Karas: A Particle of Love

Karas: A Particle of Love

In 2000s, the creation of Karas Project gave a significant boost to the development of winemaking in Armenia. It is possible to see with your eyes the process of making the world-famous brand. From now on, Karas, part of the Tierras de Armenia project, is happy to welcome everybody to its winery and vineyard: company is committed to the transparency of its products. The Regional Post’s team took advantage of the tempting possibility.

 

Text : Artavazd Yeghiazaryan   
Photo : Karas wines

 

Wine is an essential part of Yerevan’s life. Enjoying wine has become the most usual entertainment of the weekend. You just choose one of the dozen specialized wine bars in the city, find good friends and choose on spot one of the numerous Armenian wines, e.g., ‘Karas’ which is one of the most important pioneers of the rebirth of Armenian winemaking.

Together with Beatrice, the head of the Communication and marketing department – a repatriate from Argentina, who is accompanying us, we are recalling those years when it was as hard to find a good Armenian wine in the city as it was finding a bar or a restaurant with relevant specialization, almost impossible.

During the Soviet times Armenia was the all-union center of brandy production, wine was mainly the regional monopoly of Georgia. During the Independence brandy was still the beverage of the elite, while the wide masses were interested in vodka or beer. Wine, once an inseparable part of the millennial history of the Armenian state, for a guilt unknown, had been left in the shade until one day Argentine-Armenian businessman Eduardo Eurnekian arrived in Armenia.

Doing a serious business in winemaking in Armenia has had more than one reason for the Eurnekian family. First, restoration of historical justice: It was around these years when the ancient wine pots were discovered in Areni, and it reminded the Armenians once again of how important wine has been in our life for centuries. Also, another important fact is that Mr. Eurnekian is not a novice in wine production: he has long been busy in winemaking in Argentina and it would be strange if he didn’t do the same in the historical homeland with such a high potential. And, lastly, the establishment of Karas Project has had an immense social importance for the region of Armavir.

Later, Juliana Del Aguila – Eduardo Eurnekian’s grandniece and the head of the company, whom we met in the winery, explained that ‘Karas’ is not an ordinary business, “It is very important for our family that the investment we make has a real influence on the place where the business is done. Eduardo became a successful, established businessman in Argentina, but he and all our family always stayed loyal to our Armenian heritage and roots. Our endeavors in the country are a means of supporting Armenia, we believe that the only way of impacting positively and in a deep way is not by charity but by creating jobs. We aim to generate opportunities, growth and success. We think long-term, invest in education and training for our staff, investigation and development, have high quality standards and sustainable practices. We choose local partners and products (such as bottles, labels and even barrels made from ‘Karabaghtsi’ wood) supporting our community and helping other industries grow along with ‘Karas’.”

 

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The silhouette of the winery appears in the horizon quite unexpectedly. In a flat and rocky site there emerges a building which by no means can be featured as a simple ‘winery’ because of its modern, beautiful look and smart solutions. Before entering the site, the car passes a man made puddle, weird at first sight. Catching my amused look, Beatrice explains, “This is done for disinfection purposes, so we have as little harm from the outside as possible.” So, that’s what it is! Even before you step in, you get clear of the seriousness with which they treat grapes and wine here. The second thing that catches the eye of a newcomer is the rocks: big, small, flat, round – of all shapes and sizes, and a lot. Quite a lot! The entrance of the winery is built with rocks and large heaps of rocks are seen across the whole territory of the winery. But, as Haik, field sub-manager states, who works for the company from the very first day of its foundation, the visitors can see only a very small amount of it. Interestingly, ‘Karas’ might have been a brandy. The thing is, when Eurnekian entered the Armenian market, nobody was talking seriously about wine whereas brandy was already well-known. The first vineyards were planned just for brandy. But, experienced in winemaking in Argentina, the businessman decided to do the same in Armenia. “Many took him for crazy, but Eduardo knew very well that wine had had a long history in Armenia and was convinced the project would work,” says Juliana, while Haik is pulling the car closer as the vineyard is so big it’s impossible to cross on foot.

During the excursion in the vineyard Haik was telling that the site used to be so rocky and derelict that even in the Soviet years nobody had thought of cultivating it. “Snakes, scorpions, rocks and nothing else,” Haik recalls, as we pass another heap of rocks. “But, Mr. Eurnekian believed that something could come out and he got busy. The first two years we were just cleaning the land from rocks, also from those under the soil: this was the hardest.” In 2006, the first vineyards were planted. Now they occupy 400 hectares of the 2300-hectare land, and they are gradually growing with each year.

 

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The treasures of the site, naturally, are the endless symmetrical rows of vine seedlings. The outlook of this huge sea of green spread in the rocky desert is especially impressive from the scenic viewpoint on the red hill, the highest point of the Karas vineyards. The scene becomes even more impressive when you look around and realize that you are standing between the two giants of Armenia, Ararat and Aragats. As we sit down for a minute to admire the amazing beauty, I ask Juliana how she first came here. “I grew up in an Armenian family and in an Armenian hearth, but all the same my first visit to Armenia in 2010 was stunning. I fell in love from the first sight and started to learn the language and go into winemaking and soon joined the ‘Karas’ team.” Since 2014, Juliana has been heading the company to advance the work started by her great uncle. It makes her proud to be a part of the family business that keeps growing and developing from generation to generation, especially doing it Eurnekians’ historical motherland, Armenia. Juliana says, that the last few years, the country has transformed in great ways and her family is being part of a rebirth of Armenia. She adds: “And we hope to encourage more people to get involved and come and join us working in and for Armenia.” ‘Karas’ is a great example of a successful company led by a family who’s love and passion for their homeland can be contagious.

Juliana Del Aguila, Director of Karas Wines and Michel Rolland, well known French winemaker and consultant winemaker of Karas Wines​

“Great wine is not only about great terroir, but also about great people” adds Juliana, the ‘Karas’ team is formed by energetic wonderful people (men and women equally!) who are behind every part of the wine making process.

Haik joins the conversation, adding that while Juliana and Beatrice have repatriated owing to ‘Karas’, hundreds of Armavirits on the other hand have refused the idea of emigrating. “There are about 350 permanent employees from nearby villages, while this number exceeds 400 during the harvest time,” tells Haik, “in some families 2-3 of the members are engaged who earn good salaries, have insurance, uniform, daily healthy food, constant trainings for workers, and all the other things that help to improve the life of the villages around here socially and economically.”

The specialist brings one of the villages as an example and tells that before the opening of the winery they lived almost like in the Middle Ages. There was not possibilities of progress there, now most of people from villages works in different activities of this project and improved their living standard. Karas impacted on the whole region and is strongly committed to building and reinforcing its institutions.

Juliana adds that one of the main goals and visions of the company could be described in one word as sustainability. “‘Karas’ is committed to social and agricultural sustainability, environmental care, appropriate use of the natural resources,” she says, “Respect for the environment and community we are part of is vital, from the irrigation system to using light weight bottles, everything we do is with the purpose of impacting positively.”

 

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We continue our tour. Haik tells us about the sorts of grapes. We use the best sorts of foreign and Armenian grapes for ‘Karas’. But just planting the seedlings is not enough: good care is needed. Water, particularly, is very essential. Here drip irrigation is used which is very important for preventing the aimless waste of water in these derelict lands. Water supply is achieved by special rubber tubes made in Israel, in which specially created technology allows to equally distribute the pressure at all points. The whole process is guided by a system connected to wireless internet: this is what the strange at first sight yellow rods you occasionally see are for. To make the process completely autonomic, two water reservoirs are used at the site and the third one is on its way. Here in ‘Karas’ caring about water is one of the most important policies: everyone remembers that once there was a desert on this place.

“Speaking of the great working conditions again, I can’t but tell about the fish that over a time rise in a natural way in the reservoirs which are then distributed among the workers,” says Haik smiling, then from out of the car window he shows also the house for breeding birds and the greenhouse meant to support the employees.

 

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Talking again of the goals of the family, Juliana says, “Our purpose is to make a great wine that represents Armenia, to make the country visible on the world map through ‘Karas’. A glass of our wine is a small but strong bridge connecting Armenia and the world. And we need to build lots of them.” She then adds that the world is always waiting for new tastes and new impressions, and that Armenia can offer it all. “Our goal is to make Armenia well known as a new winemaking region which has revived from around 6200 years, and we have taken part of the rebirth of Armenian winemaking. Many people around the world are fascinated and impressed with Armenian wines, since it’s delicious and has very interesting characteristics that come from this ancient extreme land. So, our purpose is to present all this potential to the world.” ‘Karas’ wines are already available in 15 countries.

Juliana Del Aguila and Gabriel Rogel, resident winemaker

We stop at a sign which reads Khndoghni, a famous vine sort from Nagorny Karabahk: so, all the vine rows here have their personal ‘passports’. Then comes Ancelotta, the Italian one. But… wait a minute! Is it possible to get Armenian wine from an Italian or French grape?! Juliana is absolutely convinced that it is. “Many mistakenly think that wine can be somewhat more or less Armenian depending on the ‘passport’ of the grape used. In fact, if you plant Areni in Argentina and make wine from it, that will be a totally Argentine wine. The same here: we make high quality Armenian wine. Even having different origins, grapes can be planted in different regions and get different results. And we love the results we get from the Armenian soil.” She says that the combination of climate, soil, water, high altitude, and every particularity of Armenia has influence on vines and wines. So Juliana likes the result that all this combination has on the wines. Her personal favorite is ‘Karas’ white because it’s a perfect combination and balance of all this, being a blend of Kangun and Chardonnay, exotic and elegant. Also she loves Syrah since it’s originally a variety from Caucasus, which became well-known around the world and now returning to its birthplace, Armenia, it finds something new to express. This grapes have a very rich character, full of flavors and intense color.

All the rows are covered with black net on either side. In response to my surprised look I am told that they are anti-hail nets, that protect vines from hail. While we walk among the rows, Haik tells about the interesting piece of advice the specialist of winemaking from Argentina had given him years ago. “One day he said, ‘take a glass of newly made wine, go to the vineyard, sit between the vine rows and have it there. You’ll understand why we are doing what we are doing.’” Juliana adds: “It’s like reading a great book, each glass tells the story people of this country, this land, its history, us.” Well, it is clear, that wine for Eurnekian family is much more than a product.

 

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After the vineyards we go into the winery building where the grape turns into wine in an Italian high-quality equipment. Now, we are accompanied by Astghik. She is from Yerevan, a graduate of Evn Wine Academy, has been working for the ‘Karas’ for two months and her goal is to tell the world about the Armenian wine. She has already met the first tourists visiting the vineyards. This year the winery is open to everyone. Astghik says that what makes ‘Karas’ tour different from the rest is the opportunity to have a real, professional guided wine tasting: “It is important for us for people to understand the essence of wine, to realize what exactly they are tasting and enjoy it,” she says, adding: “It’s a pleasure to see visitors sharing opinions and feelings, doing notes during tasting and learning a bit more about winemaking. The last is what it’s all about really.” The main goal was to show the whole process of winemaking, from the vineyards to the glass.

It’s hard to leave the vineyards, but we must: work needs to be done. However, the thought that this wonderful product can easily appear on your table in beautifully labelled bottles is comforting. And surely, at least a particle from the immense love that has been put into this work will shine on tables.