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Avondale keeps ancient winemaking alive

Leading biodynamic estate Avondale is the first winery in South Africa to introduce clay qvevri into the cellar, marking another milestone on the family-owned winery’s pioneering journey of sustainable, organic viticulture and natural winemaking.
Avondale’s qvevri

Qvevri are egg-shaped earthenware vessels used for fermenting and ageing wine, and originate from the European country of Georgia. This country is widely regarded as the cradle of modern viticulture, with winemaking traditions dating back to more than 8000 years.  Qvevri – pronounced kwe-vree – have long been a crucial aspect of the winemaking heritage and while they may have ancient roots, these vessels are set to bring a brand-new dimension to Avondale’s terroir-driven wines.

Qvevri first caught the attention of Grieve and Avondale’s winemaker, Corné Marais, in 2017. After Marais spent a week in Georgia in June that year, visiting leading natural wineries in the winemaking regions of Kakheti and Imereti, he realized that, if that was the quality of wine that was being made in qvevri, Avondale had to have some.

With the help of John Wurdeman – winemaker at Pheasant’s Tears Winery outside the Georgian town of Sighnaghi, and a passionate supporter of qvevri – Marais was able to visit a number of qvevri masters. He eventually settled on Nodari Kapanadze, a qvevri master in a village in the Imererian Mountains, a region popular for its pottery. Kapanadze has an old family-run business, with knowledge handed down from grandfather to grandson.

Avondale’s 24 qvevri arrived just in time for the 2018 harvest. Each qvevri holds between 800 and 1000 litres, and due to the fact that they are handmade, each vessel is unique and slightly different in shape and size. “For now, we’re really enjoying experimenting to see what characters the qvevri bring to the wine,” says Marais. As with clay amphorae, natural micro-oxygenation is a key aspect of working with qvevri. Though the qvevri’s lower firing temperature makes the vessels more porous, it is countered by the application of a beeswax lining and the fact that each qvevri is buried in soil for stability.


Avondale proprietor, Johnathan Grieve, and winemaker, Corné Marais

While the first grapes to grace the qvevri come from a late-ripening block of Chenin Blanc, the team will also work with Rhône varietals as the harvest progresses. According to Grieve, Avondale’s Rhône varietals are all aged in large, older barrels, because they don’t want too much oak influence. The qvevri are ideal for Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache, as they have excellent potential for micro-oxygenation without any wood influence.

Inspired by this ancient winemaking tradition, yet guided by the estate’s unique biodynamic approach, Avondale’s motto Terra Est Vita (Earth is Life) – has certainly found an exciting new expression in these ancient earthenware vessels from the ancestral home of winemaking.

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