Sunday, September 7, 2014

What's new in Armenia? WINE.

(Two things I know nothing about, wine and Armenia.  This should go well.)

It all started with this article in Glendale News Press,  July 24, 2014, written by Brittany Levine, sadly no longer with the paper, don't panic, still on earth, just no longer with the Press.  In the article, Ms. Levine writes about Varuzhan Mouradian, who, after 20 years living in Los Angeles, has returned to Armenia to make wine. Though it seems the subject of wine making and Armenia occasionally cycles 'round, what made this article stick was, well, timing.  For instance, Mr. Mouradian references the country's indigenous grapes, Areni, Haghtanak, Karmrahyut, Kakhet, and unusual grapes are a bit of a trend right now.  New World Wines are in, too: South Africa, Argentina, Chile, Australia, New Zealand. The timing for Armenia is RIPE.  THEN, about a month later, M. came in and announced he was asked to go to Armenia to give a lecture on modern wine things.  That clenched it: Armenia is about to HAPPEN.

This is a panoramic shot of the cave Areni-1. (click on to enlarge)  I'm not sure the rent on that little duplex in the front, or the nearest Starbucks, but you have a CAVE in your backyard, one almost as nice as THE Cave.  Also, it is the very cave in which the world's oldest-know winery was discovered not but a few years ago.  It turns out Armenians were making wine in 4,000 BC. You'd think they'd be pretty good at it by now, but alas, like many ubiquitous supermarket wines, the current offerings most available, most recognized, are ... lacking. 

That's all about to change.  

In the south of Armenia, the Areni-1 cave complex lies along the Arpa River just outside Areni Village.  If you google-map this cave it's, like, nowhere. The Caucasus Mountains look like endless dry dust interspersed with moments of lushness.  Areni is in the most sparsely populated province in the country and one of four regions of wine making in Armenia, though I'm only finding specifically referenced Ararat and Vayots Dzor.  It is Ararat that is believed to be the resting place of Noah's Ark, and Noah himself that planted the first vines.  Like he got off the boat and planted vines. Tough trip meets intact priorities. Though Ararat is now technically in Turkey, it is spiritually forever Armenian. 

In the village there is the Areni Wine Factory, but the crest above the cave winds a long road to a lone-standing Monastery, Noravank. (click on images to enlarge)

Seriously, check out this monastery. Very small distinction between a troglodyte and a monk, mostly one of light. I think I can handle this.

That picture is lifted from the website for Zorah Wines, one of the wines already making its impression.  From their website, "Zorah’s carefully selected indigenous vines, which derive from the abandoned vineyards of a nearby 13th century monastic complex and have remained pure and unchanged for hundreds of years, are grown on original ungrafted root."

Zorik Gharibian returned to Armenia from Italy to pursue wine.  His winemaker is Alberto Antonini, among the top 5 of Forbes' list of the world's best winemakers. The company's agronomist, Stefano Bartolomei, is also Italian.  

In answer to "What's missing from Armenian Winemakers," Gharibian responds, ""Unfortunately, [people] in Armenia don't understand what a treasure they have. Many world-famous winemaking countries such as, for example, Australia, New Zealand, and Argentina, don't have indigenous varieties, while Armenia has hundreds of indigenous varieties, which many are not interested in. This is lamentable. The second woeful fact is that we have a 6,000-year-old [winemaking] history and we don't pay attention to this fact, while in Europe they preserve their 500–600-year-old [winemaking] history to such an extent."

"I'm now speaking about my land. Armenia has altitudes — this land, this water, history, indigenous varieties… we have all the links [to the chain] to develop winemaking, but what we're missing is self-consciousness," he says, looking toward the clay amphorae laid out in the first floor of the factory."  Gharibian ages his wine in traditional clay amphorae, not too dissimilar from what was found in the caves.  When it became too difficult to source out, they opened their own factory. 

In 2012, Ellen McCoy posted on her Top 10 Wines.  Along with a 2009 Romanee-Conti that goes for $14,000 - $18,000 was the $45 2011 Zora Karasi Areni Noir.  Wow! Had that happened to me, I think I'd have produced a few clay pots on the spot. 

The 2014 Decanter World Wine Awards awarded 7 medals to Armenian wines, three of them silver.  If you are still unconvinced Armenia is the next hot wine region, peruse this nearly 80-page report from 2012.  It was embedded in Ms. Levine's News Press article, and it's actually a fascinating read of a possibility, a reality, and the challenges between. Armenia has the history, the grapes, the climate, the terroir, and the buzz - all the necessary components of notable wine - except, for now, the wine.  Stay tuned.