Viticulture and border: Armenia-Turkey ties no threat to local winemaking

Armenian winemaking is under no threat because of the prospect of the opening of the Armenian-Turkish border, according to the head of a local union of winemakers.

Avag Harutyunyan says that Turkey is the world’s fourth largest vine-growing country, while Iran is the sixth. However, this branch is developing more intensively in Iran.

“Today, Turkey exports one kilogram of grapes to the world market at a price of 60-70 cents, Iran – at 25-30 cents. That is, it has always been more lucrative to deal with Iran than Turkey. Even if we have ideal relations with Turkey, then nothing will change, because we do not buy grapes even from Iran,” explains the chairman of the Winemakers’ Union.

According to him, it is lucrative to import into Armenia “Argentinean wine or one kilogram of grapes at a price of 30 cents”, which means that Turkey’s economy is not globally competitive in terms of winemaking and vine-growing.

The next main reason is that Armenia’s legislature on grapes and wine has a great resisting capacity. The legislation on the wine market is based on the country of origin – the grapes of the country of origin cannot be mixed with other grapes.

“According to the World Trade Organization, whatever laws you apply in your domestic market, the same laws should be applied to imports. However, there are exceptions on grapes and wine. That is, if it is Armenian wine, it means that you have no right to use another country’s grapes or wine. And both circumstances favor us,” Harutyunyan tells ArmeniaNow.

“One should weight and compare two things – either we develop neighborly relations with Turkey developing vine-growing in Western Armenia, once and again forgetting that it was part of Armenia and get profits, or we struggle,” says Harutyunyan.

Turkey today produces and exports ten times as much wine as Armenia does. Turkey has three large winemaking centers – from Istanbul to Izmir on the western coast to Kilikia and the Van province. The western coast with Greek and French investments is developed. However, Turks have great expectations also from the wine-making centers in Van and Kilikia.

Turkey today has as many as 1,200 “aboriginal” grape varieties, of which 250 have pure Armenian names. Harutyunyan says that they have not yet managed to Turkinize the Armenian grape sorts.

“Armenian vineyards have been left as they were in 1915. The Kurds did not touch them. Simply the vineyards ran wild. And when grapes run wild, it is recoverable, it is enough to cultivate vineyards for three or four years and it will return to its previous form,” he says.

If the border with Turkey is opened, it is possible to restore the Armenian wild grape sorts. However, it will be exported to the market as a Turkish brand.

“You have two options – to war and conquer these lands and create Armenian wine or jointly with Turks create Caucasian, Anatolian brands,” Harutyunyan tells ArmeniaNow.

Ethnographer Suren Hobosyan is convinced that Armenia is trying in every way to enter the European market, but Turkey stands in its way.

“And we should travel this path. Perhaps we will have losses, but we cannot reject this path, otherwise we will find ourselves in a deadlock. Iran is a closed country for us in this sphere, and our cooperation is not with Turkey, but with the world. I see nothing bad in it,” he says.

Ninety percent of grapes in Armenia is used for brandy production, ten percent for winemaking. Some 8 million bottles of wine go for export annually, of which 70 percent to former Soviet countries and 30 percent to the United States and Europe. Ninety-four percent of brandy is exported to former Soviet countries, of which 70 percent to Russia, the rest goes to the United States and Europe.

Ethnographer Hobosyan says that while Armenia is the homeland of grapes, almost none of 500 wild Armenian sorts of grapes have survived now.

“History shows that these sorts first became victim to Islam, then to Czarist Russia, then to the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, the world’s best sorts are descendants of Armenian grapes,” says Harutyunyan.

According to him, a revolution in wine taste takes place on the world market once every 30 or 40 years.

“The world has grown tired of European wines. Once it was searching for and found grapes of exotic countries – Chile, New Zealand, South Africa. Now the world is looking for new taste and quality and appears to be centering on the homeland of grapes. We should try to present ourselves to the world with exotic “aboriginal” grapes and with wines made from these grapes,” says the head of the Armenian Winemaker’s Union.