We often proudly say here that “wine is as Armenian as it gets!” Indeed, recent excavations in caves around the town of Areni prove that we have been fermenting and drinking wine for over 6,000 years․
That’s why, for a relatively young person like me, it’s hard to imagine that wine culture almost disappeared in Armenia during the soviet times. Winemakers were instructed to cultivate and use grapes just for brandy and sweet wine. It was as only in the year 2000 that the modern era of winemaking began.
Armenia has several regions with highly favorable conditions for viticulture and winemaking. Voskehat village in Armavir region is one of them, blessed with fertile soils for grape cultivation and diverse microclimates. It’s no coincidence that Voskehat literally translates to “Golden Seed” in the old Armenian language. Moreover, it is considered one of the most exquisite among all the grape varieties currently grown in Armenia.
The once-famous Scientific Research Institute of Winemaking in Voskehat, which opened in the 1950s, did not operate for almost two decades due to disrepair and lack of funding. In 2016, however, the dilapidated building which housed the Institute underwent massive reconstruction, thanks to the World Bank-financed Education Improvement Project.
Entirely renovated and equipped with modern winemaking equipment, wine tanks, and an experimental laboratory for students, the building re-opened its doors in December 2018 as the Voskehat Educational and Research Center of Enology of the Armenian National Agrarian University.
Professor Artak Gabrielyan is the Director of the Center. “This is the first academic year that our students specializing in ‘Fermentation Technologies and Winemaking’ have a completely redesigned, modernized educational program, and courses on wine tasting and viticulture, which are critical for future winemakers,” he says.
“While bachelor degree students monitor the winemaking processes – starting from grape cultivation and harvesting up to wine aging, pressing and bottling – master degree students are enrolled in all of these processes. Moreover, we offer seasonal work to around 30 of the best students in our center.”
With the Center’s support, and in partnership with GIZ, ICARE Foundation and the Università degli Studi di Milano, three master students are now involved in researching the impact of the usage of Armenian oak chips in the process of wine aging. Another group of students is conducting lab experiments with “Charentsi” – a type of grape with as yet undiscovered potential for winemaking.
Both studies will help local producers in reducing production costs and becoming more competitive in the market. And, just as importantly, Prof Gabrielyan points out that the students are increasingly enthusiastic.
Syuzanna Mosikyan, a first-year master degree student and a current employee at the Center in Voskehat, comes from a family of physicians. She certainly surprised her parents when deciding to study winemaking, but has never regretted her decision.
“Is winemaking an art or a science? It always comes with a question mark. However, wine is different from any other beverage, and to my mind, winemaking is more an art than a science,” says Syuzanna with a smile. “I went to Germany as an exchange student, and upon returning I was excited to see the new research Center. It’s the first time in Armenia that wine is being produced by students. It’s very inspirational.”
Zaruhi Muradyan is the young leader of the Vine and Wine Foundation, the founder of Zara Wines, and also a graduate of the Agrarian University. “There is a lot of global attention on Armenia now, and the success and progress of the winemaking industry here is dependent on real knowledge and expertise – which the Voskehat Center can cultivate,” says Zaruhi.
There are 400 documented types of grapes in Armenia, although only 31 are widely used for viticulture and winemaking at present. In 2020, the first 10,000 bottles of red wine (“Areni” and “Haghtanak” reserve blend) produced by Voskehat Center, as well as 1,000 bottles of experimental rose wines will premier in the local market.
The ANAU Voskehat Educational and Research Center of Enology offers expert consultations and scientifically-proven innovations to both winemakers and producers. Importantly, it is also restoring the reputation of the once-famous scientific research center and taking its work today to the forefront of education, research and cultivation of this millennia-old practice.