It took a long time to get back from Armenia.

We hired a shared taxi that ended up being a private taxi when there were no other passengers — normally a good thing. But in this case, as our Georgian driver shuttled us foreigners from Yerevan to Tbilisi for half the money he would have gotten had there been the expected two additional fares in the car, his driving lacked, shall we say, urgency.

We stopped six times on the trip. Granted, two of them were because he got pulled over by Armenian police (yes – TWICE)…

…but the other four stops were for less official reasons. Shopping for fish. Shopping for fish again. Talking to friends.

We got back to Tbilisi late. We were tired. We were growly. We didn’t sleep well. We awoke late the next day.

That day, Saturday, was the Tbilisi New Wine Festival, a yearly celebration of the many outstanding winemakers, large and small, who are putting Georgia on the map as a world-class producer of extraordinary wines.

The festival was held on Mtatsminda, the top of the large hill/small mountain in the center of Tbilisi. There, you can find a restaurant, amusement park, TV tower and, on this particular Saturday, several thousand happy people with plastic tasting cups in hand.

Getting up to the top was brutal. There’s a funicular, but it was a mob scene. (I’m pretty sure smart people are already lining up there for next year’s festival.) There are buses. Well, a bus. No chance. You could drive, but even if we had a car, traffic was stopped dead at the bottom of the hill.

And there were stairs. Lots and lots of stairs. So up we climbed. And climbed, and climbed.

By the time we reached the top, the hot sun had left me soaked through my shirt and thirsting for an ice cold beer rather than wine.

Because we got moving so late and arrived later in the afternoon than we wanted, we only had an hour or so before we had to go back through the transportation gauntlet to the absolute opposite end of the city to drop in as guest speakers at our friend’s university class.

I know: first-world problems.

The frustrations of the previous 24 hours could have made a dark cloud hover above our heads for the rest of the afternoon. BUT — Georgian wine to the rescue.

It was an absolutely lovely event.

Milling around, bumping into friends (even those we’d met in other parts of the country)…

Talking to winemakers (and their kids – it was a family affair)…

Sampling family wines that had no bottle or label…

Sampling wines from established producers…

Sampling fruit brandies from our friends at Riravo Distillery…

There was food…

And did I mention wine?

All free, I might add. The appropriate thing to do is to bring home a few bottles, which we did — including one rkatsiteli that hooked us because it smelled just like pungent Georgian cheese. Perhaps we’ll share this bottle between the two of us.

We had a blast. (And we made it across town in plenty of time, if not a little bit tipsy.)

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: something wonderful (mshvenieri – მშვენიერი) is happening here in Georgia. A Renaissance of sorts. Sure, there are problems, as there are everywhere. But the good things about this country seem to just be getting better. The potential is enormous.

Get here now, if you can. And if you can’t, well, Georgia — it’s food, wine and culture — will be coming your way sooner rather than later. I know it.