This month we were thrilled to chat with Ana Maisuradze. The young Georgian winemaker is part of a small team at Château Buera, the winery attached to Lopota Lake Resort. Lopota was founded by her father, Goga Maisuradze, before his untimely death last year. It isn’t hyperbolic to say that with Lopota, Goga spearheaded the rejuvenation of Kakheti into the hub of Georgia’s enotourism industry. We talked to Ana about joining the family business, her father’s legacy and her hopes for Château Buera.
Tell us about how Lopota Lake Resort came to be the spark needed to rejuvenate the Kakheti region.
My father started a hospitality biz [Lopota] in 2008. Georgia wasn’t popular for tourists then, especially Kakheti. It’s hard to imagine now, as it’s such a popular region for visitors who want to discover Georgian winemaking and wine culture, but back then it just wasn’t somewhere people visited. When he started Lopota there had been a period of war with Russia so our economy wasn’t doing great. So, at this time, his idea seemed crazy – to make a hotel in the middle of nonwhere in the forest beside a small lake. But he was really a nature person and was from Kakheti and loved it there, so he did it anyway. It started out as a real family hotel. My parents were running it alone with a few workers, it had just seven rooms. But from the beginning it was a success. It grew bigger and bigger, with hotels added around the lake. It became a real resort, now the biggest in Georgia.
How did wine come into it?
My father’s real passion was wine. When he was young he and a friend founded Teliani Valley which is today one of the biggest wine companies in Georgia. Lopota had five hectares of vineyards from the beginning – but it was really his dream to mix hospitality and wine. So in 2017 he started work on Château Buera. When people arrive at Lopota they always want to take part in wine tours so it was a natural extension for the business too. He wanted to make a mix of Georgian and European style wines – or Georgian wines with European details. It was his main concept to make sure the wines didn’t feel mass produced, but were instead made in small quantities of high quality. It means we have a 7 step ageing process – aged in Qvevri 6 months, in oak for 1-2 years, 1 year in bottle. It’s a new concept for our country as it requires a lot of financial outlay before you earn back your investment in sales. We make about 50 thousand bottles a year which is mainly for our resort and some very select restaurants which we choose carefully. We’re only just beginning to look at export too.
Your background is in the arts, but have you always been interested in wine?
I studied in France photography and theatre and cinema at the Sorbonne. I came back to Tiblisi, but the film industry isn’t hugely developed in our country. I also prefer to live in the countryside so I had to be in Kakheti. So, I’m based here and since my father passed away and I started to work in our business.
Lopota is one of the biggest resorts in Georgia, but it’s still a family business. But, from the family I’m the one most interested in winemaking, though I’d call myself a beginner! I had done a sommelier course previously in Tiblisi but now I study here in the winery and restaurant every day to learn as much as I can. We have just 5 people working on the wine-side of the business – a very small, young and motivated team. Really, it’s all teamwork, so we are always discussing our ideas together.
Château Buera and Lopota recently hosted the 2022 Women in Wine Expo. Is it an ambition for you to become a figurehead of female winemaking and wine business?
The Wine Expo was excellent. We had so many different female winemakers from all over the world, and Georgia as well. It was so exciting to share our wines. After this we have so much contact with people eager to support us. For example, we’re currently in negotiation with participant based in Germany who wants to be ambassador for our wines there. It was very interesting to connect with so many winemakers from so many different places – so we can help each other. I think this Expo was very valuable to us and I hope I can one day make a wine which is 100% me and show that women winemakers are successful.
Is Lapota one of the original enotourism experts?
Wine tourism has become very important. Every year there are more visitors discovering Kahketi. Lapota was the first in the region who gave access for tourists to explore their wines in the vineyard and winery, and every year it gets more and more popular. People all over the world want to discover Georgian Qvevri wine and it’s such a pleasure to expose them to it.
When we have guests interested in winery tours and learning more about the wines, it’s much more interesting for them to have the owner [me] giving the tour. It’s also a big pleasure for me because I can share the whole story I am always trying to share the emotion, the story behind our winery with visitors, the history of our business is very important to me.