phase of the party at their home, we reasonably refused to do so (I’m sure we would end up in hospital with serious alcoholic intoxication) and we ran away to Tbilisi. But they didn’t let us go without a long photo session outside of the restaurant, because all of them wanted photos with us. What also needs to be said, although it was funeral lunch, the atmosphere was anything but sad. Vice versa, it was downright joyous, especially among these vakhtanguri guys. When we were leaving, one old man who was born in Uzbekistan gave me a friendly kiss on my lips, which was on verge of a French kiss :-) Good Lord, that was too much. I still feel his saliva on my lips!!!

What an amazing experience. Getting drunk with unknown people, who don’t speak any language I would understand, on Georgian funeral lunch for an unknown person, somewhere deep in Georgia.
This was that kind of experience that keeps me traveling.

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     MARCEL STRBAK | www.strbak.com | www.facebook.com/marcel.strbak