Stunning nature, fresh air, a cozy wooden house, green grass, sweet-smelling flowers, fruits and a river nearby… Plus, welcoming hosts, a traditional Georgian dinner made of healthy products and of course, wine! The creator of this majestic atmosphere is one lovely family – father, mother and two charming daughters. The family not long ago moved from Tbilisi to the beautiful town of Martvili in Samegrelo where they enthusiastically set to creating a space for visitors to be enchanted with that special authentic feel.
Keto Ninidze – literary critic, wine journalist, blogger, winemaker and hostess of the Family Wine Cellar ‘Oda’ (old wooden house) shared some thoughts about living in Martvili.
- Keto, it has been several months since your family moved from Tbilisi to Martvili. On one hand, such changes are really very interesting, but on the other hand, difficult… How do you remember this experience yourself?
Yes, there are lots of difficulties – from psychological, social and technical perspectives. Plus, before moving to Martvili I spent several months in Germany and it was really difficult to adapt to these conditions after such a comfortable way of life. We faced real difficulties this winter, as only a small part of Martvili town and its villages are gasified, so for three months we had to fight the chilly winter. Our wooden house was built approximately a century ago and it was very difficult to warm it with a wood-burning stove. On cold nights we were covering the children with everything we had. My fight with the woodstove is a whole epos and big part of my precious time was spent lighting fires. It is one of my worst memories of Martvili and I hope Martvili will be gasified by next winter. It was also difficult not to know Megrelian and to be unfamiliar with the cultural surrounding, but I started to restore my short experience of learning Kartvelian languages at the university and the unfamiliar situation became very interesting.
- As a guest of Martvili and a host at the same time… What would you recommend as must-see places for our foreign guests?
Martvili is a kind of genie in the bottle that should be discovered by local as well as foreign tourists. The most popular must-see sites here are Martvili Canyon, Martvili Monastery and Palace of the Dadianis in Salkhino; but it is only a small part of the huge touristic potential; there are possibilities to develop ecotourism, agro tourism, wine tourism, hitching tourism, pilgrimage and etc. I’m sure soon Balda Canyon, Oniore waterfall and Tobas’ first cave (a 1300m cave with a 25m waterfall) and Toba’s waterfall (a 234m cascade waterfall) and Arsen Okrojanashvili’s cave, Rachkha waterfall (100m,) Jortsku cave and others will establish their names as remarkable tourist sites and natural monuments, given the sheer potential for canyoning, zipline, diving, hiking tourism and cave-diving. I wish that our ‘Oda’ would be included on the list of must-see places for tourists and a kind of example that it is possible to create a touristic product and rentable business with minimal resources, without rich infrastructure, only by using authentic materials and traditional methods.
- Wine tourism is getting more and more popular in Georgia and your family is interesting from this perspective as well: your husband has been involved in wine production since 2012 and you a bit later. What can you tell us about this experience?
The best-known wine region of Georgia is Kakheti and other winemaking regions –Racha, Imereti, Meskheti, Guria, Samegrelo, Adjara and Lechkhumi need support to develop their unique conception and style. My husband (Zaza Gagua) is a director of Martvili and Okatse natural monuments and at the same time is actively involved in viticulture and winemaking. Vineyards of ancient Megrelian grape varieties were cultivated in Targameuli village on his initiative. The winery of my husband and his friends is called “Vino Martvili” and the name of my cellar is “Oda,” like our house.
- A woman’s cellar… It sounds so interesting and exotic. Tell us about the concept.
It happened naturally: my husband and his friends were running their winery quite successfully, so we decided that I would solely manage the family cellar. Consequently, I have my own vineyard where I harden my experience with practical activities, and the cellar, producing only wines of “Oda”. The symbolism of the vine in Georgian culture is connected with the origins of women (Virgin Mary, Saint Nino) but vineyards and wine are still considered a man’s business; so it has been slightly difficult to explain that only I lead “Oda” vineyard and cellar. Sometimes my husband receives compliments for my wines and it seems ridiculous to both of us. Consequently, my wine label, the cellar and everything, was a kind of manifest that a woman can also be part of nature and a caregiver of vineyards and wines, therefore my cellar is decorated with a dress which is like a flag, and a message – “more women in wine cellars!” While in the newly cultivated vineyard, I have the same feelings as when my girls were little and I took care of them, taught them how to walk and eat… While talking about women winemakers, we should definitely mention Salome Dadiani as a historic example dating back to the 1910s; few know that aside from being the Queen of Samegrelo, she was also the head of one of the largest and most influential wineries.
- Factually, you are breathing new life to Martvili. What can you offer visitors?
We offer our visitors the chance to explore the authenticity of this place and to get a unique experience at our old wooden house and in its huge green yard. They can also taste 6 different wines of our two companies and Georgian gourmet cuisine, as well as vegan and vegetarian food. In addition, we plan to organize folk performances soon, special playgrounds for children and with my 13 years’ experience of working with kids; I want to make some developmental activities for them to keep them entertained while their parents enjoy the wine. We provide families, corporations, and wine professionals with our touristic product and also schoolchildren visiting Martvili Canyon, located 5 km from us. As for future plans, our purpose is to bring together a wine bar, restaurant, folk performances, educational bio agriculture for youth, a contact zoo and a folk theater under the brand “Oda”.