International Association for Assistance to the Abaza-Abkhazian ethnos «Alashara»

The history and development of viticulture in Abkhazia

История и развитие культуры виноградарства в Абхазии

Viticulture has always occupied an important place in a number of agricultural sectors of Abkhazia. This was facilitated by the natural conditions of the country: humid subtropical climate, diverse terrain, different heights above sea level, soil diversity, etc.

Rich archaeological and folklore-language materials, as well as written sources testify to the ancient appearance of grapes in Abkhazia.

The fact of growing grapes on the territory of Abkhazia from ancient times is confirmed by the data of paleobotanists of the Sukhumi Botanical garden professor Kolakovski (1958) and Rukhadze (1964). During the excavation at the river Duab (Daab -inflow of Mokva) Kolakovski and other scientists have found seeds of wild and other types of grapes belonging to the tertiary period (3 million years).

In 1964, Rukhadze and other scientists, exploring the remains of buried peat collected by archaeologist Soloviev in Sukhum, discovered the seeds of real grapes and forest grapes, which date back to 3-5 millennia.

Folk sources also refer the emergence of grapes on the territory of Abkhazia to the ancient times, linking it with the name of the legendary tribe of the Nart. According to the legend, it was the Nart dispute about who should own grapes and a huge wine jug that served as one of the reasons for the discord and disintegration of the Nart brotherhood. Sasrykwa, one of the mighty Narts, during the dispute got really angry and threw the pitcher across the ridge to Abkhazia. "Great pitcher", falling to the ground, shattered, and left in the bottom of grape seed scattered on the land of the Abkhazians, and grew out of them vines that Abkhazians were called Nart. Thus, grape culture began to flourish in Abkhazia. According to another legend, it was believed that the best wine in the world was that which was made from Nart vines.

The authors of ancient sources mention the export of wine from the Black sea region and Abkhazia. Archbishop from Persian city Sultaniy Ioann de Galonifontibus in his work "The book of knowing the world», written in 1404, when describing Abkhazia, notes that "fine wine" is produced here.

Italian monk of the XVII century Giovanni Lucci (Zhan de Lucca), representative of the Dominican mission in Crimea in 1625-34 years, repeatedly traveled to the depths of the Tatar, Nogai and Circassian lands for a close acquaintance with the way of life of these peoples. He also visited Abkhazians and wrote a lot about them, noting that they "cultivate a lot of wine".

Famous Georgian scientist Vakhushti in the XVIII century wrote that Abkhazia "abounds with all kinds of fruits, including all sorts of grains (cereals), fruits, vineyards".

Many authors of the XIX century wrote about viticulture and winemaking in Abkhazians. Thus, at the beginning of the XIX century S. Bronevsky noted that "grape wine is also made in the afternoon of Abkhazia".

In 1829 G. Navitsky wrote in his works about the Ubykhs and Abkhazians that "the number of growing grapes among the peoples is so abundant that they never have time to collect it", and the wine made by them is of "good taste".

In the 30-ies of the XIX century Fr. Dubua wrote that Abkhazians have "good taste" wine. To the same time belong the Tornau's statements about viticulture in Abkhazia: "from grapes growing in abundance on these vines, a very decent wine is produced." N. Albov in his work "The state of horticulture in Abkhazia" noted that "Abkhazia was famous for its wines... And now, in some villages (Aatsy, Duripsh, Achandara) doing a superb wine with a strong bouquet, mainly produced from the following grape varieties (I give local names), amlahu (pink grapes with elongated berries, one side is amber, the other a little darker), kachich (dark red variety with oval-roundish berries) and auasarkhuazh (white grape with round berries)".

The antiquity of viticulture and, as a consequence, winemaking and wine drinking among the Abkhazians is confirmed and a lot of archaeological finds from the village of Lykhny (Bambora): bronze sculpture "bamborsky wine drinker" and riton with ornaments (II Millennium BC), now in the Hermitage collection. As well as finds discovered during the excavations of the fortress Dioskuriya – Sebastopolis (Sukhum) by archaeologists at a depth of 3.5 m fragments of amphoras and wine bowls. In the same layer was found grape seeds, which belong (by definition of professor Ramishvili) to the oldest variety of Abkhaz grapes – kachich (III–II centuries BC).

In the castle of Bagrat, Anakopia fortress and Kelasuri walls were found pythos for the storage of wine, dating back to the VI–XII centuries ad. A large number of fragments of jugs, jars, dating from V–IV centuries BC, were found on Sukhumi mountain. Amphoras found on Sukhumi mountain confirm that 2500-2600 years ago they used wine jugs as pythos. During the I–X centuries BC Abkhazia agriculture was at a high level, which confirms the presence of a large number of container glassware from Pitsunda, Sukhum, Tsebelda and Dranda. Proof of the existence of viticulture and winemaking among Abkhazians are also grape knives, tsaldy and other economic instruments.

Vineyards since ancient times is a major part of the estate of Abkhazian. Some Abkhazians specially grown fenced groves of alder and other garden trees on their plots for vineyards called "akuatsa". Also they planted grape seedlings under the trees, in a mess scattered around the estate, often outside. Very often in the forest, the shepherds and the hunters met the vines, freely twining through the trees.

The grapes that ripened on the tree, as a rule, has high taste and extraordinary aroma, because at that height there is virtually no shade, free access to sunlight and because maturation is much more effective. Long before the arrival of spring, or, as the Abkhazians say, before the filling of the trunk and branches of vines with water (ayoahua ayoiy, alalaanea) by special grape knife and tsalda free them from dry and extra branches. At the same time, the root of the vine fertilize with manure. The grapes are usually harvested in October-November, sometimes in December. Abkhazians believe that the best wines come from grapes harvested in cold weather after the first snow falls.

However, before the start of the grape harvest Abkhazians held a ceremony of praying to the tree in order to protect the collector from a possible fall from the tree. So, boys and adults who had to start picking grapes, were brought to the tree and prayed to the spirit of the tree, so that they could prevent from falling. At the same time, whose well-being was praying, put one foot on the tree. Prayer, most often, committed the mother or grandmother of a young man. In her prayers the woman asked the tree spirit: "Let it will be strong, when you take up a dry twig" etc.

During the rule of Turkey and muhajirism (violent expulsion of Abkhazians to Turkey) a lot of vine groves have been abandoned, and viticulture in Abkhazia declined. Subsequently abandoned vineyards were used for the new settlers, calling them "god's gift". But, despite the difficulties, Abkhazians did not stop to engage in viticulture and winemaking. And today there are up to 60 kinds of local grapes in Abkhazia.

Abkhazians with great reverence treated to wine, which was reflected in its use in the religious rites and prayers, saw it as a force that sanctifies the objects of sacrifice, as the means of propitiation of deities or ancestral patrons.

Almost every farmer had buried in the ground (and currently some have a preserved tradition) inviolable several jugs of wine, destined for the annual supplications at such shrines, as, for example, Dydrypsh-nykha, Ylyr-nykha, Inal-Kuba, Ldzaa-nykha, etc.

The wine was also used during the prayer, dedicated to the completion of the construction of the house, for a happy and prosperous life in the new house. The prayer was arranged in honor of the Lord of the earth.

The working prayer, ending any acts of worship, breaks off a piece of the pie, heart and liver of a sacrificial animal and says: "I will gather all Achba and Chachba, and until they were all fed this food and do not give a sip of wine, let no illness, no misfortune will befall the members of this house," and, pouring a few drops of wine on a piece of the pie, heart and liver, put them in a place specified for prayer. Then first he ate a little of the heart and liver and drinking wine, then takes the all-highest.

Abkhazians have always been famous for their hospitality, and the obligatory first toast was – "Almighty, give us God's mercy!". Everyone gets up.