Winter is Coming: Etseri, Svaneti


It’s been such a mild November-December here that one is even reluctant to call it winter, unlike what the folks over in Game of Thrones have to deal with, their final season’s brutally spectacular wars to be fought in 2019. But it is slowly, steadily advancing, albeit late.

While I’m using words which start with “albe”, here’s another one: albedo, the amount of radiation-reflectivity of a surface. It can be anything from 0 (scientifically called a black body, absorbing 100% radiation to 1 (reflecting 100%). The ground in the village has been moving from a much darker color, absorbing much more light and heat from the sun and thus staying warmer, to a much lighter tone, closer to an albedo of 1, as snow comes. As yet, the snow has been losing the battle and melting: there hasn’t been enough to stay, cool the ground underneath itself, reflect most of the sun’s heat, and thus become permanent for the season. Ground has been winning.

The next few days’ forecasts could be the tipping point, as more snow is predicted. It might just be enough to last until more can come and be added to it, building up. We’re also currently tilted, planet-wise, in respect to the sun such that what does reach us of its rays is much less than the direct, nearer 90-degree angles of midsummer, with a correspondingly weaker warming effect. That’s why we’re moving into winter in the first place, the rain becoming snow. It will change back again in the spring.

Does our current season, the mildest winter my wife and I have experienced in our six years here, mean that global warming has finally arrived in Svaneti? Maybe. As long as we get enough snow to replenish the huge Enguri dam in spring, currently draining as usual for now with extra electrical usage (our heaters) and less refill (snow falling and not melting for some months), we’ll be fine. We’d really like to remain mosquito-free, though, please, too dry for them to live up here in summer! Their entrenchment up here would not be a blessing, not by any means. Ask the people in Poti.

As long as the trees don’t get fooled into thinking that spring has come much too early, and start budding and blossoming, only to have all that new growth killed off by the real winter still gathering strength. Then our temperate fruit crops would fail for 2019: plums sweet and sour, apples, cherries white and dark, sweet and sour, pears; not to mention walnuts. All of these flourish up here when the weather is normal.

Yesterday I decanted our first ever crop of plums since we moved here (now protected by fences) from their four-month soaking in moonshine. I strained the liquid and added sugar syrup: liqueur! Then, not to waste the fruit, I pitted it all and boiled it with more sugar and warm winter spices, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg. Most of the alcohol boiled off, leaving its taste behind, in what we refer to here as “drunk jam”. Just right for the Christmas holidays! I do this with all the fruit liqueurs I make, of which there is quite a seasonal variety, and the results are worth sampling, if I say so myself. POW, as my late father would have exclaimed. You’ll have to come up to Hanmer House and try them, on crepes or toast or ice cream. While Mestia will give you the skiing infrastructure, true, we’ll give you these jams along with aged sulguni cheese and other delights unique to us. Dig in and enjoy.

Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer for GT since early 2011. He runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with over 1900 members, at

He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri:

By Tony Hanmer

13 December 2018 20:12