What does kvevri, the Georgian method of making wine inside large clay vessels buried in the ground, have in common with the traditional Chinese use of the abacus and an Indian style of singing and dancing known as sankirtana? Until recently nothing. But on December 4 all three (plus several other traditions from around the world) were added to UNESCO's list of "Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding."
From UNESCO's description of the kvevri (or "qvevri," as it is sometimes spelled) tradition (which also includes a slideshow worth looking at):
Qvevri wine-making is practised throughout Georgia, particularly in village communities where unique varieties of grapes are grown. The Qvevri is an egg-shaped earthenware vessel used for making, ageing and storing the wine. Knowledge and experience of Qvevri manufacture and wine-making are passed down by families, neighbours, friends and relatives, all of whom join in communal harvesting and wine-making activities....Wine plays a vital role in everyday life and in the celebration of secular and religious events and rituals. Wine cellars are still considered the holiest place in the family home. The tradition of Qvevri wine-making defines the lifestyle of local communities and forms an inseparable part of their cultural identity and inheritance, with wine and vines frequently evoked in Georgian oral traditions and songs.
The UNESCO listing marks yet another positive turn for kvevri wines. Despite the apparent need for "safeguarding" the tradition, kvevri winemaking has been making something of a comeback in the last few years, with winemakers in other parts of the world starting to use the traditional Georgian clay vessels to make their own wine (more on that in an upcoming Kebabistan post -- and more on kvevri in this previous Eurasianet story and slideshow).
There's another positive thing about UNESCO's kvevri move: since Georgia is the only country in the region that uses the technique to make its wine, most likely we won't see a repeat of the food fight that took place two years ago when the organization declared keskek, a traditional stew made of wheat and wheat berries, to be part of Turkey's intangible cultural heritage, much to the chagrin of Armenia, which considers the dish to be part of its culinary heritage.
That's not to say the UNESCO may have avoided any trouble with this year's choices. Also given "intangible" status in 2013? What UNESCO refers to as "Turkish coffee." No word of protest yet from any other Mediterranean country that considers serving coffee made from finely ground beans and served in small cups part of their own "intangible" cultural heritage, but it may not take long.