As Georgian wine continues on the path towards what looks like its return to the Russian market, Armenian wine producers are expressing concern that Georgia's gain may come at their expense. Reports the Arminfo website:
Return of Georgian wines to the Russian market following embargo suspension may cut growth of export of Armenian wines to Russia, Avag Haroutiunyan, Head of the Union of Armenian Winemakers, told ArmInfo.
A threefold growth of export of Armenian wines to Russia was planned for the coming five years. Wine export from Armenia grew 60% in 2012 to 1.185 million liters versus 744,000 liters in 2011, with nearly 75% of sales being in Russia. A few years ago, export totaled 500,000 liters, Haroutiunyan said. Before the embargo on Georgian wines in Russia, 50-55 million bottles of Georgian wine were sold in that country annually, despite the fact that the production capacity of Georgian wineries is some 15-20 million bottles. This shows that counterfeit production was manufactured either in Georgia or in
Russia. Georgian wineries have raised significant investments in modernization over the last years and have greatly improved the quality of wines.
"Now, they will offer the best products in the Russia market. Georgian wines are now of higher quality than the Armenian ones, but the prices will be similar. Armenia will have to raise additional investments in modernization of wineries to sustain competition," Haroutiunyan said.
Perhaps not surprisingly, it didn't take long for the the European Union's decision to grant Georgia the exclusive right to market its wine bottles with the slogan "Georgia - The Cradle of Wine" to create some controversy in the Caucasus.
As the Hvino News website, which covers the Georgian wine scene, reports, the Union of Winemakers of Armenia is looking into how it might appeal Brussels' decision. From Hvino's report:
As noted by the Chairman of Union Mr. Avag Harutyunyan, not only Georgia can claim the status of "the cradle of wine", but also other countries in the region, primarily Armenia.
Armenian archeologists agree that in Georgia there are facts which prove the antiquity of the local wine. But for the moment the wine-making complex in Areni is considered the world's oldest, discovered during excavations "Areni-1" in 2011. According to the Director of Academic Institute of Archeology and Ethnography Mr. Pavel Avetisyan, both Georgia and Armenia can be considered the cradle of wine, as well as Iran, and even part of Azerbaijan, in view of the fact that the relevant archaeological materials have been found in all these countries.
This would not be the first time wine is dragged into the region's rivalries. In late June, Azeri hackers took over the website of an Armenian wine company in order to score some political points. More on that in this previous post.
Perhaps following the Latin proverb "in vino veritas," a group of Azeri hackers decided to recently use the website of a major Armenian wine producer to spread their version of the "truth." Reports Armenia's News.am:
Azerbaijani hackers cracked the website of Armenia-based “Armenia Wine” factory on the night of June 25.
A group of hackers calling themselves “Anti-Armenia team” posted an article about alleged Armenia’s “aggression” towards Azerbaijan, photos, videos about Azerbaijani leader and armed forces.
In response, the Armenia Wine company said the hack was not fueled by the political tensions that exist between Armenia and Azerbaijan, but rather by Azeri sour grapes over the recent growth of the Armenian wine industry. Again, from News.am's article:
In its statement the company said Azerbaijanis are angered by Armenia’s ability to develop production and enter international market even being under the blockade. The company representatives assured that promotion of Armenian wines in the international market will continue regardless of any attempts.
Indeed, as previously reported on this blog, the Armenian wine industry has been making strides lately, with the creation of a handful of new wineries that are working to bottle world-class wines and with several older wineries also revamping their production to boost the quality of their product.
In a recent post, this blog ran an interview with the founder of Zorah, a new winery that's trying to revive Armenia's ancient (as in millennia) wine industry and reintroduce the use of certain native grape varieties.
Turns out Zorah is not the only winery trying to take Armenian winemaking back to its roots. In a very informative article in Palate Press, an online wine magazine, Becky Sue Epstein, the website's international editor, reports on a recent visit to Armenia, where she was able to visit some of the country's established wine and brandy makers who are working to update their offerings as well as a handful of other new wineries with lofty ambitions. From her report:
Going out from Yerevan in the opposite direction (west), I also took a day trip to the Armavir area, specifically to Armavir Vineyards, which has an international group of winemakers working at its 400-hectare site. Originally, most of the grapes planted here were “cognac varieties” that were sold for industrial production. This is gradually evolving to wine grapes that are vinified in modern production methods on the property. Grapes are hand-harvested here, because of tradition, available manpower and, I suspect, lack of machinery. This winery is owned by an Argentinean-Armenian industrialist, and his winemakers also treated us to a lovely traditional Armenian lunch with fresh salads, meat and cheese dishes breads and herbs. (Though I later noticed the young workers who came into the dining room had a range of dry cereals for their snacks, just like young people in the West.)
Oenophiles tend to classify wines into either coming from the "old world" -- France, Spain, Italy and other European countries that have traditionally produced wine -- and the "new world," which includes upstarts such as the United States and Australia. Soon, though, we might need to come up with a new classification: the "ancient world," which would cover bottles coming from what's often described as wine's birthplace, Transcaucasia, a region that includes Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and parts of Iran and Turkey.
While history and archeological finds may back up the region's "birthplace of wine" claim, the quality of the wine produced there -- at least in decades past -- mostly made a mockery of it. That is beginning to change, though. Georgian wines have, in recent years, made great strides in quality and have started earning international attention and acclaim. Wines produced from indigenous grapes grown in vineyards in eastern Turkey have also started to show promise.
Now an ambitious entrepreneur wants to revive Armenia's historic, but mostly dormant, winemaking tradition. Zorah, an Armenian boutique winery that just released its first vintage, was founded some ten years ago by Zorik Gharibian, an Armenian who grew up in Iran and Italy, where he now works in the fashion industry. Enlisting the help of a pair of Italian wine experts, Gharibian is making red wine using the indigenous areni grape and traditional methods, such as letting part of the wine's fermentation take place in large clay jars that are buried underground (Georgians use a similar technique).