Wednesday, 18 September

The “Sun of Van”: Varouzhan Mouradyan Returns to Armenia to Produce Quality Wine

"They say people don’t come back from two places - from the afterworld and from the U.S.," says winemaker Varouzhan Mouradyan.

He returned to Armenia after living in the U.S. for twenty years. He left with his wife in 1991, and their four children were born in the United States.

Varouzhan had an audit firm in the U.S. He was a well-paid tax lawyer, and life was wonderful. "I didn’t quite like working in the office. I wanted to be in Armenia, making wine. As I researched, I realized that the Armenian sun, climate, soil, it’s all fine, and we should make wine on a world level. Now many people are doing it at an international level," Varouzhan says.

Sasounik, a village in Armenia’s Aragatzotn Province, is 30 km from Yerevan. After conducting soil and climate studies in 2006-2007, Varouzhan chose his vineyard. The area has a south-eastern vista, which is important for the grape as it determines the angle of sunrays. In 2008, the first seedlings were set and five years later they started producing wine.

Varouzhan’s family roots go back to Van. He says winemaking was developed as early as the times of Urartu, the Kingdom of Van. It inspired Varouzhan to name their wine Van Ardi (ardi means the sun).

A small winery is next to the park, and a new one is built on the opposite hill. When it’s finalized, the current one and its yard will turn into wine tourism spots.

The green vineyard contrasts with the parched fields opposite. The location is rocky. The winemaker remembers that when he first chose the place, many pitied him, saying he can’t grow anything there. "When you love what you do, you don’t see the difficulties," says Varouzhan.

The one-story workshop looks idyllic. The silence there is sometimes filled with the laughter or conversations of tourists. The winery has been a wine tourism spot for several months already. While common in the rest of the world, it's something new in Armenia. On September 2, a jazz concert will be organized on the premises of the winery. They intend to organize such concerts more often. "Our goal is not only wine production, but also development of wine art and culture," says Varouzhan.

Oak barrels made in Artsakh and France are placed opposite huge metal vats. Even though the barrels appear the same, the wood they’re made from imparts unique characteristics to the wine based on the soil and climate.

The winemaker says one must understand the character of wine by drinking it.

"Wine is appreciated from top to bottom. First, we look at the color, then the smell and then the taste. Everyone can taste and smell in their own way, but there are special grape types that you cannot mix up. This, for example, is Areni wine that grows here. There’s the false belief that Areni grows only in Vayots Dzor Province, but it also grows in Ashtarak, and we win gold medals with it,” Varouzhan says.

He says every winemaker has their own signature. Wine is not just a beverage - it’s a philosophy. Connoisseurs must understand the winemakers’ signatures. It’s the quality of wine that is important, not the number of grapes or wine quantity.

Varouzhan’s convinced that good wine isn’t made by reading books. It’s only in the process itself that you realize that it’s an organism that can absorb everything; even your mood. Sometimes he switches on some music next to the vineyard. Workers know that they should enter the vineyard in a good mood and not stress the grape with low-quality music.

"When we made the first wine and tasted it, I didn’t like it. I was ready to discard it. It was important for me to have quality. Now I drink the same wine, which is already bottled, and it’s unspeakably good," says Varouzhan.

Today, Varouzhan and his team produce six types of wine - white, rosé and four types of red. All of them are dry.

The vineyard is nine hectares, but they intend to make it bigger in the near future, since the demand for wine has increased. They cultivate five types of grapes - Areni, Kakheti, Haghtanak, Kangoun and French Syrah. 60% of the wine is exported to the EU - Sweden, France, England, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg - and the U.S.

Varouzhan says there have been many changes in Armenia's winemaking industry in the last few years. He says it’s just at the beginning stage.

Armenian wine attracts the attention of many during international exhibitions. At a wine show in Düsseldorf, where each pavilion was the size of a football field, there were 22 such pavilions. Van Ardi participated. Varouzhan was at first nervous that Armenian wines wouldn’t be noticed by the crowds. His fears were dispelled when he saw the flow of people to the Armenian wine pavilion.

"They say that good winemakers get their best wines in ten years. Thank God for being appreciated this much. I believe Armenian wine has great potential," says Varouzhan.

Diplomas from Düsseldorf, where Van Ardi won gold and silver, are on the wall in the winery. "Many countries would dream of such a starting point for winemaking. We have all the climatic conditions, and there are new players entering the market, " adds the winemaker.

Varouzhan doesn’t criticize when speaking of other winemaking companies. On the contrary, he lists the wines he likes, and then emphasizes that wine doesn’t like “the law of the jungle”. There must be peace and human approach in this sphere to succeed.

Photos: Saro Baghdasaryan

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