you take the Old Testament as a history lesson,
it is believable that the first wine was made
from grapes grown in the Ararat valley.
Genesis 9, 20-21: "Noah, a man of the soil,
was the first to plant a vineyard.
When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk
and lay uncovered inside his tent."
In plain words: After surviving 40 days and nights
of flood Noah planted a vineyard and the grapes
made such irresistible wine, the man in whom God
"found favor" got drunk, and passed
out in his tent.
These thousands of years later a Yerevan wine
aficionado is on a campaign to renew Armenia's
love of the grape.
President of the Union of Winemakers of Armenia
Avag Harutyunyan talks about Armenian grapes and
wine with special tenderness and love. He professionally
represents all the details of Armenian winemakers'
work, which have the history of centuries.
"In III century B.C. archeological finds
authentically represent a history of Armenian
winemaking," Harutyunyan says. "The
first records come from Assyrian sources dated
XI-X centuries B.C."
And the Biblical myth, Harutyunyan says, confirms
Armenia as the country of origin of wnemaking.
Noah's vines extended toward Phoenicia, Egypt,
Greece and Europe.
all period of times winemaking and viticulture
were obligatory conditions of strengthening and
growth of any country," says the president.
"Armenian kings had two obligations. They
should have built temples and planted vineyards.
King Menua of Urartu named the garden of vine
he had planted in the name of his daughter Tarira."
Winemaking flourished in Armenia until Soviet
times, when it began to diminish, as the world's
mythological first wine drinkers were Sovietized
by government and intoxicant. "Ori"
(vodka) replaced "gini" (wine). Only
the "cheapest, rough wines were produced,"
according to Harutyunyan.
Then, with privatization of land also came difficult
times for the grape. Between 1991-1996, winemaking
hit a low, Harutyunyan says.
"Our union was created (in 1997) with the
purpose of contributing to the development of
villages in our field and realization of healthy
competition," he says.
As recently as 1995, only cheap wines such as
"Blood of the Earth" (less than a dollar
a bottle) were typically found on Armenian market
shelves. Now, however, several varieties are made
for local and export consumption. Still, though,
only about one fourth the number of vineyards
exist compared to peak years - some 8,000-9,000
hectares now, compared with 36,000 in prime times.
Harutyunyan is calling upon Armenia to return
to its national drink. And he's doing so with
a weekly television program devoted to the joy
January Harutyunyan has hosted a Public TV show
in which he invites notable Armenians, including
celebrities, to spend an hour drinking and talking
"Artists, scientists and ministers talk
about wine," Harutyunyan says. "That
drink contains so much truth, love and symbolism,
that there is no reason to tell people about that.
We just give an impulse . . ."
The program is shot in a cellar set up by Karapet
Afrikov in 1880. Avag Harytyunyan works in the
same cellar, so the title of the program is "At
The mood of the cellar brings out philosophical
discussion, aided by enough imbibing to prove
the Latin slogan: "In vino veritas"
(the truth is in wine).
"The wine unshackles them. Natural and true
conversation gives birth to interesting thoughts
and, the most important, inspires love for wine,"
It has become a ritual that at the end of the
program the guest pours wine from a barrel, corks
it, puts an inscription and leaves it in the cellar.
"The closed bottles won't be opened,"
Harutyunyan proudly says. "They will remain
for history. In the cellar we have 100-year old
wines like those."
Armenian history and religion can be followed
through winemaking, Harutyunyan says. During pagan
times, vines were consecrated on the birthdays
of pagan goddesses Anahit and Astghik and the
Armenian Apostolic Church still maintains that
tradition each August 13. With Christianity came
the sacrament of transubstantiation when wine
became the blood of Christ.
Harytyunyan says that viticulture in Armenia
has been dependent on politics and the whims of
invaders. If the land were overtaken by Muslims,
vineyards were destroyed as Islam forbids wine.
granted wonderful natural environmental conditions
to us," says Harutyunyan. "We have permanent
sorts of wine cultivated for 5,000-7,000 years.
We have Ararat, where Noah descended. We only
have investment problems unsolved, and in case
they are solved we will keep step with the world.
"The vine itself is undying, it is endlessly
fertile. It yields for 100-120 years. Even if
it is cut, it starts growing on sides. The meaning
of the vine is in its eternity."