Independent Armenia's First Wine Producer Receives Bronze Medal in 2014 Decanter World Wine Awards
Maran, a winery founded in 1991 but which dates back to the 1800s, produced the first wine in the Republic of Armenia after the country gained independence and recently received a bronze medal in the 2014 Decanter World Wine Awards for its Bagratuni dry red wine. Hetq paid a visit to Maran's premises and had a chance to speak with the founder and director Avag Harutyunyan.
The many trees on the winery's premises seem to evoke an attraction to the few buildings there. The winery's young employee tells us the buildings were constructed in the 1950s by German POWs and there was a huge wine factory there at one time. After Armenia gained independence, businessman Khachatur Sukiasyan's family bought the premises, which in 1998, was leased to Maran.
Apart from the Harutyunyan family, the winery has 5 employees. In 2013, the company received a gold medal in an international wine contest held in Moscow. The award-winning wine is produced in a small room using new technologies — a modern touch to the winery's centuries-old history.
The origins of Maran date back to 1829–1830, when Grandma Maran immigrated with her family from Persia to Armenia's Vayots Dzor Province. In 1860, Maran's son Harutyun planted a vineyard in the village of Artabuynk, calling it Maran's Vineyard after his mother. Three years later, a semi-production winery was founded.
Maran itself was founded in 1991 by Artur and Avag Harutyunyan, whose grandfather Avag and father Frunzik were also vintners, and it will pass on to his two sons Frunzik and Tigran. Also participating in the "birth" of wine is Avag's wife Armine. The company's 20-hectare vineyard planted in 2000–2001 is found in the village of Aghavnadzor in Vayots Dzor.
The company still doesn't have its own premises. Despite this, in 1991, in their home in Yeghegnadzor, the Harutyunyans began to get involved in wine production. As a result, the first wine — called Noravank — was born, samples of which are kept in the company's cellar.
"In 1991, I was in the village of Yelpin. I was looking at the vineyards, seeing almost ideal vineyards (they are called Leylan vineyards) — the soil rocky — and I say, people, I need you to give me grapes with a sugar level of 23%. They tell me, well, you know, we have been harvesting this field for 50 years and this vineyard has not produced grapes with a sugar level of more than 18%," says Maran LLC Executive Director Avag Harutyunyan.
Nevertheless, he convinced the Yelpin natives to produce grapes according to his conditions, promising to pay more than the set price. And lo and behold, grapes with higher sugar levels were grown. This successful practice was applied to Bagratuni. They began to harvest the grapes in November and get grapes with sugar levels of 25–28%.
However, according to Harutyunyan, such discoveries are not profitable from a business perspective because they require a lot of time and are somewhat risky. "This was a way that showed that there is the potential here to get good grapes, and imagine, we have 500 varieties of Areni [grapes]," he says.
Harutyunyan believes that Armenia has to produce expensive wines (in the 10–50 EUR segment) for the international market because even if Armenia was completely covered in vineyards it could not ensure 0.1% of the wine market in Europe. Furthermore, in the affordable wine segment no one bothers to inquire about the country of origin, whereas in the expensive wine segment , the wine's country of origin is accepted as a standard.
"Reflected in wine is the ethos, the history, the joys and tragedies, the climate, and so on. Imagine your family's portrait. They don't say this person is wearing this brand of jewellery or clothing; they say, do you know who's grandchild he is? These are the multi-faceted factors. At the very top are the individual's, the parents' virtues; at the base, your tribe, your region; and at the very bottom are Armenia's virtues," he says.
In Armenia, big companies mainly use a European grape variety, which is of good quality and is recognized by the world. Thus, it's easy to enter the international market, but whether Armenia is regarded there with findings in wine tastes is another issue altogether.
In the last 300–400 years, Europe intensively developed its grape varieties, which comprise the bulk of the global wine market. Global taste was shaped with these varieties. On the other hand, there is a country (Armenia) that has a 7,000-year history of winemaking where, however, grape varieties are not yet studied and recognized. Harutyunyan, and others like him, believe instead of investing in foreign grape varieties, Armenian varieties should be developed.
Maran has 20 types of wine and also produces fruit vodkas. Its wine sells mainly for more than 10 EUR. Maran exports 40,000 bottles of wine annually — to France, Belgium, China, Poland, and Russia. If previously the expensive wines were exported to France, now Russia and China have a great demand for these wines. The Sign designs the labels, bottles are purchased from Saranist in Kotayk Province, while corks are imported from Italy. Soon, the company will offer a new wine, one bottle of which will cost $200.
"The state has to stand by producers: it doesn't have to stand by that big [business] because that big [business] has already caught the tail of business; it has advisors, and so on," says Harutyunyan.
He says that in terms of commerce, the use of Europeanized grape varieties are profitable, but in terms of concept, no. In Armenia, small and big companies are at the same tax level — both pay similar taxes — but unlike small business, big business has tax benefits. "I say, [dear] state, stand by that person who is trying to reveal cultural layers," he says.
The heavy door to Maran's wine cellar is partly open. Inside, it's 15ºC. The air is chill. Here, we are guided by Avag Harutyunyan's son, Frunz, who is a vintner by profession and is working on his PhD.
There are stairs on both sides, between which is the corridor to get the wine barrels to the cellar. In the cellar, Frunz carefully wipes the dust from one of the bottles, reads the name of the company's ancient wines. He says the names of the wines are easier to choose than the design of the labels. Both the names and the label have to have a conceptual foundation — as it is with wine production.
Photo credit: Narek Aleksanyan