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The Ultimate Guide to Rtveli in Georgia: A Rich Tradition of Harvest Celebration

The Ultimate Guide to Rtveli in Georgia: A Rich Tradition of Harvest Celebration

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Rtveli in Georgia is one of my all time favourite festivals. The summer days are becoming cooler, the grapes are plump and ready to be picked, and all the people of Georgia, head to the fields to help continue the 8000 year old tradition of harvesting grapes to make wine.

In this guide, we’re going to dive into the rich tradition of Rtveli in Georgia, an experience that is so much more than just picking grapes. It’s a vibrant celebration of history, culture, and tradition. We’ll discuss everything from its historical significance to the lively festivities that accompany it, and explore everything you need to know about this unique cultural event.

Rtveli Wine Harvest in Georgia
Rtveli Wine Harvest in Georgia

 

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What is Rtveli?


Rtveli is an ancient Georgian tradition that marks the grape harvest season, usually taking place in late August to early November, depending on the regions, weather, and the type of grapes the winemakers are growing. It is a time of festivity, bringing together family, friends, and communities to gather and celebrate the bountiful harvest. The name “Rtveli” likely derives from the Georgian word “Stveli” meaning “fruit harvest. The “s” was eventually replaced by “r” to more specifically refer to the grape harvest.

Historical Significance of Rtveli in Georgia


Rtveli has been an integral part of Georgian culture for centuries. We all know that Georgia holds the title as the birthplace of wine over 8000 years ago, and the grape harvest tradition dates back to many, many years when the grape harvest was seen as a crucial period for agricultural success and prosperity. In the pagan days, animals would have been sacrificed as offerings for a good harvest – often goats, sheep, or a rooster. Over the years, Rtveli has evolved and grown into a cherished cultural event, showcasing Georgia’s deep connection to winemaking.

The Iori Valley. Kakheti Wine Region.

Preparation and Rituals


Before the festivities begin, preparations for Rtveli are meticulously carried out. Grapevines are carefully pruned, and the vineyards are prepared for harvesting. Traditional rituals, such as religious blessings, traditional songs, and dances, are performed to honour the land and seek blessings for a fruitful harvest.

Some of the key Georgian folk songs you may hear during Rtveli are: 

1) Mravaljamieri

Mravalzhamieri, which translates from Georgian as “[may you have] a long life,” is a cherished folk tune. Spanning both the eastern and western regions of the country, this song holds its place as a favourite for toasting during supras. With its roots deep in Georgian tradition, numerous versions of this song can be found, each echoing the same heartfelt wish for longevity and well-being.

Listen here: https://youtu.be/2nGdgcppCJE

2) Shen Khar Venakhi – You are The Vineyard (a medieval Georgian hymn)

This song pays homage to Georgia and the Virgin Mary’s and her protection. Interestingly, because its lyrics steered clear of referencing any deities or saints, it was the sole religious song allowed during the Soviet Union era, given their strict anti-religious stance.

Listen here: https://youtu.be/PCpRbAfib3A

3) Chakrulo

Chakrulo is a celebrated Georgian choral folk song known for its intricate polyphony. Originating from the Kakheti region, this three-part melody captures the essence of preparing for battle. In 2001, UNESCO recognised Georgian polyphonic singing as a human masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage, with Chakrulo mentioned as an exemplary piece. Chakrulo was also amongst 29 unique musical tracks chosen for the Voyager Golden Records, which embarked on an interstellar journey aboard Voyager 2 on August 20, 1977, and Voyager 1 on September 5, 1977.

Listen here: https://youtu.be/_dJSM8hPNcY

Rtveli harvest, wine tours Georgia
Rtveli harvest, wine tours Georgia

Rtveli Grape Harvesting


The heart of Rtveli lies in the grape harvesting process. Families and communities come together, armed with buckets, baskets, and traditional grape harvesting tools (also some not-so-traditional tools like stanley knives). And in the early mornings before the sun gets too high, and the fields get too hot, grapes are carefully plucked from the vine, and collected to make wine. 

Today there are lots of different winemakers in Georgia – from the high-end factories that plan to export Georgian wine all over the world, to the small family who will make only enough wine to last them the following year, everyone in Georgia has a deep connection with this time of year.

Georgian Wine Making. Rtveli Harvest 2023
Georgian Wine Making. Rtveli Harvest 2024

Georgian Winemaking Traditions


After the grape harvest, the winemaking process begins. In Georgian culture, winemaking has a deep-rooted significance, and traditional methods are still widely practiced. The harvested grapes are lovingly crushed and left to ferment in Qvevri, large clay pots buried underground. This unique winemaking technique results in distinct Georgian wines that are now starting to be recognised on the world wine stage.

While many tourists think that they can come during Rtveli and crush grapes with their feet – this is just not the case with REAL family harvests. The potential for damaging the grapes or for contamination is too high, and many will use electric or hand press machines to do this task. If you want the experience of crushing grapes with your feet in Georgia, it’s best to book a simulation experience where you get the experience of harvest, but the grapes crushed are often used for non wine-making purposes.


Join Our Real Rtveli Tours for 2024!

Join our small group tours for an enriching cultural adventure, where truly authentic Rtveli experiences take center stage!

Learn More Here


Georgian Supra, Georgian Feast after rtveli
Georgian Supra, Georgian Feast after rtveli

Feasting and Celebrations


Rtveli is not just about work; it is a time for celebration, feasting (known as a Supra), toasting, and joy. After a day of hard work in the vineyards, families come together to enjoy traditional Georgian dishes, including Mtsvadi (grilled meat skewers) and Khachapuri (cheese-filled bread) and many more Georgian dishes both popular nationally, and more unique, locally found recipes. Songs, dances, and toasts spoken by the family-appointed tamada fill the air, creating a festive atmosphere that embodies the spirit of Rtveli. There ain’t no party like a Rtveli party!

Rtveli Harvest Tours
Rtveli Harvest Tours

Tourism and Rtveli

Over the years, Rtveli has gained popularity amongst tourists who wish to experience authentic Georgian culture first-hand. Many vineyards and wineries offer Rtveli-themed tours, providing visitors with the opportunity to participate in the grape harvest and learn about Georgian winemaking traditions. This fusion of tourism and tradition has helped put Rtveli on the map as a must-visit cultural event in Georgia.

Rtveli Harvest Tours, Rtveli 2023
Rtveli Harvest Tours, Rtveli 2024

So why not come and experience Rtveli for yourself?

Rtveli in Georgia is not just a grape harvest; it is a time-honoured tradition that unites communities, celebrates Georgia’s agricultural abundance, and showcases the deep connection between Georgians and winemaking. From the traditional rituals performed to the feasting and festivities that follow, Rtveli offers a unique glimpse into the rich cultural heritage of Georgia. So, if you ever find yourself in Georgia during the harvest season, make sure to experience the vibrant traditions of Rtveli.

Join Our Real Rtveli Tours for 2024!

Join our small group tours for an enriching cultural adventure, where truly authentic Rtveli experiences take center stage!

Learn More Here