Pheasant’s tears / ხოხბის ცრემლები
The weather was absolutely perfect when we headed the 70 miles (113 km) southeast toward the town of Sighnaghi (Also spelled Signagi). We were off to visit Pheasant’s Tears winery; the winos in the group believing that this would be where they would once and for all find THE wine. With the added hope, especially for me, that the scenery would be kinda nice.
Little did we know.
I must confess, I had done very little research on the area, this side trip was daughter’s choice and I figured since it was a “Wine region” that it would be similar to all the other wine areas that I have visited. After enduring another hellish ride with the local drivers, we arrived in the Kakheti region.
I think we were unprepared for just how stunning the region is. The views are vast and impressive, and on this fine day we could see all the way to the Caucasus mountains. The town is located in the eastern foothills of the Gombori Range overlooking the Alazani river valley with stunning views all the way to the Russian border.
What a National treasure this place truly is. For more comprehensive information on the region, Wikitravel is a great source for information.
Arriving around midday we were hungry and ready to imbibe, so we headed straight for Pheasant’s Tears. It was quiet when we walked in so we were immediately seated. We felt as if we were a guest in someone’s very large home and using the restroom only encouraged this thought since there was a shower in it.
The winery is owned by American Expat, John Wurdeman and Georgian native, Gela Patalishvili, together they founded the winery in 2007. Gela’s family have been making wine for eight generations so it was of utmost importance that they continue the traditions of the countryside by using local and organic ingredients.
CROSS TIP: There is a municipal parking area not far from the Restaurant that is free to park in. Just head toward the town fountain and it is on your left, if you’ve run into men on ATV’s you’ve gone too far.
We picked up our menus and after much debate, two wines were chosen and immediately ordered. The family sampled those two varieties and it was determined that they had found…drum roll please…THE wine!
Declaring victory we settled in for a lovely lunch. Appetizers, entrees, and fresh homemade bread were ordered. The menu depends upon what is being prepared by the chef on that particular day, but we had no doubt that whatever was on the menu would be pretty sensational.
As we enjoyed the wine, food, and enchanting ambiance, we had the good fortune to speak with the amazingly talented co-owner, John Wurdeman. My husband was thrilled to pick his brain for a few moments regarding the traditional method of aging wine in qvevri, an ancient tradition using uniquely Georgian clay vessels.
SIDE NOTE: There is lovely Georgian saying that claims, “Only the finest wine can bring a pheasant to tears.” Apparently this is inspiration behind the name, Pheasant’s Tears.
John chatted politely for a bit and then told us that he needed to prepare for a group of wine distributors that were due to arrive shortly. We thanked him for his time and as he was walking away he stopped and told us that one of the distributors was from our area. (Having determined early in the conversation that he knew very well where Maryland was from having lived a portion of his life in Richmond Virginia.)
We were pleasantly surprised that the wine distributor, Jeff, lived in Harrisonburg Virginia and he and our son quickly discovered that they were both James Madison University alumni. We enjoyed a lively conversation with him regarding wine, and he informed Mike of the best places to purchase Pheasant’s Tears back home. We left the winery completely satisfied with all aspects of our visit to this sweet and welcoming place.
SIGHNAGHI / სიღნაღი
We wandered out into the bright sunlight onto the impeccably clean street in the town of Sighnaghi. As we were waiting for Mike to bring the car around, my children and I were laughing at the antics of the locals zipping around on their ATV’s at the town fountain.
SIDE NOTE: Sighnaghi is known as, “The City of Love” because people find it romantic. It is very easy to see why people become smitten with each other here, and why they also fall in love with this town.
Sighnaghi is a small town, in the Kakheti region of Eastern Georgia. Situated at 2591 ft (790 m) in the foothills of the Gambori mountains it has a sweeping view of the Alazani Valley; and on a clear day (Like the day we visited) you can see all the way to the Greater Caucasus mountains. The name of the town means “Shelter, or refuge,” it is a quiet place, not full of tourists, and with only about 3000 residence you will be able to explore and get a real feel for the Georgian life here.
After walking around the charming town for a bit, including a stop at the rustic and rugged St. George’s Church, we happened upon a large open air market under the trees in the upper square. We perused the local produce, arts and crafts, including the famous knitted Georgian socks. Keep your eyes open for the many works of art; like most places in Georgia, there are whimsical sculptures to found around almost every turn here as well.
Returning down the steep street from visiting St. Stephen’s Church, where my husband and son climbed the tower, and my daughter and I waited below because neither of us wanted to don the required head cover in the intense heat of the day, a woman popped out of her house to greet us. Surprising us all when she spoke to us in very passable English.
She grew animated upon discovering we were American since she had spent a bit of time in the US. She chatted with us for some time and even tried to invite us in, however we were ready to leave at that point and politely declined. It was then that she asked us for money to care for her elderly and ailing parents whom she trotted out for verification. We were so taken aback by the sudden turn of events that we opened up our wallets and freely gave her money!
Scratching our heads we wondered what just happened? But by now everyone was in desperate need of a public restroom, we found our car and drove the main street stopping at a promising looking restaurant near one of the six town gates. We pulled off into it’s equally small parking area, and found it to be closed for a celebration of some sort, as another traveller had just been turned away as we approached.
SIDE NOTE: Witnessing yet another celebration, I really must pause here to discuss the Georgian toast in general and the Tamada in particular. The Tamada is the toastmaster, he/she should preside over the table with confident authority. They should be funny, articulate, and an excellent storyteller. In a country that touts toasting as a national treasure, there is no greater pleasure, so we are told, then a proper toast. If so desired, the toastmaster will open up the table to let the guests give their own toasts, often you will find that the men will stand to toast and that there may not be an end to the toasting, nor standing. Prepare yourself if you are ever the honored guest at a Georgian gathering.
Stopping to regroup we took a moment to survey our surroundings and that’s when we realized that we were right next to a stone tower. We saw a few other people disappear into the entrance so we followed suit. There was a ladder that led up to the top of the tower and another area that led toward what we soon saw was a massive stone wall. My daughter headed toward the wall and I scrambled up the ladder after my son, and the view took my breath away.
We were staring at a massive stone wall, one of the most stunning sites that we had seen in Georgia. The walls encompass more than 100 acres, are fortified by twenty-three towers such as the one we were in, and have six individual gates. It was so completely impressive that we forgot all about our need to use the bathroom! We clamored around the wall on the portion that had been restored and was open to the public. The views were incomparable, we felt that we could see all the way to Russia.
Reluctantly we returned to our car and we all agreed we were ready to wrap up our day in Sighnaghi. As we descended back into town we were startled when our son yelled a greeting out his window to an acquaintance that was seated outside of a local cafe. (He really has built quite a network of friends in this friendly nation!)
We were ready for the long return to Tbilisi but we didn’t get far when we rounding a bend on the mountain and I spied an ethereal monastery peeking through the trees. I asked my husband to stop so we could take a few more photos and I ended up finding my favorite place in Georgia.