The village of Areni is, by coincidence or not, not only the location of the oldest proved winery facility in the world, but it is also a village known all over Armenia for its widespread artisanal winemaking resulting in countless improvised stalls along the road selling wine in plastic bottles (see on the left one of them pictured randomly along the road near Areni). These are usually 2-liter Coca-Cola bottles which find here a second life and giving the opportunity to dub the wine sold along the road as coca-wine...
This enduring family winery tradition in Areni, which was strong enough to survive through the communist years, could be explained by the multi-millenium involvement in winemaking, and further diggings in the region or even in the village itself could in the near future reinforce Areni's position as the craddle of wine production.
The visitors from Yerevan who drive through Areni to visit the hilltop monasteries of the area or come back from villages deeper in the mountain range usually stop to fill up on local wine : The wine found along the road is cheap and there's a good chance that it has been made more authenticly than the industrial wine found in the stores.
But Areni also has a real brick and mortar winery (pic on right), complete with a good press, a cask cellar and even a tasting room where visitors can sample the wines before choosing the ones they want to select. It is actually quite rare in countries born from the former Soviet Union to find wineries of this intermediate size : most of the time and up to this day you find either tiny artisanal production sites which operate without clear authorizations, or big industrial plants yielding millions of bottles. This is why I was particularly happy to visit the Kimley winery, also known as the Areni Wine Factory...
Before looking at the cellar we were invited to sample the wines in the tasting room, where winemaker Vagan Garapetsian poured us generously his different cuvées in person (a real winery is indeed when the winemaker himself does all this introduction to the wine...).
There were about ten bottles on the table in the tasting room, among which several fruit wines : Since 2008 they began to produce wine made from fruits like apricots, peaches and cherries, as the region also has orchards.
__Areni dry white wine 2004, with a dark golden color. The whites are made with the Kakhet variety in the region. We first toast with our glasses raised, don't ask me how you say it in Armenian, I'll use the Russian Hа здоровье ! (Na Zdorovie) instead, every one gets it here. But the meaning of the Armenian toast is "to your life", we were explained. Someone says "to peace", a young volunteer says "happy Easter", and the generous pours made us quickly quite joyous...
__Sun Areni 2005, semi-dry white wine. Not my type of semi sweet, short in the mouth.
__ Dry red wine, 1999. The nose doesn't smell anything but the mouth gets me back on a wine sensation. There's fruit and a surprising tannin feel. Areni is the grape variety here, it bears the same name than the village and it is said to express itself best in the dry, rocky and sunny terroir of this highland valley. Areni is the second village after Meghri for the number of sunny days per year.
__ Semi-sweet red wine. Not my type again, tastes like alcoholized fruit juice. Sweet wines still have the favor of a large part of the population here when they choose to drink wine, like in Russia. Some Armenians say that Armenian women are the main consumers, also because men still prefer to drink hard drinks like vodka in this country. Wine, in spite of the ancient roots of Armenia in winemaking, comes largely behind vodka in terms of sales, and the choice of vodkas in an Armenian shop or supermarket is very large, including locally-made vodkas and Russian brands.
The winemaker says that the dry wines spend 3 years in the foudres while the fruit wines and the semi-sweet ones stay one year in wood.
In its early years (in 1998), the young winery received the assistance of the USDA Marketing Assistance Project with the goal to encourage small-scale wine production in the Vayots-Dzor region. The winery now exports some wine abroad, to Russia (Vologda) and to Germany (Hamburg) and is pretty active in different wine activities in the region.
There are a handful of medium-size wineries like Kimley LLC along the Arpa river, like the Getap winery and the Ginetas winery.