BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
I’ve often advocated expanding Armenia’s tourism, specifically eco- and adventure tourism. But now, I’ve come upon what can be linked to that or stand on its own – oeno- or vini-tourism. That’s a wine-drinking trip in simple English.
You have probably noticed lately a lot of news items about wine and Armenia, interconnected. The most recent was the piece that is part of Joe Dagdigian’s “Unseen Armenia” series about the wine festival in Dogh/Togh, Hadrout Province, Artzakh. A few months ago there was the introduction of the Yacoubian-Hobbs label, which has already won an award. Before that there was the crowd-funded startup, World’s First Wines, which ships wine produced in Armenian to its clientele every month. Of course the most exciting news was when we learned of the oldest, some 6100 years, wine making operation discovered in Armenia’s Areni-1 cave!
All this was just the latest that topped off the deep roots of winemaking in Armenia. It is not yet confirmed, but grapes may have first been domesticated in Armenia. Wikipedia gives 1877 as the founding date of the oldest winery in Armenia that is still operating. Who knows what we lost in the field of winemaking as a result of the Genocide. Interestingly, some Armenians, uprooted, and post WWI settled in Ethiopia, established wine-making operations there. Plus, we have the huge clay winemaking urns we call garas/karas which have recently made a small splash in international travel circles. All these have roots in our ancient winemaking traditions. As it is, the first mention of “beer” is also sited in Armenia, and comes from Xenophon’s description of his march from Greek lands eastward. Now, perhaps some digging in archives and manuscripts, if not already done, will yield new historical insights, notable sites to visit, and maybe some long-forgotten techniques.
All of this can be packaged in multiple ways into wonderful weeklong (or longer) trips featuring Armenia’s scenery, food, hospitality, and local wines. Dozens and dozens of vintners are listed in Wikipedia alone. High level European praise has flowed for the quality of Armenian wines. They are being exported, and have, along with Armenian brandy, been fairly well known for quite some time. It is reported that one of Winston Churchill’s favorite brandies became Ararat, after he was introduced to it by Stalin at the Yalta conference in 1945.
Imagine hiking or bicycling (OK, OK, you can also drive…) from wine-maker to wine-maker on ancient, or newly-built, trails. On the way, with properly planned trails, visitors would pass by all manner of ancient architecture, some in ruins, some still maintained, and others just gleams in archaeologists eyes waiting for the necessary funding and proper conditions to unearth the long covered secrets. After traveling through lush forests, gorgeous gorges, and panoramic mountain views, tired guests could cozily engage in tasting local wines, perhaps with some local cheese, greens, freshly baked bread, and just-picked ripe tomatoes. All this could be in a villager’s home or other bed-and-breakfast establishment (Tufenkian and others already have some established).
Who doesn’t know wine lovers? Who doesn’t know travelers? Who doesn’t know hikers? Who doesn’t know bicyclists? Who doesn’t know people who want to explore new places and their flavors? Any and all of these classes of people would provide a tremendous long-term economic boost to the Republics of Armenia and Artzakh. We could all become advocates of this largely sustainable industry for Armenia, and along the way, support our numerous Diaspora travel agents.
Let’s get busy tasting Armenian wines, deciding which we’d most like to sample at the source, then rounding up our non-Armenian friends for an oenotouristic extravaganza!