In previous posts, this blog has taken a look at the effort some vintners are making to revive Armenia's historic but troubled wine industry. Armenia, of course, is best known for its cognac and the country's latest alcoholic beverages production figures show what an uphill battle Armenian winemakers are fighting. While cognac production grew by 20 percent last year, the amount of wine produced dropped by some seven percent, despite the recent moves to revive the wine industry.
In a recent article, the Hetq.am website took a look at what ails the Armenian wine industry, offering answers that ranged from the technical to the historical. From the article:
Globally, 10 billion bottles of wine are sold every year. Armenia sells around 600,000 bottles per year, some in the Russian market, where 1.2 billion are sold yearly. Russia also consumes 93% of Armenian cognac.
Only 5% of the Armenian cognac sold in Russia is purchased by the wealthy elite. That’s because most of it is sold for 25-300 roubles; the price of Russian wine. There are a few Armenian cognac varieties that go for 1000 roubles.
All these numbers concern Avag Haroutyunyan, President of Armenia’s Wine Growers Union. He says that cognac production and exports have risen 10% over last year and are 30% higher than the record years back in the Soviet era.
“Armenian cognac is fairly well known throughout the world. But Armenian wine is another story,” says Haroutyunyan. He believes that wine growing in Armenia is losing out to cognac because that’s where the investment is being directed. Armenian wines also aren’t well represented on the international market.
He argues that for the past 150 years, first Russia and then the Soviet Union targeted the best winemaking technologies to Georgia and Bessarabia, while Armenia got the nod for cognac. This was due to the fact that under Seljuk and Persian rule Armenia had lost a majority of its grape gene pool – the best Armenian vineyards were in the possession of foreign conquerors.
“The Georgians had an independent state in the 17th-18th century and made sure their grapes weren’t destroyed. Thus, when Armenia was incorporated into Tsarist Russia in 1828, we had grapes that were only suited for vodka production. When European technology reached Armenia in 1860-1870, it was quite easy to produce cognac from the grape alcohol. That’s exactly what happened,” says Haroutyunyan. Armenia led Tsarist Russia in terms of cognac production.