365 Wines: A Small Company with a Young Vintner Making Big Inroads
Gor Avetisyan, 25, is one of the new breed of Armenian vintners.
We’re standing next to a ten ton grape fermentation vat when Gor tells me that wine is a living organism that demands constant attention. “If you neglect it, the wine gets angry and sick. Once sick, there is no cure,” says the vintner.
For the past eight months Gor Avetisyan (below)has been crafting wines for the Edvag Group who sells its wines and spirits under the 365 wines brand name. A graduate of Armenia’s Agrarian University, Gor describes a vintner as someone who ‘understands the language of wine’. He says that our casual conversations can have an impact on wine.
“They say that if you can craft a good white wine or champagne, the others are easy. White wine must be light and young. It’s complex and doesn’t take kindly to oxidation,” says Gor. He finds the fermentation process the least interesting of all. “Either the folks back home miss me or else it’s the time when you start disciplining the wine,” say the young winemaker with a smile.
The company doesn’t own its own vineyards, but gets its grapes from fields in the provinces of Vayots Dzor and Ararat. The vintner, nevertheless, follows the maturation stage of the grape in the field until it is picked. He also notes how many times the grapes have been watered, what fertilizers have been used, and other details.
Marineh Sahakyan (above), in charge of the factory’s laboratory, checks to see if the grapes meet the standards the company has set for winemaking. Only then are the grapes harvested. At the lab the entire wine preparation process is monitored. “Numerous problems can crop up during wine making that must be attended to,” she says, again noting that wine is a living organism.
Ten Years of Winemaking
365 Wines began production in 2006. Edvag Group was founded by Vahagn Gevorgyan, an economist by profession. Gevorgyan, who serves as company president, once oversaw the manufacture of the bottles used in the assembly process. Aleksandr Froundjyan, the company’s vice-president (top photo) shows me the unit where the bottles were made, many resembling apricot and pomegranate fruit. The unit now longer operates and the company now purchases bottles from other manufacturers.
Froundjian points to the bottles the company imports from Russia. He says it’s much more cost effective than purchasing bottles made in Armenia. Nevertheless, the company buys some locally manufactured bottles.
Froundjian, once employed in the banking sector, has been working for 365 Wines for the past six months. He also spent ten years farm raising fish and growing mushrooms. He says that Armenians are neither fish eaters nor consumers of mushrooms, but have started to drink more wine of late.
The beverages produced by 365 Wines can be found in most stores in Armenia. “I have friends working in another plant who think we must have a large staff working here. I don’t contradict them. In reality, though, we only have two people working on the distribution end; one manager and one delivery guy. But looking at the scope of our distribution you’d think we have a large plant,” says Froundjian.
The company first entered the market in 2006 with its pomegranate wine in a bottle resembling the fruit itself. It became the company’s trademark item. That’s also where the 365 Wine brand name came from; the number of pomegranate seeds on each bottle.
Today, the company produces grape and fruit wines, fortified wines, fruit brandy and cocktail beverages. 365 Wine employees say the company is the first in Armenia to produce fortified wines. The company produces a Passion de Pineau and a rose variety it describes as a ‘sweet fortified drink made from a blend of unfermented Rkatsiteli grape must and Armenian brandy spirit’.
The company also produces wines made from grapes that are either hung out to dry and grapes that are kept under the snow for a certain period. The technology is called amarone reserve.
Froundjian says such technology is time consuming and not the preferred way to make wine in Armenia. He says that manufacturing in Armenia is fraught with various challenges but that 365 Wines is holding its own. The company exports to Greece, Lebanon, Israel, China, Russia and the Baltic countries.
The company, semi-automated, currently employs 25 people. When I ask how the bottles are painted to resemble fruit, Gor Avetisyan jokes, “Here, people are the equipment.”
Narineh Hovhannisyan paints each bottle by hand to resemble a pomegranate, apricot, quince or blackberry. Using edible paints, she prepares around 850 bottles daily. When I ask if the work isn’t difficult, Narineh smiles, “If we didn’t love our work, you’d taste it in the wine.”
Nouneh Mouradyan, who corks and waxes all the small pomegranate bottles, expresses the same sentiment. Here she is seen at her work station using an electric heater and hand waxer. The wax itself comes from Russia. At one time, the company purchased wax from Armenia but it was of lower quality.
As I roam around the plant, with my photographer in tow, I try and get a sense of how the workers feel.
Gor, our guide, leads us to the wine cellar and says, “We’re one big family here. The wine picks up on all the vibes. It senses everything, even a conversation at the holding vat.”
Photos: Narek Aleksanyan