The Heart of Winemaking in Armenia: An Interview with Exotic Wine Travel
When Charine Tan and Dr. Matthew Horkey set out to travel the Caucasus, they didn’t intend to write a book about wine. The duo has made a name for themselves in the world of wine tourism, a relatively new component of ecotourism. Their experiences led them to create a platform now known as Exotic Wine Travel, which aims to capture the authenticity and emotion of lesser-known wine regions by understanding its wine culture. They hope to encourage wine lovers to try new wines and open people’s minds to some of the hidden wonders of the world. After leaving their lives in Singapore, they set off to travel the world of wine full time.
Their experiences in Turkey, Georgia and Armenia brought the excitement of new flavors, rich history, and a passion for culture that would inspire “Uncorking the Caucasus,” a book about the close connection between wine and culture in an otherwise lesser-known region. The book traces the art of viticulture through the three countries and explores its long history of winemaking. Their stories remind us of the importance of understanding the local wine culture, and offer insight into the importance of embracing local winemakers.
While Armenia is home to the birthplace of winemaking, the local wine industry is considered to be relatively young. During the Soviet era, production was largely halted to focus on the Cognac industry. While winemaking flourished in neighboring Georgia, it existed only on a small scale in Armenia. Wine lay dormant for years, and many native wine varieties were lost.
Farm-to-Bottle aims to empower the small grape farmers of Armenia to produce and market quality wine. The campaign is driven by ONEArmenia and Semina Consulting, and aims to collect $61,515 to allow small grape farmers to produce their own brands of wine and provide them with the tools they need in order to be successful. However, modern wine culture is going through a transformative phase that challenges the most innovative farmers to overcome high production costs and a huge gap in its oenological timeline. We asked Charine and Matthew about their take on the young industry and explored some of the advantages and challenges Armenian winemakers face.
Winemakers in Armenia
I got the chance to talk to Charine and Matthew just after the launch of Farm-to-Bottle. In their minds, the passion and charisma of the winemakers in Armenia are the heart of the movement.
“Local farmers are revitalizing the wine industry,” Matthew said. “They are able to experiment more, that’s where you see innovation.”
For them, lesser-known wineries have the unique opportunity to explore new flavors and experiment with native varieties. “Armenian winemakers want to learn. They put local wine next to internationally known varieties and constantly compare them in order to improve,” Charine continued. The passion, without a doubt, is there.
Charine and Matthew reflected on the dramatic scenery that accompanied their journey to Vayots Dzor, home of the Areni-1 cave that is often cited as the birth of viticulture. The high altitudes and rolling mountains provide an environment that hosts ancient and isolated varieties of grapes. The potential to bring something new to the international wine scene is great.
Many of the challenges we discussed were common to emerging wine sectors. It is not always easy to create a distinct story and establish a unique identity in a world that produces wine in over seventy countries. In their opinion, engaging with local consumers is as important as promoting local farmers.
“If the local people aren’t involved, it disrupts the story,” Charine said.
They are, however, optimistic for Armenia’s future in winemaking, noting places in Yerevan like In Vino and Wine Republic as excellent ways to engage the public. Both venues have become key destinations for wine lovers, and proudly shelf wines from the area like Karas, Kataro, and Zorah wines. Yerevan’s growing wine scene will be featured on this year’s “Inside Yerevan” map produced by OneArmenia, which will guide locals and tourists as they discover these up and coming wines.
As for Yerevan, they had one thing to say: “We will be back.” With Farm-to-Bottle, we hope to have a flourishing wine industry here to greet them.
photo credit: Exotic Wine Travel