The Renaissance of Armenian Wine
REPATRIATION AND RETHINKING DIASPORA

The Renaissance of Armenian Wine

ArmAs, Honoring Tradition with Progress

Victoria Aslanian CEO at Golden Grape ArmAs, tells the amazing story of foundation and rise of ArmAs wines, one of the creators and leaders of the renaissance of Armenian Wine.

Text : Victoria Aslanian  /  Photo : Golden Grape ArmAs archive

 

The 180 hectare ArmAs Estate is a stunning display of agricultural achievement, and represents the assimilation of tradition with development and progress, set against the backdrop of the inspiring Mount Ararat. Located in the Aragatsotn Province, just 40km North West of the city center, the estate is completely surrounded by a 17km brick wall, humbly named the Great Wall of ArmAs. Within these walls rest 110 hectares of established native varietal vineyards, 40 hectares of orchards, a world class winery and distillery, a boutique hotel and a grand tasting room, with a lake, farm, greenhouse, and dormitory currently under construction.
As I regularly approach our gates, this stunning panorama, with its enchanting spirit, never seizes to mesmerize me, despite the decade of investment, love and labor, alongside some blood, sweat, and tears we have devoted to this terrain and to our homeland. A homeland with an army of angels who have the unyielding capacity to awaken the soul. As we receive thousands of guests from all over the world, I share their excitement and relive the path that has brought us to this fruitful stage. Indeed, it is quite difficult to imagine, sometimes even for me, that only 10 years ago, this locale was comprised of no more than rocks and snakes. Huge rocks, varied sized snakes. When I share some of our ‘before’ pictures that tell the story of recycling 100 hectares of rocks and removing 15,000 trucks of waste, establishing infrastructure, electricity, irrigation, drinking water, and roads in the middle of nowhere, I’m often asked, “What kind of a crazy person looks at that kind of desolate and disconnected rock-strewn countryside and decides to create an oasis?” “Well,” I reply, “I call him dad.”

ROMANTIC BEGINNINGS
In May of 2007, on my father’s birthday, I told him he was expecting his first grandchild, my son Armen. A month later, he told us he’s moving back to Armenia to spend some time with grandma and plant some vines. We thought that dad decided upon a hobby and wanted to reconnect with his roots, literally and metaphorically. After all, his own grandfather Armen Aslanian Sr., the honorary namesake of ArmAs, was the renown village winemaker and my father grew up amidst vines and wines. While we still resided in Los Angeles, I recall my grandmother often calling us from Armenia and asking us a bit baffled, “Baby girl, where does your father go all day? For 20 years all we saw him in was business suits and ties, and now he’s out all day in cowboy hats and anti-snake boots and returns home covered in head to toe dust.” We had no idea the grandiose scale of his undertaking and that he had initiated the first phase of our project, Man vs Nature, cultivating a sea of rocks into paradise. When we visited the estate for the first time the following summer, we where mesmerized by the battle and conquest. Shock and Awe does not begin to describe our impressions. My father had worked alongside 400 farmers, under his devoted daily direction, and cultivated a rested soil that represents what is perhaps Armenia’s greatest natural resource – the idyllic terroir of the vine. Indeed, his venture also involved the intertwined aspects of family, heritage, culture and progress, with personal values and responsibilities he maintains as a father, a successful businessman, and an Armenian. His vision would consequently partake in upholding Armenia’s ancient viticultural and enological legacy in the epicenter of the Historic World of Wine and the Birthplace of the Vine.


HOME COMING

The ArmAs Estate was simply inspiring and my father’s passion contagious. As we stood atop the highest point in the estate, 1350m above sea-level, gazing at the perfectly planted soldier-like rows of vines, with Mounts Ararat, Araler and Aragats gazing back at us, I realized, there was no other place I would like to call home than right here. We moved to Armenia a few months later and joined my father and his vision wholeheartedly as we embarked on the next phase of our project, Wo/Man vs Man, building the winery and the team. I proudly took the reigns in this endeavor, involving hundreds of people from various villages, cities and countries. Over the period of four years, from concept to construction, completion, utilization, and ongoing upgrades, 35 Italian engineers, architects, and construction crews lived in Armenia, with numerous teams of varied areas of expertise regularly visiting and working alongside, as well as training, local specialists and exceptional Armenian students for continuing maintenance and management. While I had completed a course with UC Davis in viticulture and enology, the ‘on the job training’ was essential, and our company culture of ongoing edification and education remains as one of the main keys to our success as we strive towards excellence in all that we do. Indeed, the ArmAs Cellar & Distillery is among the best in the world, housing the latest state of the art enological equipment, as well as traditional French and Kharabagh oak barrels for aging of our reserve wines and brandy. The continued realization of the ArmAs Estate is illustrative of progress through guidance and cooperation, and represents the assimilation of tradition with development. The ensuing ArmAs Wines convey these improvements, and speak of the abundant sunshine, volcanic soil, undulating terrain and magnanimous earth of a resilient culture.

HARVEST
We anxiously awaited the fruits of our labor, our first harvest in 2011, a yield of approximately 800 tons which we intended to sell as our winery was still under construction. However, as it was, man vs nature was not quite over. In the matter of minutes we lost our entire harvest following a hale storm. Apparently nothing of the like had happened in 40 years. We knew this, as we had studied 40 years of meteorological reports prior to selecting the land and commencing construction. As you may imagine, it was rather disheartening. We didn’t see my father much in the next few days, however, his first order of business when he came to was to install 3 anti-hale mechanisms throughout the estate. Produced in Armenia, these fixtures have been saving us from hale since. The effects from 2011, however, where so severe that we had half the harvest the following year. In 2012, when we proudly opened our cellar doors to produce our Estate Bottled ArmAs Wines, we also purchased 400 tons of grapes from the surrounding villages – much to the delight of the local farmers – using their grapes for the production of brandy. While our brandy is barrel aging as we speak, our very first 2012 vintages were released in the local market in December of 2013 to an overwhelmingly positive reception. Indeed, the achievement and individual features that each of our selection of now 12 wines have attained in the cellar are a testament both to the inmate characteristics of the vines, as well as the nurture that these grapes have received from vineyards to the bottle. Certainly, our winemaker Emilio Del Medico, or the maestro in the cellar, has wholly expressed that any exceptional wine has at its heart the grapes from which it was crafted, and as its soul, the love and care it received from all who cultivate it into being, respecting and showcasing the best of its nature.

MILESTONES, AWARDS & ACCOLADES
To date, ArmAs Wines have received 33 wine competition awards, including medals from all of the most prestigious international wine competitions in the world – Decanter in London, Mundus Vini in Germany, and Concours Mondial Des Brussels, organized in China, as well as medals from Lithuania, Russia, Japan and of course Armenia. We also received a Gold Medal from our Ministry of Agriculture in 2011, Best Brand in 2014 from the Prime Minister of Armenia, and as “Agro-Product Female Hero” in 2016. Our agricultural development also garnered the attention of the UN FAO, Food & Agricultural Organization who awarded my father a medal for “Securing Food in Times of Crisis.” Indeed these awards and accolades have contributed to our ongoing phase of Wo/Man vs The Market. While we have exported to Lithuania, Germany, the US, Canada, Japan, and Belgium, the quantities are not nearly comparable to our capacity nor potential, and ongoing marketing and promotions are a necessary part of growth as we introduce the world to The Renaissance of Armenian Wine. Indeed, massive efforts on multiple fronts continue to ensue. We have been featured in Foreign Affairs Magazine and The Los Angeles Times, among many other publications and news outlets. We have produced documentaries, been featured in several movies and tv shows, sponsored events, and participated in various international wine expos throughout the world. Our efforts have also resulted in Armenia having the Place of Honor at The World Wine Symposium, or Davos du’Vin in Italy in 2014. Such platforms allow us to educate and excite the wine connoisseurs and industry professionals who shape the international perspective of what is the next best thing in wine. It is certainly Armenia! And it is only a matter of time. I have personally traveled to over 20 countries to promote our cause, and have had the honor of presenting the revival of our cultural legacy, and the amazing contemporary wines that stem from it, at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, at the Asian Wine Symposium in China, as well as at special presentation at Mundus Vini in Germany, among many other events and promotions throughout the world. Locally, we have also partnered and collaborated with ICARE and dasaran.am, to create an agro-encyclopedia and games geared towards school children, as well as with the EVN Wine Academy and The Vine and Wine Foundation to ensure the sustainable growth of this burgeoning sector. The progress and ‘buzz’ is certainly palpable, particularly in the many fine Armenian Wines produced throughout our country.
Certainly, among the best promotions for the wine sector is wine tourism. Napa Valley is a prime example of its potential. The farmers of the 1970s are now part of a $10 billion industry, of which $1 billion plus is from the tourism in this small region of Northern California. We have such hopes for Armenia, and they are completely grounded and feasible. All the necessary components are in place and continue to expand as we grow this industry. In fact, CNN named Armenia as one of the top 15 Wine Destinations in the World. We need to collectively and actively advertise and publicize, and each of us can play a positive role in promoting the sector that involves everything that our country needs – agricultural development, jobs for people in the rural areas, production, export, tourism, and cultural standards held high. Indeed, aside from all of that we need, the Renaissance of Armenian Wine is also something we can share with the world – an unmatched history, an idyllic terroir, some of the world’s oldest native grape varieties, Armenian hospitality, and of course, authentic fine wines.

THE ICONOGRAPHY OF CULTURE
Armenian Wines are among the best of the arts that we produce today. This art form is telling of history, contemporary culture, nature, and the resilience and talent of man. Through this art, we may even forge the socio-economic facet of our future, while concurrently shaping the international image of Armenia. As such, at ArmAs, we take our winemaking very seriously and make sure to have an incredible time along the way. We greet thousands of guests from all over the world, giving them an impression of the path of the grape to the glass. I see first hand the inspiration and excitement that these tours induce, as our guests are treated to sips of history and culture. Armenians and foreigners alike, marvel at the grandiose strides made in the past decade, and likewise appreciate our effort to articulate our art historical and secular heritage, as the first Christian nation, through our wines. As an art historian by education, this was also of utmost importance to me as I designed our logo and labels. The golden circular motif is often seen on cross stones, and the English ArmAs logo is likewise a derived from a cross stone motif, often used in architectural ornament. The favored Armenian ArmAs logo is derived from the zoomorphic designs of an illuminated manuscript from the Golden Age of Armenian art history, the 5th century. Their artistic significance is in the festivity of their designs, and is an ode to the resilience of culture. These jewels of art history make one feel the power of art and the universality of its language. The same may be said of the power of nature, and the universality if the language of wine.

AGING AND GROWING
ArmAs continuously and consciously strives to be a place where the aspects of joyful and meaningful living come together – history, culture, celebrations, and achievements. Among the many events we have hosted, in June of 2017 we organized a three day Wine & Jazz festival at ArmAs Estate, featuring Armenia’s Jazz legends and contemporary musicians with local and international guests who enjoyed a festival for the senses! We have many more to come. The possibilities for growth and expansion at the ArmAs Estate, and certainly for Armenia, are continuous and manyfold – production, edification and education, charity and development, intended for our community and the contemporary culture we strive to enhance, in honor of the rich one we have inherited. Kenats!