Enotourism in Armenia
Wine Armenia: A country that saturates with spirit
Discover Wine Armenia - a trip to this astonishing country will grant you a world of positive emotions, and your visits to wineries are going to be a genuine pleasure! Make up your mind to take that trip, and you will be up to a lot of interesting things.
You will be offered to taste wines in the best wine boutiques and in the bunker built by the prisoners of war during World War II. You will be able to sit with a round-bowled glass of wine on an open terrace in the mountains and at the very edge of a gorge, stroll along the lake-shore in anticipation of chilled dry white wine and roasted trout - "ishkhan". You will enjoy the wine to the performance of jazz musicians, to the sounds of duduk and tar. You will visit a cave to go 6,000 years back and see how the ritual wine was made at the oldest winery in the world. In a kitchen overlooking Mount Ararat, you will learn how to cook national dishes, as well as draw pictures with wine. You will take a stroll through the vineyards, pick a heavy bunch of grapes and crush it in a vat in a rural square. You will see how grapes are turned into raisins and how premium wines are made in giant pots (karases). You will taste the wine made from “the crowned fruit”, which had been banned by the Armenian Church for several centuries. You can taste the "drunken" cheeses and travel to the north of the country in a wine train. You will be inspired by the nature of Armenia, its cuisine and monuments will never slip your attention, you will plunge into the magic of ancient culture and modern entertainment. And, certainly, you will get acquainted with artisans, musicians, winemakers and restaurateurs - to enjoy communication and learn the secrets of simple human happiness! We invite you to make an unforgettable journey to Armenia - to the land of classic wine-making, a country that one will leave "ginovtsats" – drunken with local wines and hospitality!
The land of classical wine-making
Vogelits, or “saturating the spirit” – this is how the word “alcoholic” is translated from Armenian, surprisingly. Since ancient times, it had been believed in Armenia that wine was created for the heart’s delight and the rejoicing of the soul. And it could not have been otherwise in the land of classical wine-making - at the foot of Mount Ararat, where the biblical patriarch planted the vine as soon as the waters of the Great Flood receded and where wine was produced more than six thousand years ago - at the world's oldest cave winery in Areni-1. In the region whose ancient rulers laid irrigation canals and started vineyards once they came to power. On the land where taxes were levied and tributes were paid in "fragrant wine"... The life-giving sun, fertile soil, purest spring waters, the selfless labor of the winegrowers and winemakers contribute to the birth of Armenian wine. It conquers the world and wins the hearts of Armenia’s guests. The festival in the homeland of Areni Noir is dedicated to this wine. It is for this wine’s sake that the central street in the capital gets blocked for several evenings. The wine perfectly combines with the Armenian cuisine. Today, Armenian wine is a popular trend, Armenian wineries are open for visitors, and winemakers offer entertainment programs for the guests, as well as initiate the latter into the secrets of producing wine from rare types of grapes – the secrets whose roots go back into the depth of times.
“In the land of Armenians who live higher up the Assyrians, the ribs of the ships are made of willow branches, and they are used to cover the bellows. There is no stern or bow, but the ship
looks like a shield, a roundish vessel filled with reeds, these ships sail on the river, loaded with goods, especially wine in palm containers; these ships can be big or small, and the big ones can carry up to five thousand talents of cargo... ” Herodotus, ancient Greek historian
Since no one knows for sure who the first nation was to produce wine and when exactly that happened, several nations at a time, including Armenians, claim the laurels of being the pioneers
here. The traditions of Armenian wine-making are thousands of years old, as evidenced by biblical legends, ornaments on architectural monuments, ancient historians and recent archaeological finds.
- In the Armenian language, the state of slight drunkenness is defined by the word "ginovtsats", which literally means "tipsy with wine."
- The first thing the rulers of the Kingdom of Van (IX - VI centuries B.C.) on the historical territory of Armenia usually did when they came to power was plant vineyards which were named after those rulers. A large vineyard, for example, was owned by Princess Tariri - the daughter of King Menua.
- The residents of Urartu made wine from juicy pomegranates and grapes, 12 varieties of which are grown in Armenia until today. The wine intended for long-term storage was fermented under the sun in dust-free open areas, and heated stones were put into it from time to time to improve the taste.
- During the time of the Van Kingdom, taxes were levied and tributes were paid in wine - in the chronicles of King Sarduri II (VIII century B.C.), there is a mention of 15 thousand liters of wine paid to tax collectors, and there is still evidence of the construction of a wine cellar for storing 21 thousand liters of wine.
- In pagan times, priests washed altars in temples with pomegranate wine, and three times a year a bull was sacrificed in the supreme temple for the glory of grapes: when the vine blossomed, when the grapes ripened, and when the time came to reap the harvest.
- Since ancient times in Armenia, the presence of a drunk person was considered a sign of disrespect for the society. In the early Middle Ages, the rulers even demanded to isolate chronic drunkards as insane, and under the first kings of the Arshakuni dynasty (I-V cc.), there was a decree regulating feast hours for noblemen who were notorious for their immoderate worship of the vine.
- Strabo called Armenia “ginavet”, or “wine-supplier”, noting that this country is all covered with vineyards, and in Christian times the Armenians themselves called the vast vineyards of the Holy See of Echmiadzin by this name.
- In the XIII century Law Code written by Archimandrite Mkhitar Gosh, it says that the transaction on the purchase and sale of a "karas" (wine clay-jar) is considered to be concluded if the jar filled with wine does not leak within a year.
- Up until recent centuries, the inhabitants of the steppe zones of Armenia which are not rich in timber, kept wine not only in barrels and "karases", but also in leather bellows – wine-skin.
In Urartu fortress of Teishebaini, 480 "karases" of wine with a total capacity of about 37,000 dekaliters were stored, 82 of which were found in a pantry whose total area was 320 square meters and whose height was 4 meters. The giant vessels are half buried in the ground - since ancient times it was believed that wine should be stored in areas with cold winters. The crosses and stars on the cornets of karases are the marks of master potters or pottery workshops. After calcination, hieroglyphs were engraved on the neck of the "karas", indicating the
volume of the vessel - “akarki” (about 240 litres) and “terusi” (equal to 0,1 of akarki). The largest karas from Teishebaini contained 7 “akarki” of wine.
Armenian wine-making is very ancient, and at the same time – quite young. Its history can conventionally be divided into three stages: the early stage when wine-making first appeared on
the Armenian Highland 6,100 years ago, with the peak of its development in the era of the Van Kingdom; the modern stage - industrial - which lasted from the middle of the nineteenth century until 1991, and the newest one - since the end of 2000 when high-quality dry wines started to be produced in Armenia. Industrial distillation, required for the manufacture of spirits, appeared in Armenia in the 1870s, when Nerses Tairyan, a merchant of the 1st guild, founded the first enterprise for the production of wines and brandies in the former Erivan fortress. “Yerevan Ararat Brandy, Wine and Vodka Factory” operates in that location today and there is a rich collection of one-hundred-year old wines in its cellars where you can taste a bottle of the oldest Armenian wine in the market - bottled in 1913. After Sovietization, Armenia became a brandy-producing republic: up to 1953, the Soviet government methodically promoted Georgian wine - they say, Stalin and Beria even forbade Anastas Mikoyan to drink Armenian wine. However, during the Soviet years, Armenian sherry drinks repeatedly took medals at international competitions. In the 21st century, a revolution began in Armenian wine-making - Armenian winemakers from the Diaspora decided to grow grapes and make wine in their historic homeland. They introduced the best technologies of winemakers from Italy, France and the New World into wine production, but they are unanimous in the opinion that Armenian wines should be
made on the basis of autochthonous grape varieties that give the wine its unique and national flavor.
The sunny berry
In Armenia, you will often hear the legend that says grapes were the forbidden fruit that Adam and Eve tasted. You will also be told the story of the patriarch who “parked” the Ark on Mount Ararat – and how, feeling solid ground under his feet, he planted the first grapevine at the foot of the two-headed mountain. Grapes penetrated the Armenian art as a symbol of serene life. Grapes are depicted on the walls of the royal tomb in Akhtsk (IV century), on the steles in Mughni, Ardvi and Hovhannavank (IV – V centuries), there are grapes - vine, leaves and clusters - in the decoration of early Christian churches: on the walls of the Kasakh Basilica (the year of 400), Tsiranavor church in Ashtarak (5th century), Yereruyk (5th century), Ptghni (6th century) and others, later monuments – the churches in Odzun, Aramus, Dzhrvezh (7th century) ... The Armenian people needed tremendous dedication to preserve the vine in the times when a horde of nomadic tribes was rushing through the highlands — sweeping away vineyards and looking for pasture lands. The Armenian vine managed to survive in the terrible years of Khrushchev’s corn campaign, and Andropov’s anti-alcohol campaign. Today, Armenian winemakers are making the world feel accustomed to wines from endemic grape varieties: Areni Noir and Voskehat. Armenian wines enchant one with their unique taste – the berry, whose blood is used to produce wine, contains the velvety taste of the hot Armenian sun.There are more than two hundred autochthonous grape varieties in Armenia. The area of vineyards is 15,200 hectares, 80% of the plantations belong to small farmers. There are 42 wineries in the country, 85% of the wines are produced in the Ararat valley and in Armavir using the grapes grown in various terroirs of the country.
- Voskehat, or "golden berry" - an endemic variety which is called the "queen of white wines." In the IX century B.C., the Urartans paid tributes to Assyrians with these grapes, as evidenced by one of Voskehat’s names: “harji”, or “tribute” ...
- Areni is the oldest of the known varieties of Armenian grapes. The specialists who come to Armenia to cultivate European varieties of grapes, as a rule, take the saplings of the local Areni with them – that was how the Crusaders once took the Chardonnay variety out of the Armenian land and brought it to Europe.
- Tozot, or "dusty" - this rare grape variety is named so because of the dense wax coating covering the berries.
- Translated from Armenian, kakhet means “suspended” – the giant bunches of this grape are usually attached to a vine in a suspended position so that the vine can withstand their weight.
Grape sanctification ceremony
In mid-August, the Armenian Church performs the ceremony of blessing the grapes. In pagan times, these were the days of Navasard - the New Year holiday. Pagan Armenians brought the fruits of the first harvest to the temple to express their gratitude to the Sun for the earthly blessings granted to humans. With the adoption of Christianity in 301, grapes became a symbol of the new faith; the vine symbolizes the teaching of Christ, and grape wine - the blood of Christ that was shed by him for the salvation of humankind. After ritual prayers, the priest crosses the grapes three times, blesses the grapes and passes them over to the parishioners. In the older days, the ceremony was performed in the monastery vineyards, and the king and princes willingly participated in the celebration together with the country people. The Church has combined the day of blessing the grapes with the Day of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary - the time of the full ripening of grapes. This is the fourth of the five great holidays of the Armenian Church. After the morning liturgy and the consecration of grapes, folk festivals are traditionally held in the courtyards of the temples.
The Armenians who lived to the south of Mount Ararat believed in a sign: if the snow came off the smaller peak, it was time to start picking grapes. When harvesting was done, the father
would offer his son who has come of age the first cup of machar - young wine in which the fermentation process had just finished. It was the rite of initiation, a symbolic ordination to manhood. “Drink not to fall, but to rise higher,” the father would say as he instructed his son.
Divide and conquer
Armenia is a small country. However, due to the large variety of landscapes, unique microclimatic features and endemic grapes, unique wines are produced here - they can be tasted at local wineries. According to legislation, there are several administrative districts in the country that are unique in soil and climatic conditions and the varietal composition of grapes. The Tavush terroir is in the north-west, and the mild climate and abundant rains make it possible to get fine white and sparkling wines. The terroirs of Ararat valley - Armavir and Ararat - are at the foot of the biblical mountain, at an altitude of 900-1,000 meters above sea level: the hot summers, harsh winters, during which farmers “bury” the vine, and lowland areas are more suitable for grapes used for the production of tart wines and brandy. For the grapes used for wine production, steep mountain slopes with an abundance of direct sunlight are more preferable - such as the foothills of the Ararat valley, the terroir of Aragatsotn and Kotayk (1,000 – 1,300 meters), where several wineries produce very decent wines. The Aragatsotn terroir whose sherry drinks were famous in Soviet times, is reviving its former greatness today. The southern terroir of Syunik (Meghri) specializes in the cultivation of pomegranate and the production of pomegranate wine - despite the fact that grapes have been grown and famous dessert wines have been produced here since time immemorial. However, Vayots Dzor is considered the pearl of Armenian
wine-making – it is the terroir where the oldest wine-making complex in the world was discovered, and where the highest (1,800 meters) mountainous vineyards of Armenia are located.
“The philosophy of wine in Armenia was born along with the wine - the cult of the drink that delights the soul and increases vitality - has always reigned here. We still have to divide the
territory of the country into “appellations” - to define the viticulture microzones in the legislation. This division should be based not only on natural and climatic factors, but also on historical memory, cultural properties and traditions of wine production in a particular microzone - and then you can confidently order “Vayots Dzor red 2012 from grapes grown on the right bank of
the river Arpa" in a restaurant.” Avag Harutyunyan, winemaker at Maran Winery, chairman of the National Wine Center.
The Wine Street
Saryan Street is by right considered to be the wine corner of the capital, and several noteworthy wine bars and restaurants are located here. Here, the season of summer terraces lasts until late autumn – and with the arrival of the first warm days after winter, one wants to sit outside, have a cup of coffee, mulled wine (glühwein) or wine, and eat something warm. The tables are put right on the sidewalk, and the ethno-jazz and piano music that’s played all over the place, along with the friendly service, create a soulful atmosphere in the street. Wine bars offer a huge selection of wines from local producers at improperly low prices, accompanied by exquisite appetizers, meat and cheese assortments. Wine restaurants often hold tasting parties, where winemakers personally introduce their wines and the secrets of Armenian wine-making to visitors.
In the traces of caravan routes
Taking its origin in the Middle East, and, in particular, on the territory of historical Armenia, wine reached Egyptian lands through ancient trade routes, where it was considered to be the pharaohs’ drink, tons of which accompanied the dead to their afterlife. The rulers of Egypt presented wine to the Jews and Phoenicians, who started promoting the royal drink throughout Oikumene - well-known at the time. In addition to selling wine, the Phoenicians offered farmers to buy grapevine - for the development of local wine-making. Then it was the Greeks’ turn: about 2,800 years ago, they improved the process of wine production and brought the culture of wine-making to their colonies - to Sicily and Italy. As the Roman Empire appeared on the
map, people started trading in wine in the farthest corners of the greatest state of the ancient world. And when the Great Silk Road was built in the 2nd century B.C., the caravans loaded with Chinese silk and Indian spices started to return home laden with wine and other European goods ... That was the way grapes and wine passed from one civilization to another – following the trace of ancient caravan roads, along which the Smithsonian Institute later laid a tourist route.
At the foothills of the Vayots Dzor terroir, in small family vineyards, one can find “wine cubes” - compact tasting rooms of WineCube, installed as part of the Farm-to-Bottle crowdfunding project of Semina Consulting Company and ONEArmenia charity organization. The mobile tasting halls have been given to local winemakers so that they can receive guests in a proper manner - to treat them to velvet wine and juicy fruits on an open terrace, tell the story of several generations of family business and share the secret of simple human happiness. The tasting
halls are equipped with a bar and a cozy lounge, so that the guests awaited by the owners of small vineyards, can get some rest.
Wineries: Van Ardi
This winery is a five-minute drive from the Ashtarak market, in the picturesque foothills of Aragats – an extinct volcano and also the highest mountain in Armenia. A descendant of wine-makers from Van (now Turkey) planted vineyards in a wasteland in the vicinity of Sasunik village in 2008. Varuzhan Muradyan, the head of the business, was educated as a financier. After studying the experience of Californian and European wine producers, graduating from courses for enologists and having read a world of literature on wine, he and his family moved to their historic homeland, and over a period of 5 years he created his own type of wine which is exported to many countries of the world today. At the sunny winery (by the way, Van Ardi is translated from Armenian as “the sun of Van”) musical evenings are often organized - usually it is high quality ethno or jazz. They play on the plantation - the owners believe that not only people need good music - the vine needs it as well. And they also believe that the place where wine is born is a place of power and cultural heritage of the people who have grown the grapes. The guests are told about the traditions of Armenian wine-making and modern technologies of wine production, they are allowed to ring the bell on a high tower (“ashtarak” means “tower” in Armenian), and also familiarize themselves with the surroundings - those who are interested will be walked to the site of Agarak excavations, where a basalt tank for making wine, which is over 5,000 years old, has been found. The cost of visiting the winery also includes wine tasting, where the guests will be taught how to properly drink wine and will be told about the gastronomic combinations of wines.
Viticulture and wine-making have been the hobby of several generations of the Machanyan family. It all began on the shore of Lake Van - in the village of Ailur, it continued in Vagharshapat
where the Machanyans moved after the massacre of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. For centuries, they have been making young and audacious wine using their own technologies that exclude the use of inorganics. In 2013, the hobby grew into a family business - the secret family knowledge lies at the core of the recipe for Alluria wine. The neat vineyards spread out at the foot of Mount Ararat - recently a vine from an old family vineyard in Aylur (now Turkey) - was planted here. Organic winemakers do not torture the soil with non-decomposing and poorly decomposing inorganic fertilizers, they do not add sulfites to wine. The guests of the winery appreciate the wild, energetic and very idiosyncratic wines that are served at the winery and at Machanyan family restaurant in Vagharshapat.
An Armenian feast is a special atmosphere, heartfelt toasts, and…an extra plate for an unexpected guest, who in Armenia is considered to be the messenger of God. The Armenian feast is an abundance of dishes tested for thousands of years and a significant reason to visit Armenia, because no one will stay at a party if they don’t like the food. The local cuisine harmoniously fits into the fashionable concept of healthy nutrition - there are always a lot of fresh vegetables and greens on the table, the meat and fish are served with low-calorie side dishes, and desserts are made from honey and nuts. Armenian cuisine is not only tasty, nourishing and healthy, it is a good seasoning for warm communication and a worthy companion to the local wines. Anna Mazmanyan, the organizer of Yerevan Food Fest gastronomic festival, presents the wines that will emphasize the taste of the traditional dishes from three large terroirs in the country - Syunik, Vayots Dzor and Ararat valley. To enjoy the full taste of Ararat-style chickens with wild mushrooms, choose a rosé from Karmrahyut grapes grown in the Ararat valley. Vegetables baked on fire - a popular dish in the valley - are perfectly combined with white dry wine, for example, from the local grape Kangun. Here, in the foothills of Aragatsotn, they once broke the rule by stuffing not grape leaves, but quinces and apples with meat stuffing – this is how the well-known Ashtarak tolma originated, which ideally combines with red Areni wine. The root of the word "toli", which in ancient Armenian word that means "vine", remained in the name of the dish. By the way, in old times, the cooled down tolma was immediately taken away from the table, and was replaced with a new portion of the hot dish - it’s no coincidence that inert people who have no sense of humor are described by Armenians as follows: “like cold tolma”.
Maran wines are aged in the bunkers of a Soviet winery built not far from Vagharshapat by German prisoners of war. Here, at a depth of 10 meters, they produce wine and welcome guests, knowingly tell them about the millennia-old traditions of Armenian wine-making, about wine rituals, the culture of drinking and the philosophy of wine. The winery's guests are offered to taste their own products: take the first – sacral - sip of wine, which, according to Confucius, connects people with the ancestors’ souls - to come back to the material world and enjoy the wine accompanied by Armenian delicacies, and they will be advised to take a second sip. After that, they will be told the story of a family business which was started by the great-great-grandmother of the current owner of the winery - Maran. In 1829, she started a vineyard in Vayots Dzor - on the site of the last battle of the valiant warriors of Vardan Mamikonyan, who died for faith in the battle in the year of 451. Under Soviet rule, the vast vineyards of the family were nationalized, and the winery was destroyed. Today, the dynasty is being revived: in 1991, the Maran brand became the first private winery company in Armenia, and 8 years later, the family vineyards were planted on the high plateau of Aghavnadzor, in the lower reaches of the Arpa river, on the slopes of Urgyur mountain and in the valley between the mountains. The magically-powered Areni, the "dusty" Tozot, Avagi and Khatun Kharji - "gentle as a bride", which is also known as the famous Voskehat - are all cultivated here.
Travelers in the Ararat Valley are advised to visit the winery of Mihran Manaseryan, which is at the heart of the terroir, on the way to the Khor Virap monastery. This farm was founded in 1992 by a descendant of winemakers from Van. In honor of the capital of the Kingdom of Van, known in the ancient world for its wines, he called the brand Tushpa - an amusing little man performing a sacred rite over the karas adorns the label. Fine wines are ripening at the great depth in the silence of the cellars. The owner of the winery will tell the guests about the production process and consumption culture right next to the “karases” and the battery of bottles covered with dust and cobwebs. After that, they will be offered to taste Tushpa wines accompanied by local cheeses and traditional Armenian dishes. All guests invariably notice the authentic interior of the winery, the special atmosphere and hospitality of the owners - and promise to return to Armenia, to this cozy winery overlooking Ararat.
Dry white and pomegranate wines are traditionally served with the dishes from the Syunik region. The white wine – both the mono-sort wine from the endemic Voskehat and the blend – go well with snacks and soups from red and green beans, for instance. It is also ideally combined with the Syunik “spas”, a sour yogurt soup - an off-season dish - in summer you can eat it cold, and in the winter - hot. The tart pomegranate wine goes well with soups made from lamb: with Sisian “bozbash” and sour plums - in Syunik, it is common to add pomegranate juice to this soup made from fatty lamb brisket, and with “kololak” with cornelian berry – a soup cooked on thick broth with large mash lamb meatballs. For dessert, the aromatic pomegranate wine will accentuate the taste of the Syunik “gata” - cult pastries with a filling called “khoriz”. In the old days, in every Armenian family it was customary to put a sacral pattern on the “gata”, which would unite family ties and avert the evil eye.
There are only a few varieties of pomegranate in the world that have sufficient juiciness and sugar content for the production of wine. These rare varieties include the Armenian pomegranate, the crowned fruits of which ripen under the hot sun of the southernmost Armenian region - Syunik. Pomegranate is one of the symbols of Armenia, an ancient symbol of fertility, immortality, love and God's grace. In pagan times, pomegranate fruits were dedicated to the Mother Goddess and the Goddess of fertility, as the fruit that symbolized the breasts of Anahit. The priests washed the sacred altars with pomegranate wine as if it were nectar, therefore, throughout the first four centuries in Christian Armenia, the pomegranate was considered a “forbidden fruit”. The fruit that had fallen into disfavor was absent from Armenian official art until the middle of the 7th century, when Catholicos Nerses III began the construction of Zvartnots - the Temple of Vigilant Forces - near Vagharshapat, one of the two dominant ornaments of which is a pomegranate.
Wineries: Karas Wines
Karas wines are the first commercial project of the wine company Tierras de Armenia. The brand, named after the huge vessels - karas, used for centuries in the region for storing wine, are the symbol of the winemaking revival in the world. Here was originated this art as one of the cores of culture. The soil of vineyards, rich with minerals of volcanic and basalt origin, located at an altitude of 1100 meters from sea level, provides favorable conditions for the vine cultivation. Initially, the goal of "Tierras de Armenia" was to invent a new quality standard for wine-making in Armenia and to revive the expert potential of the wine homeland, which the company successfully carries out in recent years by combining the knowledge and the experience of famous winemakers on the amazing Armenian land. The customers’ confidence is important for the Company, therefore Karas Wines invites everyone- locals and foreigners, to visit its production and watch the working process of the winery. You will feel the rich taste and discover a bouquet of the Company’s wines by seeing with your own eyes the production and by identifying the sacral processes of making a drink. Book a tour on the company's website to open your bottle of Karas in the picturesque vineyards of Armavir.
The small family farm of Momik is located in a secluded corner of Areni village in Vayots Dzor - the one where the wine festival takes place every autumn. Family vineyards will soon turn half a century old - the father of the current owner of the brand, Nver Ghazaryan, planted them. A tasting room – WineCube - was recently opened at the winery. The guests are treated to red, white and rosé from Areni and Voskehat, to delicious homemade food, and Armenian desserts. The soil in the vineyard is stony; there is a lot of pressed limestone here as well. By the way, it was from this limestone that architect Momik, after whom the brand was named, built his masterpieces - the medieval monastery of Noravank and the Church of the Virgin in Areni. Interestingly, despite having a press, the owners squeeze a certain part of the harvest with their feet each year – a hellish labor which results in producing a harmonious and velvety dry wine.
This winery is spread over 180 hectares of land in the foothills of Aragatsotn - several years ago, Armenak Aslanyan came to his historic homeland with a specific goal: to revive and expand his grandfather’s winemaker's business. Today, premium wines are made, brandy spirits are aged in oak barrels, and guests are received in this Manor. Neat, endless rows of vineyards are
beautifully fenced with scattered stones. A brick-paved path runs through the estate, and you can take a walk through the vineyards in any weather. After a walk through the vineyards and a tour of the factory, guests will be offered to taste wines on the outdoor terrace with panoramic views of Ararat. Musical evenings are often organized here with the participation of famous Armenian bands and performers. You can stay overnight in the ArmAs manor - there is a comfortable hotel here. In addition, you can rent an SUV here to explore the neighborhood, while horse-riding enthusiasts will be offered exciting horseback riding.
Alpine meadows and steep slopes of the Vayots Dzor terroir are rich in herbs that are often used in cooking local dishes. The gentle pink wine will emphasize the spicy taste of seasonal herbs stewed with butter and eggs, and the astringency of the salad made with dried braids of “aveluk” - horse sorrel, and the light “aveluk” soup with lentils. Rosé goes well with mixed cheeses made from sheep and goat milk, as well as with spicy crumbly Yeghegnadzor cheese, a large amount of which is difficult to eat without wine, lavash bread, tomatoes and greens. White dry wine will be a good companion to dishes from “karmrakhayt” – the trout which is found in the clear waters of the mountain rivers, while the mono-sort red from the autochthonous Areni will go well with a nutritious farro pilaf, baked with onions and lamb.
The wine-makers of Gevorkian Winery have revived the old Armenian method of producing noble wine from slightly dried grapes. “Kakhani” style appeared due to the secret of long-term storage of grapes, known to our ancestors. To be able to enjoy grapes all year round, they hung out the juicy clusters in orderly rows along the walls of their well-ventilated barns. Once, the year turned out to be very fruitful, a lot of grape were stored, and the villagers decided to make wine from the surplus of dried grapes, and the exquisite taste and rich bouquet of this wine immediately made the drink popular.
The elegant man on the label of fine Voskeni wines is Smbat Matevosyan - the great-grandfather of the current owners of the winery. A successful entrepreneur, in 1925 he sold all his shares and property in Boston, deciding to return to his historic homeland and take up wine-making. He laid his own vineyard in Armavir, on the fields of the historic Sardarapat battle. Soon the winemaker was dispossessed and killed - his descendants made his dream come true in 2008, restoring the vineyards and creating the noble Voskeni wines. 8 years later, they built their own winery near the vineyards, where one can taste Voskeni wines accompanied by a cheese plate, a light vegetable salad and grilled trout. In summer, one can taste wines at a picnic in the vineyard. The winery offers a unique master class on “grizayli” wine - if you decide to use the Art&Wine package, do not forget to grab a sketchbook for watercolors when you go to the winery to learn how to create paintings from red and white wine with the help of a real artist. The winery also offers to take part in the process of wine production in October and November - from harvesting to crushing and riddling.
Wineries: Armenia Wine Company
Armenia Wine is one of the most interesting and colorful wineries in Armenia. The company produces more than 4 million bottles of wine per year - these are elegant blends of endemic, Caucasian and French varieties of grapes grown in Armenia. The factory and vineyards of Armenia Wine are surrounded by three great Armenian mountains - the biblical Ararat, the four-headed Aragats and Mount Ara (Ara ler). The building was constructed in the style of classical medieval Armenian fortresses - the facades are lined with red tuff stone and inlaid with national ornaments. The terrace offers a picturesque view of grape plantations and Mount Ararat. During the factory tour, the guests can familiarize themselves with the history of Armenian wine-making, immerse themselves in the wonderful world of creating still and sparkling wine, as well as brandy. They also have the opportunity to inhale the aroma of wines and brandies which are aged in barrels of centenarian Armenian and French oak in a cellar dug out in a basalt rock at the depth of 6.5 meters. After the study tour, the guests will be immersed in all the subtleties of professional tasting and wine ethics (the tours are available in Armenian, Russian and English languages). It should be noted that a Museum of Wine-making and Viticulture History will soon be opened on the territory of the factory.
Armenian cheese and wine
The traditional Armenian cheeses are salty, with a sharp, pronounced taste, and that is why, wrapped in “lavash” bread with spicy herbs or at the head of a richly laid table, they go well with wines. They best of all go with “Machar” - young wine, which has barely completed its fermentation process. Dry and tart wines will be best accompanied by a very rare Armenian cheese – Motal – a unique soft cheese from goat and sheep milk which ripens in brine in goat skins for 4 months. By adding the stems and leaves of mountain thyme to the brine, the cheese-makers give Motal a unique flavor. The salty, slightly sharp taste of the cheese perfectly emphasizes the bouquet of dry Armenian wines. Armenians say that to obtain the right flavor, Motal needs the intoxicating mountain air, the sound of a mountain stream and the haunting songs of the shepherds on mountain pastures. Armenian cheese Motal has recently been included in the list of "The Ark of Taste" which includes foods that are on the verge of extinction. It has also been recognized by international experts as one of the highest quality cheeses in the world.
At “Mikayelyan”, a small family farm in Artsvakar village of Gavar, which is a five-minute drive from the Noratuz khachkars - the largest collection of ancient cross-stones in Armenia - cheeses aged in Armenian wine and brandy are produced. The cheeseheads are kept in mono-sort wines for several months - in dry red from Areni grapes or in semi-dry white from Voskehat. After a year of ripening, the cheese gets covered with a fragrant crust; it acquires a thick wine aroma, a sharp taste and a powerful aftertaste. The bouquet of brandy cheeses which are made by smearing the cheeseheads with Armenian brandy and cinnamon every day for six months - is more refined and savory. Cheese-makers recommend combining their "drunken" cheeses with dry white wines and rosé, and they are served to the guests of the farm with nuts, grapes, pears and figs.
The fortress walls and the massive tower of the building at the entrance to the center of Tavush marz – the city of Ijevan - “defend” the collection of wines of Ijevan wine and brandy factory, one of the first wineries in Armenia. It was founded in Tavush, rich in vineyards, during the Soviet era in 1951, it supplied the famous “Ararat” Trust with brandy wine materials and the “Yerevan factory of sparkling wines” with materials for sparkling wines. Today, Ijevan factory produces high-quality brandies, wines, fruit vodka, and a wide range of canned products. The guests will be offered an introductory tour of the production - the factory’s own vineyards are located in the Ararat valley, but one can take a stroll through the fragrant rose garden. Along with wines, you will be offered to taste, for instance, the famous jams from figs, walnuts and rose petals. The pride of the plant is a collection of old wines, which the guests are allowed to see. The oldest wine in the collection is white dessert wine from 1973. All the bottles of collection wines indicate the grape variety, the year of harvest and bottling, as well as the names of the winemakers who created them.
Wineries: Trinity Canyon
The Trinity brand was created by three enthusiasts in love with wine. Before laying vineyards at the “pigeon gorge” of Aghavnadzor and plunging into the sacral world of organic wine-making, they learned the knowledge and experience of Armenian winegrowers and winemakers and used the skills of French winemakers. Today, guests are offered to drink a glass of wine right in the vineyard - the only organic vineyard in Vayots Dzor, by the way, - and have a roll with “lavash” bread with seasonal fillings. If there is a prior agreement, you will be told in detail about the traditions of local winemaking and “khndzhuyk” - the Armenian feast, the philosophy of organic wine-making, they will teach you to dance Armenian dances to live ethno music, treat you to three glasses of organic Trinity wine and unlimited homemade wine paired with traditional dishes and desserts. Those who wish to stay in the canyon longer, are offered by the winery owners to take part in the collection of grapes and the process of wine production – the “hired workers” are guaranteed to experience Spartan living conditions and healthy food which can be shared with the team. By the way, the package also includes communication with the Armenian Gampr Dog (wolfhound) named Yogi – the guardian of Trinity vineyards. He is very kind to the guests of the winery, and does not like uninvited guests - so it is better to warn about your visit in advance.
A winery in a cave
The guests of Armenia have the opportunity to visit the wine production facility discovered in Areni-1, or Bird-cave, which operated in the distant Copper-Stone Age. The pits and stalks of the grapes, grape skins, along with devices for the production and storage of wine, suggest that there was a facility for the production of wine. The facility in Areni-1 is the oldest known winery in the world today. Archaeologists say it is 6,000 years old, which means one can call Armenia one of the cradles of wine-making. Scientists suggest that ritual wine was made in the cave winery. For the production of wine, ancient winemakers used local grape varieties - to this day wild grapes grow on the steep slopes of the Vayots Dzor gorge, and the sprouts of these grapes are twisted around tree trunks. The juicy berries were pressed down on an inclined stone platform – under the force of gravity, the freshly squeezed juice flowed into clay vessels, from which it was poured for fermentation into “karases” of 50 liters of volume. Locals say that the treasure cave sometimes gets tired of the large flow of tourists whose unusual interest to unique finds was caused by a special report by National Geographic – the cave even lets you know that it’s tired, as well as about being ready to receive visitors again.
Invaluable finds in the Areni cave were made during the international archaeological expedition headed by archaeologist Boris Gasparyan, an employee of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography of the National Academy of Sciences. In the same cave, archaeologists discovered a shoe made by an ancient shoemaker in the interval between 3,700 and 3,400 B.C. – 1,000 years before the construction of the famous Egyptian pyramids. The perfectly preserved shoe with a lacing is European size 37 and is considered to be the oldest leather shoe in the world.
The artifact is on display at the Museum of History of Armenia.
"Save the dates"
Every autumn, on the first Saturday of October, a holiday is held in Areni village of Vayots Dzor - the namesake of the Armenian authentic grape variety, and visitors and participants plan to visit here long before it starts. This is the Wine Festival, where more than 100 producers of homemade wine get together, and all the wine brands of Armenia are represented. For one day, the village turns into a gigantic festive venue receiving about thirty thousand guests. The village square traditionally serves as the center of the festive event – the opening ceremony is held here, and a large vat which winemakers fill with Areni grapes is set up. The first juicy fruits are crushed by local maidens, and then – by anyone who wishes to do so. The festival venue is zoned - the first zone presents homemade wine and local foods, and the second one – the products of professional winemakers and a food court served by the famous restaurants in the country. To taste the wines in the "industrial zone", you need to buy a wine glass with a case - they pour wine for free, and you can enjoy it in a specially designated recreation area under the sprawling trees of the village garden, listening to ethnic music and watching national dances. By the way, the dances are performed by both local residents and the most famous dance groups of Armenia, who will teach guests to dance “kochari” and “yarhushta”, as well as engage in national games. After the festival is over, guests have a choice: one may return to the capital – a 2-hour drive to Yerevan, or spend the night in Areni or other villages of Vayots Dzor, where there are numerous B&Bs.
The Wine Train
Three times a day an electric train departs from the central station of Yerevan to the northern Armenian capital - the city of masters and merry people - Gyumri. Three of its carriages are periodically transformed by ArMat event factory into an entertainment venue: wine, cheese, snacks, club music from the best DJs and live performance of ethnic music, relaxed communication and atmosphere enveloped in alcohol vapors make the three-hour journey easy and memorable. The trains have another indisputable advantage – you can enjoy the views out the window: the four-headed summit of Mount Aragats covered with snow and the golden fields of Shirak valley showered with spikelets of rye. In Gyumri, the guests are in for a tour of the old town and the ascent to the Black Fortress illuminated with night lights - the reconstructed and roofed outpost of the Alexandropol Fortress serves as a concert stage today. Ethnic-rock
band Aratta and DJ Play entertained the guests of the first wine train to Gyumri all the way to the sound of wheels. At the black fortress wall, they had a chance to communicate with Gor
Sujian - a well-known Armenian rock musician, composer and multi-instrumentalist - presented the “OneManBand” program to the “passengers”, in which he played for an entire orchestra.
“Tourist routes are information channels of the country’s and people’s discovery, and the wine, like the “river of times,” fills these channels with the everlasting vitality and the origin of emotional knowledge”. Ara Khzmalyan, executive director of the Armenian Tourism Development Foundation