Dining on the Wine Trail: Lost Ridge Inn, Signagi
A scintillating vegetarian lunch at John Wurdeman's restaurant, brewery, and guesthouse in Signagi.
American painter-winemaker-restaurateur John Wurdeman had his hands full during the pandemic. Since my last visit to Georgia in 2019, he’s divested his stake in Tbilisi natural wine restaurant Azarpesha, and closed his other restaurant, Poliphonia. The latter reopens as a bar on September 10th in a new location; on the same day, Wurdeman will open a new restaurant, Elegia, in the Ilia Chavchavadze Literary-Memorial Museum.
A surprising constant, amid all this restaurant empire renovation, has been Wurdeman’s Lost Ridge Inn, a folkloric restaurant, guesthouse, brewery, and horse ranch in the Signagi-adjacent village of Qedeli.
“Strangely enough, we did okay during the pandemic,” says Wurdeman, as we taste through his 2021 Pheasant’s Tears Wines over lunch in the courtyard. “Partly because we were three separate buidings, with lots of outdoor space. It wasn’t a big hotel where you have to walk through a hall with a lot of other people. And it’s kid-friendly and dog-friendly. So a lot of expats in Tbilisi and elsewhere in Georgia came.”
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My first visit to Lost Ranch in 2019 got, well, lost in the melée of feasts and winery visits arranged by Wurdeman and US importer Chris Terrell. Our busful of sommeliers disembarked said bus for a mere brief beer before re-embarking. Over lunch, I discover that the establishment is nowadays the subject of several characteristically baroque Wurdeman plans.
The menu is largely vegetarian these days, emphasizing ingredients sourced from not one, but two on-site gardens. The first is a no-till kitchen garden containing diverse vegetables - runner beans, celeriac, broccoli, peppers, etc. - and all manner of herbs.
The second, a short drive up the road, is a 6500m2 work-in-progress that Wurdeman terms a “forest garden.”
“Theoretically a food forest is something that grows more or less like a forest grows. In this case, you’re trying to encourage it to be as edible as possible,” he says, explaining that it was initially an abandoned orchard. “So there was already a lot of old trees. Some of them are really delicious, some of them need to be pruned differently. But it’s basically something that had been more or less left to become wild.”
Now Wurdeman and his team are constructing a pond, with the aim of introducing irrigation via gravity. They also plan to move an entire condemned house from the mountains of Adjara in the Georgian southwest to the site, with the aim, in the future, of opening another restaurant in the forest garden itself, sourced entirely therefrom.
It is very easy, during any visit anywhere with John Wurdeman, to miss the trees for the forest garden, as it were. The sheer breadth and diversity of his projects can tend to overwhelm one’s journalistic bandwidth. One tries in vain to attain an overview of his sprawling portfolio, and winds up missing the simple pleasures of any given facet of it.
At Lost Ridge Inn, these include a god’s-eye perspective over Kakheti; a kaleidoscopic plate of pickles, whose rat-tail radish pods packed an explosion of nuanced pickle-juice; succulent yogurt soup; pungent local cheeses, and a hazy IPA that was simply heavenly in the August heat in Kakheti. (This is to say nothing of the 2021 Pheasant’s Tears wines we tasted. The structured, saline 2021 Rkatsiteli “Bakurtsike” feels like a career high.)
It is my fervent hope that someday I become sufficiently blasé about spending time in Georgia that I might feel inclined to do nothing for several days at Lost Ridge and simply soak these things in.
Lost Ridge Inn, Brewery, and Ranch
8 Noneshvili Str., Qedeli
Tel: +995 599 79 55 29
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