Spending time over a glass of wine with Kato Shalvashvili, 24-year-old sommelier from Tbilisi, should be a mandatory treatment for anyone with chronic fatigue. Fifteen minutes in her company, and your love of life, thanks to her infectious love of winemaking, is restored.
I met Kato in an unusual way: ordering wine online. The wine shop called me with a follow up question: they were out of one Saperavi, would I try another?
It was Kato asking. Her advice was given with such authority, she even coaxed me out of my Georgian wine rut. Before I even realized it, I was asking her, a stranger on the phone, to come to my home and do a wine-tasting for a group of friends.
Tell us about your passion for winemaking.
I just think there is so much to wine: choosing it, discussing it, teaching people about it; it’s not just drinking! The communication and emotion around wine means everything to me. In Georgia, it is not just winemakers who are making wine. Every family is making wine. Winemaking is in the Georgian soul!
How did you become a sommelier?
I did a four-year Bachelor’s degree in winemaking at the Agricultural University in Tbilisi. Now I’m doing my Master’s. I am also doing Level 3 of the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) certifications.
How is it as a young woman in your field?
There were a few times when I first started working at the wine shop several years ago, when customers asked whether there was a male colleague who could help them instead of me. Fortunately, the director of the shop (a man) was really supportive and called this sexism out.
Once, when a customer asked for a man, I said “if you want a boy, I’ll go get you one!” The customer could see I was upset and actually apologized. I ended up choosing his wine. Later, he got pretty tipsy and came over, kissed my hand, and said “thank you again.”
Today, there is a lot of space for women winemakers and sommeliers in Georgia, although traditionally it has always been the men who made the wine. The number of women in the industry is growing and women are very active. Women and men are equal, including when it comes to their winemaking ability!
In the end, I think it’s an individual thing. Good person = good wine! Wine is a living organism. So, what you have in your soul is ‘communicated’ into the wine. Telling someone you do not like their wine is like telling them their baby is ugly!
What do visitors to Georgia need to know about Georgian wine?
The first thing a visitor should know about is the traditional qvevri (clay pot) winemaking method. Secondly, visitors should know that Georgia has over 500 indigenous varietals, although not all of them are being used to make wine. Still, the old varietals are attracting more and more interest.
What do you see in your future and in the future of Georgian wine?
My dream is to have my own wine cellar. It is based on the feeling I got when I made my own wine; a possibility to share my emotions and personality. I’d also like to travel, to taste different wines, and to explain Georgian wine to people in other countries. I believe Georgian wine has huge potential and a great future. The process has already started and it will continue!
Interview by Robin Clapp