Winemaking in Armenia: Regions, Methods, Grapes
The Evolution of Winemaking in Armenia
Armenia is one of the world’s most ancient cradles of grape and winemaking. The fact remains the same even if we don’t consider that mankind’s oldest winemaking facility ever was discovered here — a 6,100 years old complex in Areni, southern Armenia. The very vinegrowing technique we know and use today was developed here during the Urartu era, and has hardly changed over the course of ages.
The history of winemaking is Armenia can be split conventionally into three stages: an extended period from Antiquity to the Modern Age, when winemaking was born and reached it peak in the Urartu epoch, existing in this form until the 19th century; the New Era, from the 1850s to 1991, characterized by a strong Russian influence; and the contemporary period, with investments, world-renowned oenologists, and a general orientation towards top-class dry wines.
We know very little today about winemaking here in the Urartu era. However, historians Strabo and Herodotus did mention the quality wines of the Nairi (a tribe that used to populate the Armenian Highlands). Under Persian and Assyrian influence, Armenia continued its tradition of producing wine to pay tribute. The Middle Ages are considered by many experts as a rut in the general history of Armenian winemaking, when local winemakers concentrating more on surviving attacks from the Muslim authorities.
The history of Armenian winemaking in the Modern Age started in 1887, when the famous merchant Nerses Tairov established the first wine and cognac production plant in the former Erivan fortress. At first, he used traditional methods and produced 1,200 buckets of wine annually. But he failed to sell all of it in a timely manner, and his business quickly became unprofitable, so in 1898 Tairov sold it to a major Russian manufacturer named Shustov.
After he studied the secrets of producing and storing grape wine and cognac, Shustov ordered a full reconstruction of the cellars, installed oak barrels for wine aging and began producing cognac. His wines and cognacs had a unique taste thanks to the amazing Armenian terroir and local grapes. Both local connoisseurs and experts far beyond Armenia fell in love with them instantly. Shustov’s products gained fame in many countries, including France, the homeland of cognac.
In the Soviet era, agriculture as a whole in Armenia was focused on cognac production. Local vineyards were thus used mostly to make cognac spirits.
Local winemakers were blessed once again in 1931. By chance, they discovered that in karases without a proper seal, wine produced the same film as in Spanish Jerez. So they started to produce Ashtarak Jerez-like wine, that ultimately won many international contests. Still, Armenian winemaking in general remained unpopular.
The latest stage in the evolution of national wine started after the collapse of the USSR, when the republic gained its independence. Previous operational schemes ceased to function, and the country had to build its markets from scratch, which brought about the need for new solutions. Many people in the industry nowadays set their sights on restoring the past fame of Armenian wine. They decided to reject the methods applied in Soviet times and build their projects on a whole different level, by combining old traditions (grapes and technologies) with the latest achievements of global winemaking research.
In addition, the focus shifted away from quantity to quality. In just a short period of time, the country is already seeing producers who can compete with the traditions of Georgian winemakers and the quality of international brands.
To a large extent, this was made possible thanks to investments of the global Armenian diaspora in the country’s new economic opportunity. Investors are revamping old equipment, building factories from scratch, bringing semi-abandoned vineyards back to life, and planting new ones.
They are investing in the potential of the country, inviting in renowned oenologists to consult, teaching young Armenian specialists, and expanding their professional skill set. In recent years, a whole lineup of brilliant winemakers have appeared on the scene, who aren’t afraid of a little experimentation.
At the moment, it is too early to say that the style of Armenian wines has been entirely established. Producers are still striving to strike a balance between modern technology and traditions. At the turn of the century, Armenian producers were concentrating on large supermarkets and making wine of corresponding quality. Their main objective was to make their wine commercially viable. Today, the situation has changed and an interest in terroir wine and local technologies is now a stable tendency. This is what the most respected specialists of the industry have chosen to focus on.
So far, Armenian winemakers have struck a cord with their red wine, but their whites also have great potential thanks to the grapes and terroir. The path to success for Armenian wine is paved from the efforts of large companies and high-quality minor producers, interesting terroirs, and rare local grape varieties. Armenia is in the exciting middle of its creative process to form its own wine culture.
In terms of markets for Armenian wine, the majority of producers export mainly to Russia, although Russian consumers still perceive Armenia as a supplier of cognacs and a little bit of Jerez. Acknowledging the quality of Armenian wines takes time, but the process is in motion, especially thanks to support from private and state marketing and educational projects.
Armenia has already entered foreign markets. Its high-quality wine is in demand in France, the USA, China, Japan, Eastern and Western Europe, and even South America. Even though initially the target audience consisted of local diasporas, the volume of exports continues to grow, and Armenian wines are now climbing up the global ladder fast.
For winemaking in the Caucasus, the standard technology used is the fermentation of wine in clay vessels. In Georgia they are called qvevri, and in Armenia karas. However, making wine in a qvevri is quite different from similar processes involving karas. The technologies and vessels differ in terms of shape, volume, and type of clay.
Qvevri are dug into soil up to their neck, and are used for both fermentation and further aging. In Armenia, a karas might be dug into the ground completely or partially, depending on the result a winemaker wants to achieve.
Today, very few people make karases, so most winemakers are using old vessels dating back to the 20th century. This can be explained by a lack of understanding of the true value of ancient technologies. Thus most view karases as nothing more than a curious artifact. Nevertheless, local potteries still exist in villages, and attempts to launch the production of karases within a wine enterprise have also been noted.
Wine producers who apply traditional technology using karases claim that fermentation takes place at 17—22°C. This helps their wine turn out more stable and acquire its amazing aroma. Yet not all plants working with karases stick to the old methods completely. For instance, the specialists at Voskevaz believe that wine may lose its subtleties in a karas, which is why vinification requires extra attention. To make red wine in karases, they select the best grape from old vines, remove the stalks and ferment it with the skin. After several weeks of fermentation in a karas at low temperatures, the wine is sent for malolactic fermentation in Karabakh oak barrels, where it rounds out and comes into all of its best qualities, forming a unique style.
The Armenian school of winemaking is likewise strong in its sweet wines. The volume isn’t as big, but their success is nonetheless already obvious. These are typically wines from late-harvest grapes or slightly dried grapes of the Saperavi, Kakhet, Sev Khagog, and Areni varieties. Some sources say that Armenian sweet wines have even been delivered for mass in Vatican City. But today this segment is far from the main focus.
What other producers of quality, naturally semi-sweet and sweet wines can we name here? The first that comes to mind is Armenia Wine with their white semi-sweet and Muscat wines from the Armenia collection, and Getap Winery in Vayots Dzor with its semi-sweet red Vernashen. The Karas estate is planning to launch production of sweet Muscat, but where they go with it is yet to be seen.
Nature was definitely generous with this land, and created unique conditions for winemaking here that can hardly be found anywhere else. In Armenia, they call wine «the child of the sun,» and you can taste the sunshine in every bottle. The sun can be scorching hot in summer, and the majority of vineyards require irrigation. This is simply the lay of the local terroir as nature created it. Modern technologies now offer drip irrigation systems that are becoming increasingly popular in the region.
On the other hand, winter temperatures can dip very low, so vineyards must be covered. Luckily, most local grapes have long accustomed to the harsh local conditions, and are frost-resistant.
The lowest location of vineyards is at 420 meters above sea level on the border with Georgia, while the highest lies at 1,750 above sea level. There are also some smaller vineyards perched as high up as 2,000 meters.
In Armenia, you can find almost any type of vineyard exposition, but they mostly grown on southern, southeastern, and in rare cases eastern slopes. This angling provides alpine vineyards with enough sunlight and warmth to ripen properly.
Armenia mostly consists of volcanic soil, sedimentary and sandy rocks. The highland location of the vineyards and, as a consequence, well and evenly ripened grape, are a requirement for making balanced and elegant wines.
Wine regions of Armenia
Armenia is located between 38° and 42° north latitude. The terrain is predominantly mountains, with more than 90% of the country located over 1,000 meters above sea level. The highest point is Mount Aragats (4,095 m). The climate is alpine and subtropical, with hot summers and freezing winters. The soil is mostly volcanic, with a very thin fertile layer, followed by limestone. Ground waters here lie very deep. Grapes grow almost everywhere in Armenia, but serious winemaking businesses are scattered.
At the moment, there are about 40 winemaking companies and smaller private estates in Armenia. Approximately 85—90% of all wine is made in the Ararat, Armavir, Aragatsotn, and Vayots Dzor regions. The reason for this is that these territories formed the eastern part of the Urartu state, which was known for its concentrated vineyards in the second half of 1000 BC, making them the historical centers of vinegrowing and winemaking.
Armavir and Ararat
The western regions of the country are united geographically by the Ararat Plain. Due to its special extreme continental climate, the difference between summer and winter temperatures here are among the sharpest in wine regions across the world.
Vineyards are typically situated at a height of 800 to 1,200 meters above sea level. This is the center of agriculture in Armenia, and a large number of grape varieties grow in its mineral-rich soils. This region is well known as the resource base for many wine enterprises of Armenia.
The principal cultivated grapes are Kakhet, Chilar, Garandmak, Kangun, and Voskehat. There are also Rkatsiteli, Kamrayut (hybrid), and Artanak.
Tierras de Armenia (Karas wines) is an example of a truly innovative company. It has the largest area of company-owned vineyards at 450 ha. The company sticks to its classic European style and cultivates all the main European varieties. They do not work with any autochthonous grapes, except for Kangun. The company also collaborated with Michel Rolland as a consulting oenologist and other foreign specialists. Best wines: Karas White (Chardonnay, Kangun, Rkatsiteli), Karas Muscat (Muscat Ottonel), and Karas Reserve (Syrah, Montepulciano, Petit Verdot, and Ancelotta)
Voskeni is a young family business that owns an experimental patch of Ashtarak with vines over 100 years old. They use exclusively organic methods of vinegrowing. Its best wines are Voskeni White (90% Voskehat, 5% Garandmak, 5% Chilar), and Voskeni Red (Areni, Khndokhni).
Aragatsotn is a western region on the border with Turkey. It was named after the highest mountain in the country, Aragats (4,090 m), and the extinct volcano located here as well. The lowest point of the region is 950 meters above sea level. 40% of the area is allocated to vineyards, and the climate is hot and arid. The main grape varieties are Voskehat, Kangun, Akhtanak, and Rkatsiteli. Wine production here is represented by the following companies:
ArmAs, one of the strongest projects of the new wave. It was launched by a team of Italian experts. The owner is Armen Aslanyan. Top wines: ArmAs Rose, ArmAs Karmrahyut, ArmAs Voskehat Reserve, and ArmAs Areni Reserve. All of these are varietal wines.
Armenia Wine is one of the largest wineries in the country. They use grape from their own plantations and also purchase it from farmers. Its best wines are: Takar White (100% Kangun), Takar Red Reserve (80% Areni, 20% Saperavi), and Tariri Red (50% Areni, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot).
Van Ardi is a family business with their own vineyards. They cultivate Areni, Kakhet, Akhtanak, Syrah, and white Kangun. All autochthonous grapes grow in their own rootstock. The owner and winemaker is Varujan Muradyan. Best wines: Kangun (100% Kangun), and Areni Reserve (100% Areni).
Voskevaz Winery is growing on the basis of facilities used as an old Soviet factory with a fantastic collection of karases. Its oldest model was made in 1899. The old vineyards aren’t operational right now, so the business purchases grape from third parties. Work on reestablishing their own vineyards is under way. The business is owned by the Oganesyan brothers. They have put a lot of effort into renovating the estate and making it an attractive destination for wine tourism. Its best wines are Voskehat Karasi Collection (100% Voskehat), Vanakan (67% Akhtanak, 26% Kakhet, 7% Areni), and Areni Karasi Collection (100% Areni).
Vayots Dzor Province is a unique terroir unparalleled anywhere else in the world. Its name translates as the «wailing gorge» due to the significant seismic activity in the region, which is rich in gorges, lakes, and caves. The soil is volcanic and rocky. The vineyards grow at 1,200—1,800 meters above sea level. The main grape varieties are Areni and Voskehat, and the main wine estates are: Hin Areni, a small company with its own vineyards in Areni village. The style of the wines they produce are elegant and modern. The main grape variety used is Areni. Thanks to its favorable price/quality ratio, their wines are becoming more and more popular in Russia.
Zorah is one of the largest domestic brands representing Armenia on the international stage. The estate was founded by Zorik Garibyan, native of the Armenian diaspora in Italy, who turned down a successful career in fashion to live out his dream of making wine in his historical motherland. The production process is as natural as possible, supervised by a team of experts from Italy. This estate makes karas wines from autochthonous Armenia grapes.
Maran Winery is one of the best estates in the region. The vineyards occupy 19 ha, with Areni as the main variety. They also use such rare endemic grapes as Tozot, Avagi, and Khatun Khardzhi. Best wines: Bagratuni White (Aligote, Khatun Khardzhi) and Bagratuni Red (Areni).
Trinity Canyon Vineyards was founded by three wine enthusiasts. The wine production team is led by Ovakim Savatelyan. The winery has found a great balance between traditions and new technologies, as well as in grapes: they use both endemic and European varieties. Its best wines are 6100 Rose and 6100 Red. We should also give a special mention to their magnificent website, among the best in Armenia!
This region is situated in the northeastern part of the country, bordering with Georgia and Azerbaijan. It is filled with forests, rivers, and lakes. The climate is quite mild. The area offers wonderful conditions for white wines. Its territory was first a part of the Urartu kingdom, and later the Bargatuni kings drank these white wines from Tavush. Its main grape varieties are Banants and Lalvari (both white).
Idjevan winery is found on the left bank of the Agstekh. As of today, the winery produces 20 kinds of various wine products, including fruit wines, dry and sweet grape wines, and fruit vodkas. Wines from the Stary Idjevan range are extremely popular in Armenia.
Nagorno-Karabakh, or the Republic of Artsakh is located in the eastern part of the region. The climate here is milder, humid enough so the vineyards don’t need any covering or irrigation. The altitude for vineyards is 700—800 meters above sea level, and the total area is 2,200 ha, with 5 acting wineries. Its main grape is Khndikhni (Khindogny), and the main wine estate of the region is Kataro. Grigory Avetissyan is the leading winemaker of the estate, and supervises the entire cycle of vine cultivation and wine production. The enterprise focuses on Khndokhni. Kataro wine is one of the most recognizable brands of the region. The main consultant is the chief oenologist of Semina Consulting, Arman Manukyan.
The best wines of the estate are Kataro White (70% Khatun Khardzhi, 20% Voskehat, 10% Krdi), and Kataro Reserve (Khndokhni).
There are approximately 400 autochthonous grapes in Armenia, but most of them remain poorly studied. In practice, only 20 of them are used. Many grapes have been lost to history, although from the descriptions we can conclude they were used to make interesting wines.
Today, some companies are hard at work restoring forgotten grapes, seek out vines from private estates, and try to give them a second life. They also go on expeditions to neighboring countries. However, not all vines discovered this way are autochthonous, as some of them were also selected and obtained artificially in the Soviet period. Nowadays it takes a lot of effort to find vines in the most hard to reach places at high altitudes, and the majority of them, with very few exceptions, will prove too small and weak.
Voskehat is an ancient white grape variety, with a name that can be translated as «golden berry.» According to legend, it used to be as valuable as gold and used as tribute, giving it its second name — Khardzhi, which means «tribute.» It also goes by the names Kanachkeni, Katviachk, and Pishik.
This grape is known locally as the queen of white wines. Voskehat comes in at first place among all domestic grapes in terms of sugar content. Voskehat is used in the production of wine, grape juice, and raisins, or eaten as a table grape.
Voskehat is a medium or late-ripening variety. It reaches technical ripeness in middle to late September. It can survive winter temperatures as low as –15…–18 °С.
This grape makes wines different in style and type. These can include strong Jerez-like wines, or dessert wine when harvested late. In the highland regions of Armenia, they produce wonderful quiet dry wines, from light and fresh to oily and complex, as well as live sparkling wines. The main tones of this variety are pear and melon with floral notes. This variety has good aging potential.
Place of origin: Aragatsotn.
Principal cultivation area: Aragatsotn, Vayots Dzor.
Kangun (meaning «steadfast») is a select grape variety with origins in the Soviet period from the cross-bred Sukholimansky Bely and Rkatsiteli. And since Sukholimansky Bely was derived from Chardonnay and Moldavian Plavay, Kangun is the child of three grape varieties. Kangun was selected for brandy production, but took to the land so well in Armenia, that its steadfast character nowadays makes for great dry and dessert white wines, and an increasing number of producers are trying it out. Kangun makes great company for other sparkling wine varieties.
In its aroma you will find notes of white fruit, wild flowers, honey, and quince.
Kangun is a late-ripening grape. The period from budding to complete maturation lasts 155—165 days. Its frost-resistance is average, and it demonstrates high resistance to molding and pests.
Principal cultivation area: Aragatsotn, Ararat Plain.
Mskhali is a late-ripening white endemic variety. Its skin is thick, transparent, and covered with a dense waxy coating. Resistance to diseases and pests is average, and it is weak to frosts. It is perfect for making high-quality table and dessert wines, or can be eaten fresh.
Khatun Khardzhi is a white autochthonous grape. It is also used fresh to make good-quality wine with a special fragrance typical for this variety.
Garandmak (Dik Khardzhi, «fat tail lamb») is a late-ripening grape that can be used to make sparkling and dry wines, as well as wine material for cognacs. It is a juicy and fragrant fruit.
Other varieties: Chilar, Arevik, Lalvari, Djerdjeruk, Djrali, and Berdaki.
Areni (Areni Chorny, Sev Areni, Arevi Noir) is the oldest of all grapes discovered in Armenia. It originates from the Vayots Dzor Province and is part of the geographical group of eastern grapes. Today it grows exclusively in Armenia and is considered the pride of local winemakers. Areni grows on its own rootstock, and some local vines are over 100 years old. DNA research has not detected its connection with any other variety of grape.
Areni is a unique grape not only because of its age, but also the wide range of tastes in the wines that can be made from it. Some compare Areni to Pinot Noir, others mention its potent body and expressive tannins, while still others note the various colors of the wines in different regions of Armenia.
Areni can make wines of markedly different styles: bright sparkling wines, light and quiet rose wines, and potent red dry wines with long aging potential. These wines are characterized by multi-faceted aromatic layering with typical tones of cherry, black pepper, and black tea.
Areni is a late-ripening grape that matures completely by the end of September — early October at total active temperatures of around 3400°С. Areni berries can accumulate a high sugar content while preserving good acidity, and turn into raisins on the vine by mid-November. This variety is frost-resistance and survives temperatures down to –18°С.
Khndokhni (Khndogny, Khindogny) is the main grape of Nagorno-Karabakh, from the geographical group of eastern grapes. In Armenian its name means «coloring.» Other names for it include Sveni and Shireni.
The legends of its origin differ, including one claiming it originally came to Armenia from Iran. But one thing can be said for sure: now it is native to Nagorno-Karabakh, where it loves its home and shows its full potential in wines.
Khndokhni berries have a large content of coloring and tanning agents, producing dense and astringent wines that reflect the name of the grape.
Khndokhni grows and bears fruit well both in the alpine northern and southern slopes without irrigation, and in the sunny lowlands. It demonstrates the best results in loam soil. One unique aspect of this vine is that it is cultivated on trees.
As a rule, its vegetation period stops with the first fall frosts, which come to Karabakh at the end of October. Khndokhni is less resistant to frost than other local grapes and can be damaged at –18…–20°С. The vine starts bearing fruit in its third year after planting, and reaches full capacity in its 4th—5th year.
Wines made from Khndokhni are full-bodied and have an intense coloring while remaining mild and velvety. They have typical tones of cornel, cherry, and pomegranate in the bouquet. If it is fermented with pomace and stalks, its intense color is accompanied by an increased astringency. The intensity of its coloring and body are so impressive that Khndokhni is often used in blends to improve the qualities of other wines. The most successful are Cahors and port wines.
Kakhet (Chorny Kakhet, Sev Milaga). Its name (Kakhet means «suspended») was derived from its large and heavy bunches, which needed suspension to prevent the vine from breaking. Traditionally, these grapes in Armenia were suspended in cellars on ropes or horizontal pole where they could be stored for months.
Kakhet refers to the geographical group of Black Sea grapes. Its place of origin and main area of cultivation is the Ararat Plain.
Kakhet is a late-ripening variety. The vegetation period lasts 190—210 days, from early April to late October (at total active temperatures of 4000°С), and ends with the fall frost. Kakhet isn’t particularly frost-resistant, which is why it needs to be covered in winter. Due to its early budding, Kakhet is also vulnerable to spring frost.
It starts bearing fruit in the second year after planting, and reaches its full capacity in the 4th—5th year. Kakhet prefers clay and sandy soil. On rocky and dry soil it grows less, but gives a better quality harvest. Kakhet loves humidity, but excessive humidity delays ripening.
Kakhet accumulates a significant sugar content of 23—24%, preserving noticeable acidity. Sugar accumulates intensely, while the acidity changes very little – these characteristics allow for a high-quality wine from Kakhet, with excellent potential for aging.
A predisposition for long and late ripening has not done much to boost Kakhet’s popularity. Winemakers who fear losing their harvest to early frost can collect the grape early, when the berries have not yet reached complete phenol maturity, and their wines end up bleak and flat.
Kakhet vineyards have thus reduced, and it is hard now to find this variety in Armenia. Luckily, modern enthusiasts are working to restore this grape in Armenia, and in Ararat Plain in particular. A properly crafted Kakhet wine is characterized by its dark intense color, delicate aromas of flowers and forest berries, and astringent long-lasting aftertaste.
Akhtanak is a select grape obtained by a cross-breed of Sorok Let Oktyabrya (Kopchak+Alicante Bushe) and Saperavi. Its name can be translated as «victory.» The wines from Akhtanak have excellent potential, with dark berries and pepper notes in the aroma, featuring tones of coffee and cocoa added during barrel aging.
Karmrahyut is a select grape as well. This hybrid was selected in 1950. It is a late-ripening variety that makes wines with an intense coloring, although the color may be unstable.
Other varieties: Tigrani (Saperavi+Areni), Tozot, Avagi, Chragi, Karch Mat, Movsesi, and Meghrabuyr.
The best quality grape of all Armenian black-berried varieties is Areni (also known as Sev Areni, or Areni Chorny). It is very elegant compared to international varieties. This grape is often compared with Pinot Noir, although the similarity isn’t felt by all. For instance, I would not make this comparison myself.
In terms of quality, Areni is a winemaker’s first choice: their go-to grape. In most cases, the top autochthonous wines of Armenia are made from Areni. Areni has potential, and it has history. During excavation works, seeds were discovered in the Areni cave and wild grapevines in the gorge. Thus, we can conclude that Areni has been cultivated for thousands of years, making this grape quite unique.
It is very flexible as well. Depending on their approach, a winemaker can get different results from an identical base. European grapes have an initial tone, while you have to be more careful with Areni and limit its yield. The final result will depend on a huge number of factors.
If you vinify it like a light and young wine, it might come out resembling Pinot Noir. As a winemaker, I appreciate the flexibility Areni offers greatly. If you can obtain a high-quality, elegant, textured, and balanced wine depends on the winemaker, soil, harvesting time, elevation, and vineyard — pretty much any factor at all. Everything must be taken into account. Areni is interesting to work with because the outcome depends on your effort and skills.
Nursery collection of rare grapes
The State Center for Grape and Winemaking of Armenia conducts research to preserve and sustain the endemic grape varieties of Armenia. Gagil Melyan is in charge of the collection of grape varieties run by the Center.
The collection he manages includes numerous national grapes. Wine varieties are cultivated separately from table varieties. As the collection grows, its organizers plan to install drip irrigation and anti-hail nets. They also planted a 1 ha demonstration plot, evenly divided between 2 varieties: the autochthonous Vardaguyn Yerevani (Red Sultana) and select Kangun. Their grape is used both in the production of dry wines and cognacs. Many varieties still do not have any practical use, but are valuable nonetheless for the collection.
Its main objective is to preserve the endemic diversity of Armenian grapes. Ever since phylloxera spread to Armenia, employees of the collection got nervous and planted 2 ha of rootstock (6 varieties brought from Italy) to serve as mother plants. They are planning to cultivate Armenian grapes on this rootstock in the infected areas by grafting them onto phylloxera-resistant roots.
The rest of the vines in the collection grow on their natural roots. Mr. Melyan believes that the resistance to phylloxera among local grapes remains understudied. Only separate varieties in the northeastern parts of the country have been fully researched (such as Lalvari, Djerdjeruk, Djrali, Berdaki, and others). Phylloxera was documented in isolated spots in the Ararat Plain several years ago, so the plan now is to learn to cope with the issue as it develops. Resistant rootstock will be used only in the event of outbreaks.
It also couldn’t be considered a complete Armenian collection without an apricot orchard. Apricots are a well-known symbol of Armenia. There are 80 varieties growing here on a 1 ha demonstration orchard with small-stature stock from Italy.
The oldest vineyards in the world untouched by phylloxera
Phylloxera is an insect related to the aphid, a dangerous threat to grapevines. It feeds mainly on the roots, but there are also leaf-eating and even flying varieties. Phylloxera was brought to Europe from America in the 1850s and spread at an alarming rate, decimating vineyards.
An efficient way to exterminate these pests has still yet to be found. Only grapevines from America are resistant to it. The only way to grow vines in phylloxera-infested locations is to graft local grapes onto the rootstock of these American varieties. Thus, there are hardly any grapevines growing on their own roots left in Europe.
In the past, winemakers in Armenia could proudly claim that there was no phylloxera on their land and all vines were still growing on their own roots. However, this lasted only until phylloxera was found in the northern regions, on the border with Georgia and Azerbaijan. Later, news emerged of small clusters of phylloxera in the Ararat Plain. The government then took measures to prevent the further spread of this pest. To do so, they burnt infected vines and slapped a quarantine on planting material, yet even these extremes were not enough.
In the end, the authorities allocated approximately 20,000 dollars to research a means of fighting it. What they decided to ultimately do was learn to live with this problem, and graft local grapevines onto phylloxera-resistant American rootstock. Will this method prove as efficient as it was in Europe? Will it help preserve the uniqueness of ancient autochthonous grapes? Perhaps some features and notes might be lost in the battle. But sadly, there is no other way to protect the infected areas. Meanwhile, some experts believe the issue of phylloxera is overly exaggerated.
In any event, phylloxera infestations in Armenia are occasional and isolated. All major vineyards throughout most of Armenia still grow on their own rootstock. In addition, there is also a large fund of old vines. Armenia even boasts some Voskeat and Areni vines with their own roots that are over 120 years old. These vineyards are a veritable treasure trove of global winemaking, the Red Book of endangered species in terms of uniqueness.