Horticultural (Gardeners’) club in Wine Works nurseries
By Sebastatsi Ecolur TV
The Gardeners’ Club of “Mkhitar Sebastatsi” Educational Complex, accompanied with Artak Rshtuni: the Director of the “Grape and Wine School” went on an excursion to the vineyards of the “Wine Works” Wine Factory in Getap village of Yeghegnadzor town.
A meeting would to be held with the leading specialists in the field of horticulture, wine-making and grape genetics. Artak Rshtuni called the specialists “giants” and walking repositories, urging the group members to ask the professors as many questions as possible without taking a step away from them. The excursion with the horticultural club was not only a research trip for me, but also a day full of discoveries, accompanied with pleasant and interesting people. The fact that the grape gene is similar to the human gene was one of the most impressive revelations of the day for me.
We met Vahe Keushgueryan, Arman Manukyan and Christina Margaryan. Vahe Keushgueryan is the Founder and Managing Director of “Semina Consulting” and “Wine Works” Wine Factory. The team at Semina offers consulting services, advise on every step of the process from planting vines to the design of the winery itself, helps to develop and promote the wine industry in Armenia. Arman Manukyan was the chief oenologist of “Semina Consulting.” He graduated the Armenian National Agrarian University, the Faculty of Agronomy. Then continued his education in France at Higher School of Wine in Montpellier. Christina Margaryan is a senior scientist of Molecular Biology Institute, Plant Genetics and Department of Immunology.
Before arriving in Vayots Dzor, we had the honor of driving with Gagik Melyan, Candidate of Sciences, Deputy Director of the Scientific Center of Viticulture, Wine Technologist and the cooper (barrel maker) Artak Rshtuni. We had interesting and information-rich conversations on our way.
Gagik Melyan said that before the dissolution of Soviet Union, Armenia had a large collection garden. Collection garden means a collection of grapes varieties, not only aborigines but also brought from abroad. We had about nine hundred varieties of grapes, four hundred of which were local, the rest had been imported from Afghanistan, India, South America and other countries. After the dissolution of Soviet Union everything was privatized, as a result of which we lost our entire gene fund. For a long time Armenia didn’t receive funding for rehabilitation to carry out large-scale acrobatic work. It was necessary to carry out a huge research to find grape varieties from valleys, gardens and inner yards. (Students of “Mkhitar Sebastatsi” Educational Complex look for vines that have no owner from South-West District and take care of them with the help of their teachers. Then they hang SOS posters on them).
Gagik Melyan told when they had found vines it was necessary to perform to make genetic analysis. The varieties had sent from Armenia to European bases. It had given the chance to restore them.
In 2014 the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) provided funding to Armenia. It was a special program launched to restore the Armenian vine gene except North-Eastern: Shamshadin, Noyemberyan, Ijevan, because there were phylloxera (Phylloxera is a microscopic louse or aphid, that lives on and eats roots of grapes). It is the most dangerous pest of grapes. In Armenia it damaged the roots not leaves, because European varieties are stable. So, the only way to fight it was to get the vaccine, for example, to take American resistant varieties on the root called a vaccine and vaccinate with the European variety.
Gagik Melyan mentioned that was the only way to fight against phylloxera. Though in recent years chemicals had been created, which, according to some scientists, had an effect. However, we didin’t have that experience in Armenia. The whole Ararat valley had been free of phylloxera until 2010, but today only Yeghegnadzor and Syunik regions have no phylloxera. Since phylloxera had always been presented in the North-East, no acrobatic work was carried out, and grape seedlings could not be brought from there. In 2016-2017, by the decision of the Government, the Ararat valley also entered the viticulture zone. It was possible to perform acrobatic works in the North-Eastern zone as well. Many grape varieties had been found, which after genetic analysis revealed that they were not in the base. That meant they were new varieties. It was a matter of decades to study the entire gene fund of the Republic.
Now we are finding varieties that are new and will be presented as new varieties in further studies. In the past, we had a rather powerful vaccination complex in the North-East compared to the region. Unfortunately, today we do not have a vaccination complex either in the Ararat valley or in its foothills to carry out vaccination work. The vaccinated seedlings were exported to Georgia and Azerbaijan. It gave three hundred thousand seedlings, which was a large number for the region. Today, when somebody says Azerbaijani Bayan Shira, it is actually Armenian Banants, after the village of Banants in Karabakh, which synonym is “white grapes.” The Azerbaijani Khndoghni, Kanach Gili, Ptgheni, Eisheni are many more endemic varieties of Karabakh. They certainly are Armenian varieties in the countries of the former Soviet Republic. Gagik Melyan said that he was going to leave for Yalta, where a large collection of four thousand grapes could be found. They would bring our Armenian varieties from Yalta. He added that we would have a large collection if there wasn’t the privatization and the phylloxera problem. Because of the phylloxera there was a quarantine and we were not allowed to bring varieties from Europe. It was possible to bring them only from Central Asia, especially from Uzbekistan, which had excellent quality raisins. Later Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan have started producing brandy. Now in Turkey and Iran all grape varieties are Armenian, as they were Armenian lands. Artak Rshtuni added that Vahe keushgueryan had got a map of Western Armenia in his factory. You would see the cities from where he had brought endemic grape seedlings on the map.
Artak Rshtuni focused our attention on the fact that the searching for wild grapes had been very interesting. Local hunters, shepherds or the elderly people were asked for hidden grape vines in the fields.
Working in the grape selection department, Gagik Melyan told about some new grape varieties they created. “One of the best-selling varieties on the market is the Shahumyan variety, which is like Itsaptuk. It is white but the colour undergoes sunburn. “Armenia Wine” is also new variety that has been cloned by cross-breeding.”
Then we tried to move from science to the Bible. We were surprised a little that the scientist Gagik Melyan believed in Noah’s Ark. He said the first grape vine planted by Noah, might be Kharji.
Artak Rshtuni told about his favorite profession: Cooperage, which is an ancestral national traditional craft for Armenians. Coopers are well aware of the different types of trees. The profession of cooper is in high demand nowadays because oak barrels are required to make qualified wine and brandy. Artak Rshtuni told that the barrel making begins from wood selection. The cooper has to decide what kind of wood to work with. We learnt that the highest quality and most expensive barrels have been made of Caucasian oak wood, though each tree has its own quality. “If it is a wet wild tree, it is not desirable to make a barrel from it, and when the wood texture is dense, it turns out a good barrel. This type has many advantages, for example, it is very flexible, is being dry quickly, does not crack, does not rot but becomes stronger contacting with water.
The second stage is the stage of making and processing wood in special ways.
In ancient times, wood has been left outside, under the sun, in the open air, for 1.5-3 years. During that time, the tree are drying and the rain is washing away every
harmful substances. Now the material is being dried in special ovens, the operation lasts from 3 to 12 months. In the next step, the cooper makes calculations և drawings to understand what size, type and amount of wood he needs.”
We realized that cooperage is a complex craft, requiring special knowledge, but at the same time it is a very interesting, highly valued and highly paid craft.
After two hours we arrived and started our research campaign in Getap vine valleys. You can watch our Live Video here!
Film by Nouneh Khachikoghlyan