Red, dry and a potentially inebriating success

Red, dry and a potentially inebriating success

Nune Manukyan, the head of “Areni Festival” Foundation and organizer of Yerevan Wine Days told us about her way to ensure consistent economic growth by becoming a dedicated wine lover.

Text: Karine Ghazaryan

Areni Festival is one of the largest tourist events in Armenia. How long has it been going?

The idea of the festival emerged nine years ago: we wanted to establish a project which would contribute both to the empowerment of communities and to the development of tourism. With the start being a success, we established the “Areni Festival” Foundation in 2010. And in 2017 we had more than 20,000 visitors, of which 45% were foreigners.

Why did you choose Areni village and not, let’s say, Vernashen?

The village itself was very willing. They had already held such an event once, and the results were promising. Moreover, at that time they had already made very valuable discoveries related to winemaking in the caves near the village. And in the launch year of the festival the famous 5,500 years old shoe was found. All of this generated discussion about Areni, and the region became recognizable not only in Armenia, but also abroad. Today, we can already discuss the achievements of the Areni community: domestic winemaking and viticulture has developed, as well as the opening of multiple guesthouses – there was nowhere to spend a night there 10 years ago. But most importantly, serious investments have been made in the area. For instance, before there used to be two wineries in the village of Areni. Now there are three, plus a winery was built in the village of Rind, one more in Yeghegnadzor, and enterprises are also going to be opened in the villages of Chiva and Khachik.

How many winemakers participate in the festival?

In 2016, we had 17 brands, this year the number increased to 23. There could be more, but not every company has the necessary volume of production. Participation in such festivals means that you are going to spend some resources connected to advertising, free testing, etc., and not all producers have these resources. But the market is growing significantly. Just in the upcoming month two new brands are going to be presented. In recent years, three to four new Armenian wine brands enter the market annually. And I can say for sure that local wine is an absolute bestseller. This is the aim of Areni Festival: to create new ways for the economy to grow, for people to engage and make a living.

How in particular do you think this is achievable though festivals?

Festivals in general were underrated before. When Chef Sedrak Mamulyan started his khorovats and tolma festivals, no one really knew the potential of the Akhtala region. People would say he was just kidding around while the country was suffering from poverty. But time has shown that these festivals have had a huge positive impact on the region and on Armenian tourism as a whole. Festivals promote certain sectors of the economy, and at the same time they serve as platforms to summarize and present a year’s worth of work. That’s why I believe Areni Festival was able to popularize wine production and consumption in Armenia. And that’s why another project of ours, Yerevan Wine Days, was so successful. For the first time this May we organized it, primarily targeting Russian tourists as they vacation at this time of year. But the event was attended by thousands of locals too – Yerevantsis have definitely fallen in love with wine!

What other fields does the foundation work in?

For four years we have been organizing a gata festival in the Khachik village and the mulberry festival in Syunik region. The latter is related to the Silk Road Armenia project. In the first year, the festival took place in Syunik’s Goris and Amaras in Artsakh where marvelous mulberry trees grow. In 2017, the event took place in the village of Karahunj which is famous for its mulberry vodka. It’s not a coincidence that the festival engages different communities: we try to find a recognized production tradition of the area and promote it to become a strong brand.

Is there such a brand for Yerevan?

This city can be a great tourist destination if its history is properly preserved and presented. Authentic places are the most precious “findings” for the tourist. I have been advocating for the protection of Yerevan’s historical architecture for several years now, and the biggest achievement in this field I believe was the defense of the fire service building on Sakharov Square and a part of Pushkin Street where Nerses Tairyan’s home was located. The man who lives there showed us the old granaries which belonged to the founder of the Yerevan Brandy Company. And I was shocked how one could even dare to think about demolishing this place! We claim to have the oldest winemaking traditions and an ancient city, yet we fail to keep even a century of its history. Not only do we lose huge amounts of money that old venues can bring, but we also lose our appeal to tourists – cheap skyscrapers are everywhere, and they do not interest anyone.  

You volunteer in a number of charity initiatives. What do you aim to achieve through these projects?

The largest of these is maybe the Gyumri project which involves purchasing houses for those who still live in cabins. The so called “domikner” are going to be there for a long time if we do not take drastic action. This project was initiated by my friend, Tereza Mkhitaryan, who organized a series of fundraising initiatives for Gyumri and other regions in Armenia. After a while, the owner of Dolmama restaurant Zhirayr Avanyan joined us, and we began to serve charity dinners and hold other fundraising events in Armenia and in Switzerland. For now, 23 houses were bought for families in Gyumri, and 23 “domikner” were demolished. It’s mandatory for us: whenever we buy a house, we demolish the cabin, so that there can be no way back to poverty and distress. I strongly believe that if every one of us will be consistent in what we do - be it charity, promoting tourism, winemaking, or literally any other positive initiative – we could very much succeed in capitalizing on Armenia’s huge potential and ensure continuous development.