At 12 Hay Hill, I’m chatting with Natia Chkhartishvili – founder of Eshvi, a jewellery brand that operates a number of boutiques in London and has garnered attention for its collections, which have shown at Paris and London Fashion Week. But today, we are not discussing rings, necklaces and bracelets.
Natia has made it her mission to put the spotlight on her home country of Georgia, and one of its most enduring cultural traditions: winemaking. Noticing the lack of knowledge of Georgian wine internationally, Natia and her family formed Shilda – a wine company that aims to help the country’s small, traditional winemakers showcase their wine globally.
Natia tells me how her interest in wine began – and how the idea for Shilda developed. “I moved to London, and I was hosting lots of dinners at my place – so I always wanted to have a good wine. I started doing wine tastings and attending lessons to get a deeper understanding of how to differentiate good and bad wine.”
The lack of knowledge of Georgian wine in London made the business-minded Natia wonder what Georgia’s wine industry was missing. “There was no big manufacturing of wine – people were making amazing wine, but they couldn’t produce more than 5,000 bottles. They didn’t have people to help, they didn’t have new technology or additional investors.”
Natia and her family decided to build a platform where Georgia’s established winemakers could produce higher quantities of wine, while potentially reaching a wider audience. “We decided to pick up the winemakers who already know this field – whose knowledge has been passed down through generations – and we will follow the way they make the wine. Our aim is to bring to the local people the potential to show the international market what the real taste of Georgia is.” Natia says that the characteristics of Georgian wine come from the land, which is ideal for winemaking, and the minerals in the soil. “There is such a diverse landscape in Georgia, particularly for such a small country.” According to Natia, Georgian wine is most similar to African wines; but it has methods and traditions that are unique to the country, some going back some 8,000 years. “Kvevri wine, for example, is a special way of winemaking using clay. There’s nothing else like it.”
Natia tells me that Georgians “have a very big culture of hosting people – there is always a bottle of wine on the table.” She says that hospitality is central to the country’s philosophy. With the launch of Shilda, Natia hopes to share this with the world. The investment, technology and machinery that Shilda is introducing to local winemakers is set to bring a new level of interest in Georgian wine across the world. “We built a huge factory, which was finished last year. We can now manufacture up to four million bottles a year,” says Natia proudly. “Most of the small producers work for our factory to make wine using their approach, but on a bigger scale. Previously, they would only be able to produce 2,000 bottles – and none of those bottles would make it out of the country.
“We want to help the local people who have the experience. The main priority was helping people who have done this for generations, and to just bring their philosophy to the new way of wine production. I’m not involved in the winemaking process – we are simply giving a platform to the Georgian winemaking philosophy.”
Currently, Georgia is yet to establish a significant market outside of its neighbouring countries. “The biggest market was Russia; culturally, there are lots of commonalities between us. But after the conflict, that has changed. The Russians know Georgian wine well, as does Azerbaijan and Armenia; but I want Europeans to know about it. That’s my mission.”
Mayfair is a big target for Shilda, says Natia. “When it is time to introduce Georgian wine to London, Mayfair will be one of the first destinations. I spend most of my time in this area.” She says that Mayfair’s private members clubs and restaurants are key opportunities. “The clubs are important, because members listen to the sommeliers, and they know about new wines. Every time I go to the Arts Club, I always chat to the sommelier.” Natia thinks that the most important way to highlight Georgian wine is by making sure that Shilda is on the radar of those in the know. “It’s important that the sommelier believes in the product; if they believe in it, then they will really recommend the wine,” she says. “This approach to wine is very important.”
Although Georgian wine is still niche, Natia believes that things are beginning to change. “In the last two years, Georgia has had lots of interest in terms of tourists and the media – this will help our wine industry a lot.”
Natia wants to make Georgia – and in particular the wine region of Kakheti – a true international destination. She explains that drawing tourists to the wine region has been difficult, due to its remoteness and lack of quality accommodation; but a series of contemporary buildings surrounding Shilda’s vineyards, including luxury accommodation and a spa, are currently being constructed to counter this. “This will be one of the most innovative projects in the Kakheti region,” says Natia.
“We decided to construct super modern buildings which will be integrated into the vineyards. It will have the biggest wine tasting space in the whole region, with huge wine cellars – and it will also have places to stay, offering a five star experience.” She hopes that Shilda will become the main Georgian destination for visitors. “The concept is that if a tourist comes to Georgia for one week, the main destination will be Shilda – and we can organise tours all around Georgia from there. There has to be another reason to stay in Kakheti – and I think this will be it.” Natia believes there is untapped potential in Georgia. “It has the potential because so far, what we have in Georgia are small hotels with a traditional experience; but there is no luxury,” she says, telling me that the whole project will be wrapped up within a year.
Natia says that wine has given her a newfound understanding of her country, and a drive to put Georgia on the map. “Wine is something that I became much more interested in after reading and understanding how things work, how interesting things can be and how big a potential Georgia has. Now, my main priority is using every major potential Georgia has – whether it be hospitality, wine, food, design or art, everything – because I think it is a country with huge potential that really needs attention.”