On May 14, 2022, an event took place in the Finger Lakes Wine Region of New York that was a landmark moment in the history of Saperavi, not only for the future direction of Saperavi in the northeastern U.S. but for all of North America. While Saperavi has been on a steadily ascending arc for several years this gathering of Saperavi winemakers, growers, and enthusiasts will prove to be the catalyst that fuels Saperavi’s meteoric rise into the conscience of the American wine lovers.
Saperica http://saperica.org, the nonprofit founded by Lasha Tsatava and Erika Frey, held its inaugural Saperavi Festival at the iconic Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery overlooking Keuka Lake in Hammondsport, New York. The one-day event was a sellout with more than three hundred guests enjoying winetastings and delicious traditional Georgian cuisine prepared by Chama Mama, a Georgian-themed restaurant from New York City. The trade and media portion of the festival drew over fifty participants that were greeted with opening remarks from Fred Frank and Saperica co-founder Erika Frey. Keynote speaker Lado Uzunashvili delivered a live virtual presentation on the importance of Saperavi that was followed by guest speaker Darra Goldstein (Flavors of Georgia). Both presentations can be viewed on Saperica’s YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MUb_6pPRupQ Closing remarks were presented by Saperica co-founder Lasha Tsatava with a special thank you to Meaghan Frank for her tireless efforts to make the Festival a resounding success.
I ask some of the contributors to share thoughts and impressions about the festivities and their vision for Saperavi in North America.
Lasha Tsatava, Director @ Boston Sommelier Society and co-founder of Saperica Inc.
When we first started to tell the story of Saperavi and its connection to Georgian culture and the history of wine, we saw how people’s eyes lit up and we wanted to grow that feeling in FLX and beyond. At the Saperavi Festival’s Trade & Media event, I made it clear in the closing remarks, that our organization’s goals are, as a minimum, to make Saperavi a premier red grape variety in the Finger Lakes region and the ultimate goal is to build a Georgian Cultural Center with Marani (Georgian traditional cellar with qvevris) in Finger Lakes, NY. The 1st annual Saperavi Festival has reconfirmed the sensibility of these goals.
Fred Frank, President, and CEO of Dr. Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars, grandson of wine legend Dr. Konstantin Frank & Meaghan Frank’s father
We were honored to host this first Saperavi Festival at our historic winery. I am sure Konstantin was looking down from the heavens with pride to see all the attention and acceptance that his beloved Saperavi was receiving from the hundreds in attendance. Konstantin was the first to plant Saperavi in the United States in the late 1950s in his vineyard above Keuka Lake. He was a big fan of this variety for its historic pedigree originating in Georgia and believed it would have a great future in the Eastern United States. Saperavi vines are cold hardy and the wines are of high quality with deep color. We look forward to the next Saperavi Festival and continued acceptance of this historic grape variety.
Jim Baker, owner/winemaker of Chateau Niagara Winery, located on the Niagara Lake Plain, Newfane New York
My thoughts on the festival are quite positive. The media section contained two presentations featuring my good friend Lado Uzunashvili, and Darra Goldstein. Lado is an old friend and did a great overview of Saperavi in Georgia and the world, including history and all sorts of technical information on the grape in several world locations. He did a comparison of our winery and a Georgian location. Darra Goldstein presented a history of Georgian food and culture. Food was served up from Chamma Mama, a Georgian restaurant in NYC. It was truly a Georgian feast. We got to taste wines from a number of American and Georgian producers. It was surprising how well we held our own against some stunning Georgian producers. The afternoon consisted of more Georgian feasting and public tastings of wine. All in all a great celebration of Saperavi and Georgian culture.
Phil Plummer, Head winemaker at all three Martin Family Wineries in the Finger Lakes.
I attended the festival, but mostly on the technical/trade end of the schedule. I can’t speak to marketing impact and the like, but the viticultural and enological information shared in the trade sessions was really compelling. Saperavi is a very exciting grape variety for us in the Finger Lakes, but I think winemakers should be excited about this one on a global level, too. Saperavi exists at the intersection of past, present, and future winemaking. As one of the earliest-cultivated grape varieties, working with Saperavi gives winemakers an opportunity to connect to the past–walking in the footsteps of the countless generations of winemakers who came before us. At present, Saperavi’s unique versatility allows winemakers to experiment, making wines in a widening array of styles. Looking forward, Saperavi’s resilience and versatility position it as a grape variety to embrace in the wake of a changing climate. As a blending component or varietal, Saperavi rarely disappoints. From a culinary standpoint, its rich phenolic profile, bright acid, and unmistakable aromatics present exciting opportunities for wine and food pairing, particularly with the Georgian cuisine available at the festival.
Erika Frye, co-founder of Saperica Inc., CS, CWE & Diploma WSET
When I started discovering Saperavi in the Finger Lakes several years ago, I could feel that there was something special about this grape variety in this region. There is a buzz that surrounds Saperavi which started off whisper-like but has now grown into a conversation that cannot be ignored. The 1st annual Saperavi Festival came at just the right time to give this grape variety a clear voice to tell the story of its past, present, and future. It comes at a time when Saperavi plantings are increasing in the Finger Lakes region. We hope that these new producers will be able to use the Saperica organization and the Saperavi Festival as resources to find information about the Saperavi grape variety, learn about its Georgian heritage and connect with other Saperavi producers.
The most exciting thing about the festival for me was the ability to build connections. We had a great partnership between the three festival hosts – Saperica, Dr. Konstantin Frank, and Chama Mama. An impressive group of wine producers and wine importers were present from both the USA and Georgia. Two experts in their fields shared their knowledge of Saperavi winemaking and Georgian cuisine. Most importantly, there were about 250 festival attendees who were connecting with the wines, the food, the environment, and the people. When I was able to stop for a moment and survey the amazing crowd of people who had come together to celebrate Saperavi, that is what made me feel truly proud – proud of the community that we are starting to build and what we will all be able to accomplish together in the future.
John McGregor, Vice President of McGregor Vineyard
The Saperavi Festival was a great introduction to Saperavi for many. Its Georgian roots were presented wonderfully! McGregor Vineyard was the sole producer of Saperavi in the United States for decades. Now the Finger Lakes is home to numerous Saperavi producers, and more are sure to come in the near future. This festival really felt like a validation of my late father, Bob McGregor’s steadfast belief that Saperavi was perfectly suited to grow in the Finger Lakes and could make some of the region’s finest and most respected wines.
Bryanna Cramer, Assistant Winemaker Standing Stone Vineyards
I felt like the event was a huge success for the region, seeing as it was the first annual and it sold out and had additional tickets added on. It felt like the overall vibe was excitement about the variety as well as a general curiosity about its potential here in the FLX. It was really beneficial to have vendors pouring various Saperavi from Georgia to have as a reference, as well as Georgians giving their genuine feedback on the wines being made here in the Finger Lakes. I think they were pleasantly surprised by the quality and authenticity that can be achieved. From the customer perspective, I think the majority are still discovering the variety, its characteristics, and its history but I see that as an opportunity to continue educating not only at events like this but also on-site at Standing Stone and the other wineries working with Saperavi.
This event and those all involved proved that Saperavi has progressed from being viewed as a grape variety with the potential to make outstanding varietal wine here in North America to being acknowledged as a proven producer of high-quality wine in various styles. Saperavi will continue to evolve as new winemakers add their interpretations of how it can be made and the newly planted Saperavi vineyards come into production expressing the terroir of their increasingly diverse geographic locations.
Congratulations to everyone involved in Saperica’s Saperavi Festival in the Finger Lakes on its successful endeavor to gather Saperavi lovers and promote this ancient grape. A special thank you to Lasha, Erika, Fred, Phil, John, Bryanna, and Jim for taking the time to share their thoughts and insights about Saperavi.
Photos Courtesy: Saperica Inc.