For Nikoloz ‘Niki’ Antadze, his growing winery in the village of Manavi, Kakheti, is a dream come true. Niki who is in his forties, first made wine when he was a child, having learned the craft from his father and uncle. For him, the space on which his vineyard stands contains a dose sacred of importance. To begin with, the neighbouring village of Tokhliauri is a direct link to his ancestry, where his predecessors lived and made their own wine.
While Niki grew up in the capital Tbilisi, one of his most prominent memories and the inspiration for his having chosen Manavi as the place to return and cultivate his wine comes from the many trips that his family had taken to the region. He remembers in great detail driving past the spot in which his vineyard stands today whilst his grandfather’s sister told him that the area was a perfect micro ecosystem to cultivate wine. For him, that was a moment that has stuck with him ever since.
Before embarking on the journey to seriously begin to learn and develop his skills as a winemaker, Niki operated a club. Naturally, to do so, he dealt with alcohol vendors that would stock his shelves for attendees. It was the experience of seeing the effects of different types of vodka on the club goers that changed Niki’s perspective on the significance of drinking alcohol that was pure and natural. He realised how important that was not just because of the effects on the human body, but more so because of what certain drinks could do to a person’s mindset under the influence.
Initially, because Niki did not own his own vineyard, he made whatever wine that he could; often cultivating it from the lands of close friends. Then, one day, when he received news that vineyards in Manavi were for sale, he knew in his heart that there was no place more perfect. It has been about eleven years since Niki broke into the winemaking business in a professional sense, yet money has never been his motivation.
He is one of five winemakers in the country that hold at their forefront the goal to bring back the traditional winemaking culture that has always been a part of Georgia; the other’s being Solomon Caishvili, Iago Bitarishvili, Ramaz Nikoladze, and John Wurdeman. He uses the kvevri, large earthenware vessels unique to Georgia, to ferment the wine.
But more than that, along with other winemakers, Niki has has worked hard to produce wine according to the principles of biodynamics; a philosophy founded by Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner that maintains organic products as paramount.
For Niki, it has not always been easy. To make wine is an extremely nuanced practice that often takes years to perfect. There were years when the final process did not turn out well, where the wine became diseased and could not be sold. In these moments, Niki sometimes came close to losing hope for the success of the business.
As the process of growing grapes, producing wine, and bottling it for sale takes almost an entire year, it was hard to keep desperation from overcoming him when he failed. But today, Niki is happy because he does precisely what feels right in his heart. He spends most of his time in Kakheti, producing by his own hand, which he truly enjoys. His winery is built almost entirely by him and his cousin, Sandro. They built the house that he stays in and the winery itself with their own two hands, piece by piece.
During the year, Niki also enjoys going to wine festivals all around the world where he can meet fellow enthusiasts and explain what his purpose in making wine is. His hope is bigger than something as single minded as profits. Niki wants to leave behind a positive change in the winemaking world that will stand as a testament to the days in which it was always a natural product, unhindered by the world of restrictive regulations.
While Niki created Antadze Winery’s and gave it that name to denote it as a family business, he does not know where the Antadze Winery will be in the future. His son, Dimitri, is nine years old and too young to start learning the business or even express an interest in doing so. As such, it remains unclear who will take over and what will come of this venture but that doesn’t exactly matter to Niki. For now, he is happy doing what he wants.