Here is your guide to the Kakheti wine region of Georgia. The place to be for wine lovers and those who love going off-the-beaten path.
Let me show you my Kakheti travel guide, packed with things to do in Sighnaghi and beyond.
Located in the eastern region of Georgia, the Kakheti region is the premier wine region of Georgia. The region is made up of eight municipalities, with Telavi being the capital. The Kakheti region itself was formed in 1990, but experts believe that wine originated in the country of Georgia.
While early traces of fermentation date back 9,000 years ago to 7000 BC in Central China, rice and honey were used to make what we now refer to as saki. However, the earliest evidence of making wine by harvesting grapes was found in Gadachrili Gora, Georgia, in the Neolithic period, 6000 BC.
A Complete Guide To The Kakheti Wine Region In Georgia
If you’re a wine fanatic and want to travel off-the-beaten path, then there’s truly no better place to discover the ancient techniques of winemaking and learn about the history of wine than traveling to Georgia. And the Kakheti wine region still today uses some of those ancient techniques to harvest grapes and produce one-of-a-kind wines.
How Ancient Wine Was Made In Georgia
Ancient wine was made using a technique known as Qvevri. “Qvevri style wine” is made by crushing grapes and then pouring all of the remnants of the grape (skin, juice, stalks, etc.) into big clay vats known as Qvevri. These clay vats are then sealed and buried in the ground to allow the grapes to ferment for 5+ months. It’s believed that the crushing process took place by stomping on the grapes with one’s feet.
Once the Qvevri was dug up, the wine was then drunk out of clay drinking vessels. Two traditional types of drinking vessels are piala (a bowl-like structure) and kantsi (a horn-like structure made from clay or a goat or ram horn).
This ancient practice has been added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list.
How Wine Is Made Today In Georgia
Today, many winemakers still honor the ancient tradition of using Qvevri to make wine, and it’s how a lot of wine is still produced in Georgia. And while there are more advanced methods of crushing grapes, there are still many winemakers across Georgia who gather friends and family to stomp the grapes.
In 2021, Georgia exported over 100 million bottles of wine to 62 different countries around the world. So even if you aren’t able to make it to the country, there’s a chance that you could still get your hands on a bottle of Georgian wine.
History Of The Wine Region Of Kakheti
While winemaking is found and celebrated throughout Georgia, the Kakheti wine region is the most famous and high-producing wine region in Georgia. As mentioned earlier, this area was formed in 1990 from the province of Kakheti and the mountainous region of Tusheti. It’s made up of eight different districts
- Telavi (the capital)
- Lagodekhi and
The reason winemaking is so prolific in Kakheti is because of its climate and the two river basins in the region – Iori and Alazani. The vineyards are about 250-800 meters above sea level, and there are both humid subtropical and continental climates in the region. The two grapes most commonly found to make wine in the Kakheti region are the Rkatiteli and Saperavi grapes.
The Best Time To Visit Kakheti
The Kakheti region experiences all four seasons throughout the year, with July being the hottest month and January being the coldest month. Generally, May brings the most rain to the region, and December is the driest time of year.
If you’re looking for good weather and sunshine, the best time of the year to travel to Kakheti is during the summer months of June-August. If you’re looking to avoid the crowds, you might want to consider “shoulder season” or April-May, October-November.
Depending on the year, September is generally harvest month, so if you’re interested in helping harvest grapes, this would be the best time to visit the region. There are many wineries throughout the area that allow tourists to come and help in the process of harvesting.
How To Get To Kakheti, Georgia
Located about 80 km or 50 miles outside of the capital of Georgia – Tbilisi, it’s easiest to get to Kakheti by car from Tbilisi. Kakheti (particularly Sighnaghi) also breaks up a long road trip between Azerbaijan and Tbilisi, so it’s also a good stopping point if you’re traveling between countries.
While you can rent a car and drive yourself around the region, giving you the most flexibility, roads are daunting in Georgia, and drivers are unpredictable. If you’re a confident driver, you could certainly go for it; I’d exercise extreme caution if you choose to drive in Georgia. Most car rental companies throughout the country don’t ask for an international driver’s license; however, if you were to get pulled over or get in an accident, the police might ask for one.
Another way to get to the region is to take the marshrutka, which is the bus system in Georgia. The marshrutka is the cheapest option but limits you the most. If you travel by bus, you can purchase a bus ticket at the station. This should cost about 8 GEL. The challenging thing about traveling by marshrutka is that there isn’t a lot of great information online about where to get on and off the bus. You’ll be pretty reliant on the help of the locals if you plan to travel this way.
In my opinion, the easiest way to get to and around the region is to hire a driver through GoTrip. A driver will pick you up in Tbilisi or, wherever you are in Georgia, and, for a reasonable price, will not only drive you to your final destination in Kakheti but will also drive you anywhere in between.
When you hire your driver, I would suggest requesting a stop at one or two wineries before being dropped off at your final destination. You can also hire drivers for a multi-day trip; though, that’s a new feature since I visited the region and am unsure how cost-effective it is.
Where To Stay In Kakheti
Of the eight districts, the two most popular and that have the best infrastructure for tourists are:
They are both completely different worlds, so if you have the time, I’d recommend spending a couple of days in each area. If you don’t have the time, I personally loved Sighnaghi wine and the Sighnaghi area the most due to its romantic nature and incredible wineries and restaurants nearby.
Both Telavi and Sighnaghi have everything from cheap guesthouses to fancy hotels, and each region is suitable for a variety of price points. My personal hotel choices in each town are Esquisse Telavi and Kabadoni Hotel in Sighnaghi.
How Long Should You Stay In The Kakheti Region
Based on your desired goals for visiting the Kakheti wine region, you could take a day trip from Tbilisi or spend much longer in the area. I would personally recommend spending four nights in the Kakheti wine region – two nights in Telavi and two nights in Sighnaghi. This will give you a good chance to visit a few wineries, eat at local restaurants, explore each town, and also give you a taste of what the region offers aside from winemaking.
If you’re only interested in visiting a couple of wineries, then the most cost-effective option would be to take a day trip to Tbilisi. As mentioned earlier, you can hire GoTrip to pick you up, drive you around for the day, and bring you back to Tbilisi.
The Best Restaurants In Kakheti
Georgia hospitality is unlike any other hospitality I’ve encountered in the world. And because of this, so many of these wineries also serve full meals when you’re wine tasting.
For that reason, you’ll notice that some of the restaurant recommendations below are places that I would also recommend visiting for a wine tasting. The great thing about doing it this way is that you’re getting a true, authentic Georgia experience – eating local food cooked by locals while tasting local wine made by locals.
- Mala’s Garden in Rustaveli – Go for dinner
- Okro’s Wine Restaurant & Cellar in Sighnaghi – Go for lunch or dinner
- Shalauri Wine Cellar in Telavi – Go for wine tasting and lunch
- Pheasant’s Tears Winery in Sighnaghi – Go for dinner
- Wine Yard N1 in Kvareli – Go for wine tasting and lunch
To better understand Georgian hospitality and the different foods of Georgia, don’t miss my guide to Georgian Foods.
The Best Wineries To Visit In Kakheti
Aside from a couple of the wineries mentioned above (Shalauri Wine Cellar and Wine Yard N1), below, you’ll find more recommendations. Generally, the easiest way to book a wine tasting is to find the winery on Facebook and send them a message inquiring about a reservation.
- Cradle of Wine Marani in Sighnaghi
- Shumi Winery in Tsinandali
- Tsinandali Estate in Tsinandali
Non-Related Wine Things To See And Do In Kakheti
While the Kakheti region is highly sought after for its wine, there are plenty of other things to see and do in the area that are non-wine related. Below you’ll find a list of some other great things to see and do when you visit Kakheti.
- Bodbe’s St. Nino’s Covent in Sighnaghi
- David Gareja Monastery Udabdno
- Sighnaghi City Walls in Sighnaghi
- Tusheti National Park – Tusheti
Whether you’re interested in history, wine, or both – a visit to Kakheti is an ideal trip. Not only is Georgia incredibly affordable, but it’s packed with history and adventure and brimming with things to do. I hope that you enjoy your Kakheti tour!