‘From packaging design to Georgian wine’ - entrepreneur embraces UNESCO heritage with winery opening
The entrepreneur, originally from Russia, who now lives in Amsterdam, became a co-founder of Nine Oaks in 2013 when geo-mapper and family friend Mamuka Khurtsidze asked her to design the labels on his wine bottles, after he planted vines on the estate in 2011.
Bold brand design
The two became business partners due to a mutual love of wine and a reverence for design.
“Mamuka acquired the land in 2011 and with another friend they planted grapes until 2015. When they started looking into labels they came to me but I believe with a new brand you need to come out with something strong to capture people's imagination,” said Addison.
“I wanted to have beautiful packaging that I was proud of so I worked on it for about a year and gave a presentation of the packaging and talked about becoming a partner in the business. Mamuka wanted to do things his own way, follow tradition but at the same time experiment. He never puts any limits on me and I never limit him. We make all the decisions together.”
For the branding, Addison wanted to make sure the labels reflected the fact that the wine is from Georgia, using both Georgian typography and English. The design on the front reflects the number nine and a circle of friends as well as the action when manually stirring the wine.
“We want to make wine for ourselves, with love, and for our friends. If we are happy drinking it, it’s good for everyone else. First we want to make it for us and our family and drink what we enjoy, then get it out into the world,” she said.
Georgia is bordered with Turkey, Armenia, Azerbeijan and Russia, and Nine Oaks makes wine in the region appellation of Eniseli, Kakheti. The eastern part of Georgia is known for creating strong, robust wines as opposed to the west.
“In Georgia everyone knows everyone and sticks together for a long time and are really close. We make wine and grow grapes the natural way, with no added sugar, no added sulphur because wine has its own yeast, no added coloring, no herbicides, and it’s all organic,” said Addison.
“We also have a passion for the art of gifting, so the bottle itself can be signed by the person it’s from for a specific occasion."
Georgian wine to rise in popularity
According to Euromonitor International market research company, wine from China, Georgia and Chile are all tipped to go mainstream in China in the coming months, as millennials look for new experiences and transparent businesses over premium goods ('Three Key Trends For Wine for 2018').
It said in its report: ‘While red varietals will continue capitalising on China’s already established base in the country, rising levels of sophistication and the forces of westernisation will provide opportunities for alternatives to make inroads.
‘Further reducing import tariffs and the effect of free trade agreements will pave the way for the next wave of exporters that will follow in the footsteps of Australian wine’s roaring success in China. Within that context, wines from New Zealand, Chile and Georgia will be next in line and deciphering their core offerings could hold the key in providing clues on the styles that will rise in popularity in the short to medium term.’
The method of Georgian viticulture, which began using qvevri earthenware vessels about 8,000 years ago, became UNESCO certified by the United Nations in 2014 and only a handful of craftsman who make the giant terracotta pots exist today.
The Nine Oaks Estate covers 20 hectares, at the foothills of the Caucasus Mountain. Thanks to co-founder Khurtsidze’s background as a geo-mapper he knows the layout of the land by foot and has taken the time to study the terroir before planting the vineyard.
“He (Khurtsidze) knows people in Georgia don’t always take the time to do things properly, they just do it, but Mamuka takes the time and does it right. He doesn’t cut any corners. When they got the land he did the tests on the soil and the way the vineyard is positioned, it is important in terms of the direction of the wind and the sun, and he searched for the right grower of authentic grapes that we planted on the vineyard,” said Addison.
“We make wine the Georgian way, the traditional Georgian method is we take the grapeskin, juice and pits and they are pressed immediately after harvest, for fermentation with long skin contact, that lasts up to four weeks, that’s how it gets its beautiful amber color for the white and the red is made the same.
“The grapes are fermented in a handmade qvevri, a giant earthenware pot planted underground to keep it cold. Gerogia is a poor country and often without electricity. The pots preserve the wine underground.
“The qvevris are handmade. We ordered about 20 from a local producer. He can make 30 every season in the summer, which are dried in the sun, then fired in the oven, surrounded by limestone and bricks. This year we have filled the wine in the qvevris.
“The qvevris had to be transported across Georgia, which took one day, moving them by rolling them on tyres onto a truck. The journey took an hour-and-a-half and then we unloaded them and set them into a pit in the winery. We lost one which shattered enroute, a 2.5 tonne vessel.”
Traditional Georgian dance
Talking about the bottle design which carries a symbol that looks like the number nine, Addison said everything is designed in the spirit of the Georgian dance and Georgia.
“The handmade symbol looks like a 9, a ‘G’, and made to look like the movements of the traditional Georgian dance. Wine for Georgia is everything, it’s their livelihood, their passion, the same for music and dance. I wanted to do something gestural by hand, which was expressive and represents the nine oak trees on the property,” she said.
“All the grapes we grow are indigenous to Georgia and this region. ‘Saperavi’ in Georgia means 'ink' or 'black' so we call this wine our Black Beauty. We have three white grapes Kisi, Rkatsiteli and Khikhvi, and one red. Everything that’s left after we make the wine is used to make Grappa, Chacha.”
Addison said they started to build their own winery ('Marani' in Georgian) on the estate last year, which will be open to the public in 2019.
“In 2017, we started building our own winery in Georgia. Before, it was just land and the valley. There was no winery. You can’t make wine without water. We had the wine and the grapes but we had to take the grapes somewhere else to process them into wine, so they were stored somewhere else and the facility was closed at weekends,” she said.
“The marani will have two levels. On the ground floor is the winery where we store and make wine, that was finished at the end of 2017 and we made our first vintage with the 2016 harvest. This year we have been working on the first floor, which has an event space and four bedrooms for guests. There is also an outside porch with 360 degree views, where we can accept about 250 guests.
“We are hoping to open by spring 2019 and start accepting tourists for wine tastings, events, celebrations and workshops. This is not a hotel but it will be for family, friends and wine industry people, to share our knowledge and take our story into the world.
“Nine Oaks wine went on the market in 2016, in Georgia, where it is doing really well. We are happy with the success here because the Georgian market is so intimidating. Everyone here makes wine, either at home or for consumers, so there is a lot of competition.
“We are a very small business but we want to be known as a premium wine, so we don’t want to be everywhere. We offer our wine in a few select places in Georgia, including reputable chefs’ restaurants, designer hotels, and boutiques. We also have a distributor in Singapore.
“We’ve been working on the US market, but it’s a tough market because you have to treat it as 50 countries rather than 50 states. Each state has its own laws and regulations but I was able to get the attention of one distributor last year and for one year we have been discussing the shipment. We just made our first purchase order to America, so come 2019, it will be sold in New York with a view to going nationwide in Chicago, Florida, California and Colorado. My goal for 2019 is to get a distributor in Europe and Japan.”
Addison is no stranger to success, her design agency MAD Consort, was awarded an IDA (International Design Award) for The Clear Line promotional box set of clear liquors as well as being recognized by HOW Promotion Design Awards.
And, according to Euromonitor (‘Wine in Georgia’, June 2018), now is the right time to focus on Georgian wine.
“There is a strong tradition of producing home-made wine in Georgia. It is easy to obtain large quantities of grapes for making wine at home, particularly in rural areas of regions where grape cultivation is widespread.”
It claims Georgia experienced steady growth in inbound tourist numbers this year and this trend is expected to continue. The country’s popularity as a destination for tourists from former Soviet states and other Eastern European nations continues to have a positive impact on the development of the local wine category, as Georgian wine is famous for its quality in these countries.
“Georgians are proud of their country’s wine-making tradition, with many believing it to be the oldest in the world. It is only in recent years that Georgians have started to switch from home-made wine to branded alternatives in significant numbers,” it said.
“Due to the high consumption of home-made wine and relatively low disposable incomes in Georgia, many commercial wine producers in the country export the bulk of their output. Key export markets for Georgian producers include Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States and China.”