Text by Keti Adeishvili
Short profile: Oleg Golovachev has made a name for himself in medicine as an ophthalmologist who leads the learning and scientific direction at the National Center of Ophthalmology. But we shall introduce him from a completely different angle. After becoming enamored with winemaking some 10 years ago, the doctor bought 10 hectares of land in the Napareuli Zone and planted a vineyard. Later he opened a hotel complex, including a wine bar and a winery, in the historic center of Telavi. That’s how he laid a foundation for his business, up and running, popular and flourishing.
Q: How did it all start? When did you become interested in winemaking?
Oleg Golovachev: Viticulture has always been a relevant topic in Kakheti. When I was a kid, my family had a vineyard alley, and my school also participated in grape harvesting. I happened to have a good opportunity to buy land in the Napareuli Zone for a low price, and a spontaneous decision was made. Of course, there was some background, but the decisive factor was the launch of the land reform in Georgia.
I started working in this field in 2004. In 2005, we bought a piece of land and planted a vineyard. At first, we focused on only viticulture, and made wine only for our home, depending on the needs of our family. Later, however, I considered this activity from a different point of view, and that really grabbed me. Firstly, you are in harmony with nature. Secondly, as a surgeon, I found it really exciting to watch the process of life and growth. You do something, and then it grows, and you see the fruit of your work, and that seemed very interesting to me.
I took a scientific approach by contacting specialists from the Institute for Plant Protection to supervise the planting of our vineyard, examine the soil, and run various tests. I stillbenefit from their consultations. I studied the history of viniculture in Napareuli, and I discovered that, when Alexandre Chavchavadze decided to introduce a European method of winemaking, French specialists advised him to cultivate this very area and plant vineyards here
I planted organic Saperavi and Rkatsiteli, each on one hectare of land. After six years of hard work, we are about to reap organic products, so trendy and in demand nowadays. Organic winemaking is a complex, gradual system, in which certification is only possible after completing a certain number of stages.
I love the winery aura. As there had already been many good examples to follow, our friends advised us to build one of our own. To that end, I bought my neighbor’s house, right across from my house in Telavi, and that’s where I built a hotel complex with a wine bar and restaurant. At first, my grandfather came to Telavi and settled in the Batonis Tskali neighborhood. My family has lived there ever since. It is a famous district in the heart of the city, so we did not have to look far to find it.
Around that time, the state-run Enterprise Georgia program was launched, and ours was one of the projects financed by it. For our winery, I commissioned qvevri vessels from the village of Tkemlovani in Imereti, because their products are really good given the high quality of local clay, while in Telavi qvevri vessels were few and far between, and very expensive at that. Tkemlovani-made qvevris are hardier and more solid.
Q: Given your tight schedule and responsible professions, how actively are you, and your family, engaged in the winemaking business?
Oleg Golovachev: One may say that it is a typical family business. We spend weekends in Telavi. All four members of our family are doctors, and making wine is our second calling and biggest hobby. Everyone is actively engaged. Our label was designed by my elder grandson. The name of our wine, Mareli, is a portmanteau combining the names of my two daughters, Marian and Elene.
Q: I know that you came across your own wine at the Bordeaux Wine Museum? How did that happen? How did it end up there?
Oleg Golovachev: My wine was first displayed in December of last year at a wine exhibition held at the Wine Factory #1 on Petriashvili Street, where it received wide recognition. Experts from Nice approached us and bought some of our wine to resell in France. The wine was included in a catalog, and that’s how representatives of the Bordeaux Wine Museum discovered it. There are only five Georgian wines exhibited at that museum and I’m very proud that one of them is Mareli.
Q: Which wine from your cellar do you offer your guests?
Oleg Golovachev: It depends. We are manufacturing four types of wine: Saperavi, Rkatsiteli, Mtsvane, and a mix of several varieties. And each has its own distinct character. In the case of a traditional Georgian festive meal, I recommend Rskatsiteli. If we are spending a casual evening in the circle of friends over a glass of wine, I don’t hesitate to offer Saperavi. We also have Mtsvane, a very potent, high alcohol-content wine. Its flavors reveal themselves slowly as you sip, and they gradually lead you into a different dimension. It is a very interesting wine in its own way.
Q: Us Georgians have our own traditions of drinking wine. What would you change or replace?
Oleg Golovachev: Wine-drinking is a ritual in its own right. First, you open a bottle, let it rest for a while to take in the air and aromas. I have studied this topic in detail. A friend of mine gave me a whole library that once belonged to his relative, a winemaker by trade. I read those books all the time, and find something new every time. I wouldn’t replace anything, but I would adopt certain things, and that’s actually what we did when we built out winery. We built a classic Georgian wine cellar and winery where the whole process takes place.
There is also a wine-tasting room free of excessively traditional antique elements, plain, more comfortable and acceptable to guests. In fact, our winery has all three areas above and yet it is not overwhelming. In settings like this, emphasis should not be placed on the past, on history, but on the wine itself. That’s where it all starts.
Q: Many winemakers claim that wine is a living organism, and each, like a human being, has its distinct character. As a doctor, would you liken wine to a human being?
Oleg Golovachev: In the abstract, wine does resemble a human being. Just imagine, from the very outset, it follows its own course, with biochemical processes in full swing. It matures step by step, changes color, taste, flavor, and transforms itself anew. Better still, wine, even after bottling, continues living and transforming, which undoubtedly makes it a living organism.
Q: What were your expectations when you tackled this endeavor first, and where do you see it in the future?
Oleg Golovachev: Back then, I looked at it all through wine-colored glasses, so to speak, but then I realized that it is an industry where competition is tough. Lately, this segment – meaning smallwineries – has been developing rapidly. During my visit to France, I stopped by a chateau in Bordeaux, one with vineyards stretching seven hectares with established customs and traditions. And that’s exactly what we must introduce here, meaning small wineries competing with industrial production. They must find a niche, and in doing so target genuine wine connoisseurs who appreciate organic wine.