Mesrop Abisoghomonyan walks among lifeless branches
of grapevines that should be blooming but instead
are a gray reminder of the worst winter in recent
"This vine is damaged and this one is damaged
too," the farmer says. "Look, here the
bud bursts. You must keep the one with buds and
cut the rest."
Abisoghomonyan's vines in Oshakan village are
typical this year and forecast a diminished harvest
for fruit farmers throughout the republic.
According to official data, 70 to 75 percent
of grapevines and 70 to 90 percent of peach trees,
fig trees and cherry trees of Armenia were frostbitten
during December when temperatures reached 27-32
degrees below zero (-16 to -25 Farenheit).
The Ministry of Agriculture has estimated loses
at 15.5 billion drams (about $26.5 million). It
is expected that no more than 30 percent of crops
will produce fruit this season. Hardest hit was
the low-lying Ararat Valley.
Agro-businessmen and wine makers are most concerned
about vineyards, fearing farmers would dig up
vines and plant a different crop.
During the past 12 years many villagers, blaming
excessive work and low profits, replaced grapevines
with other fruit plants. In Soviet Armenia there
were 36,000 hectares of vineyards. Now, according
to official data, there are only 12,000. Specialists
put the number at only 9,000 hectares.
Seventy-three year-old Knarik Arsenyan remembers
only one winter so cold, just after World
Derenik Sardaryan, a researcher for the Center
of Horticulture, Viniculture and Winemaking says
Armenia's vineyards suffered similar freezes three
previous times over the past 70 years, but that
damage was much less than this year.
"The reason is that in Soviet times lower
parts of vine were covered with soil," Sardaryan
explains. "These days only 20% of vineyards
were covered. The reason is that villagers have
no possibilities to carry out soil-covering process
because of the low purchasing prices (of grapes)."
Abisoghomonyan says he had not covered his vines
in the previous three years, as the winters had
His neighbor Hrachik Hambardzumyan's vineyard
stands out against a background of widespread
lifeless monotonous vines. His plants are a wealth
of green buds, as he was one of the few farmers
who insulated (with soil) his crop.
" 'Master to property, father to son.' If
you don't master your property and don't sweat
over it, then you'll lose it," Hambardzumyan
says. "But not everybody can do so much work."
Through a joint project of government agriculture
agencies, specialists are visiting regions to
consult and advise farmers.
"Vine roots aren't frostbitten. I mean,
vines will be restored. The problem is to provide
this year's crop," says Sedrakyan. "We
offered a method of acceleration of vines' fruit-bearing
process. Seventy percent of vineyards are cut
down from the lower part, and then sleeping buds
start to produce new shoots. The greater part
of these shoots yields overgrowth. Then after
appropriate processing (fertilizers) 30 percent
of the vine will be restored and next year there
will be normal crop."
Sedrakyan's method of restoring vines was published
as a booklet and distributed among villagers and
has been demonstrated on television.
Farmer Mesrop Abisoghomonyan says he'd be
happy to get at least 20% of his usual harvest.
"There were people who found themselves
in a desperate state. But when I show them this
photograph they are getting excited again,"
says Sedrakyan, who holds in his hand a photograph
of vine with plentiful bunches grown by him in
1964 using his method.
However, not everybody uses that method. Abisoghomonyan
says that maybe it will have a good result, however
it requires a lot of work and many villagers can't
afford the fertilizer.
Abisoghomonyan now expects only 10 percent of
a normal yield.
The expected demand for grapes, price increases
and prospects of gardens' restoration have already
cleared up all the worries that villagers would
start destroying their gardens.
"Last year I sold grapes for 80 drams per
kilogram to Oshakan wine factory but later I regretted
that," says Hambardzumyan. "Several
days later people came and asked me to sell grapes
for 100 drams per kilogram, but I hadn't gotten
any grapes by that time. If grapes will be taken
for 130 drams then everybody will be involved
This year Oshakan wine factory (Ashtarak Wines
Ltd.), a business partner of Great Valley brandy
factory, expects to sign a contract with villagers
(initial price for grapes is 100 drams per kilogram
but prices fluctuate depending on the market)
and make prepayments for purchasing insecticides.
"During the last years they used to hoard,
not to pay, to be late and that's why many people
destroyed their gardens," says deputy director
of the factory Sanasar Poghosyan. "There
are no gardens left in Ujan. Now we are going
to sign three year contracts with more than 500
farmers so that they could be confident that their
production would be purchased. This year we also
want to supply insecticides."
Last year Oshakan factory purchased 1,000 tons
of grapes. But it's not clear yet how many tons
they are going to purchase this year. Poghosyan
says that in future it is expected to purchase
6,000 tons per year.
The largest amount of grapes is purchased by
Yerevan Brandy factory. The factory has been working
with farmers since 2001 on a contract basis.
Vines that should have blossomed are gray
According to contract the factory provides farmers
with insecticides, and the cost is deducted while
purchasing grapes. This year fertilizers will
be provided on the same conditions as well. According
to the contract the price for grapes is expected
to be 95 drams per kilogram. However price can
change according to market demands. Last year
the brandy factory signed contracts with 3,200
farmers and purchased 9,300 toms of grapes.
"This year we haven't prepared a concrete
quantity target yet," says president of Yerevan
Brandy Factory Pierre Larrech. "The market
will show the trend of developments. But we would
like to purchase at least 10,000 tons."
According to Larrech, official data about freeze
damage isn't reliable, as the government has no
means of checking all the republic's vineyards.
The brandy factory has a group of five agriculturists
who constantly check conditions of the republic's
whole wine-making process.
Last year, according to official data, 105,000
tons of grapes were produced. But the brandy factory
says the number was 65,000 tons. (Forty thousand
tons were used for making wine and brandy).
"In advance I can tell that this year there
won't be more than 20,000 tons of reprocessed
sorts," Larrech says. "The rest will
be clear later."
As the freeze damage became known, there were
reports in the business community that Yerevan
Brandy factory would be importing grapes this
No so, says Larrech.
"We came to Armenia to produce Armenian
brandy and not just a brandy," he says. "If
it is necessary we will decrease the work content
but we will never bring the raw material (grape
spirits) from other countries."