The Culture of Winemaking in Armenia from Ancient Times

On the eve of every holiday you wonder: how among the current variety of wines can you find that one – tasty and beneficial? It’s a difficult question, because for a holiday you want something new, unusual. But how to choose what you want, looking at the labels, without trying, without inhaling the aroma?

Once before a holiday, I went to the wine department and was confused – there were a lot of Armenian wines, known and new names. But I was struck by something else: wine with the same name, namely “Areni”, was sold at prices differing by tens of times. I couldn’t help but speak out loud.

One of the buyers said that he had seen “Areni” even more expensive. I remembered an episode from the past. We have a relative who is a “wine expert” by profession, and in 1975 he worked as a reviser: he checked the wine and brandy product for compliance with the recipe. He then made us a “royal gift”: brought a five-liter barrel of red wine.

“Boil half of the wine, the alcohol will evaporate – and children can drink it: very beneficial for health,” he told my mom. And he added: “This is not wine, but a base, you could say, “miro for wine”, such never goes on sale, a lot will be added to it before it is poured into bottles.”

We drank with pleasure both what was cooked and natural. Honestly, after that wine I refused to drink wine for twenty years – I could not forget the taste and smell of “miro for wine”. Now I am sure that in those centuries, when they did not know about chemistry – sugar and flavor additives, people drank exactly such wine.

If natural wine is used as a base, then it is clear why the price can be tens of times higher. The Greek historian Xenophon, at the end of the 5th century BC, as the commander of mercenary troops, passed through Armenia.

They stopped in villages, in each house there was enough food, wine, and beer, which could be sucked from carafes using straws. “The unmixed wine was very strong, but for those accustomed, it was a very pleasant drink”.

(Xenophon “Anabasis”) On the outskirts of Yerevan, on the hill of Karmir-Blur in the ruins of Teishebaini, an ancient city-fortress founded in the 7th century BC by the Urartu King Rusa II, archaeologists discovered a wine storage and 500 carafes with a capacity from 250 to 1250 liters each.

But there are more ancient evidences of wine production in the territory of modern Armenia. A little information about the “Areni” wine: it is made from Areni grapes, cultivated in the Vayots Dzor region, where the village of Areni is located.

The climate here is like in the Ararat Valley, from which the village is separated by mountains: a hot summer is a necessary condition for the ripening of grapes. The quality of the wine depends on the amount of sugar in the grapes, and therefore at the points of acceptance of this product, the percentage of sugar content is measured first of all.

Near the village of Areni there is a cave, in it interesting finds were discovered: an ancient shoe, ceramics and “…flat ‘vats’, in the center of which a vessel is embedded in such a way that its edges form a kind of funnel, convenient for draining liquid.

In these vats they crushed grapes – this is evidenced by the grape seeds found at their bottom and dry pressings. It is quite likely that the cave owners were already engaged in wine production here in the Copper-Stone Age” (source –

Radiocarbon analysis of grape residues points to 3900-3700 BC. Archaeologists are still cautious in their statements and are waiting for more detailed analyses of fragments of vessels and vats, chemists have yet to determine the composition of the sediment preserved on the inside of the shards: was it wild grapes, or already cultivated.

These artifacts are well-preserved thanks to the microclimate of the cave. I know about wine production first hand. My grandfather had a house in Etchmiadzin (Ararat Valley), 20 km from Yerevan. Under the house was a two-meter high basement, in it a pool for wine production. In front of the house, there was a plot of at least eight hundred square meters, where white and red grapes grew. Many in Etchmiadzin make their own wine.

Once in my childhood, I had to tread grapes with my feet, like the hero Celentano in the movie “Taming the Shrew”. But after this, they don’t press the juice immediately, but leave it to ferment with the pressings (with the skin, stalks, and seeds). After about a week, they press the juice and pour it into glass bottles, but only two-thirds of the volume – the juice is still fermenting.

When sediment settles and the juice becomes clear, they carefully pour it into a clean vessel, to the top, but in such a way that the sediment remains in the previous vessel. Our ancestors used clay carafes and transferred the wine from one carafe to another using reed straws. Nowadays they transfer it using thin hoses.

How long these processes last depends on the temperature and humidity of the air in the room where this happens, the level of sugar in the grapes, and the desired strength of the wine. The wine needs to stand for a while – to mature before it is bottled. And it still needs to stand in the bottles.

The pressings are used to make grape vodka. In home conditions, an intermediate drink is prepared – “machar”. When the juice begins to ferment – with bubbles, connoisseurs already know by the smell, this is machar, it is poured into bottles.

The main thing is to move the machar in time. If left with the main wine mass even a day longer, it’s no longer machar. Machar should be fizzy – without gas it’s sweet wine. It can be stored in a cool place for several months.

Our ancestors drank “machar”, so as not to offend the new harvest, but drank in moderate amounts, so as not to anger the gods and so that this harvest would be a joy. The lightness and harmlessness of machar are deceptive.

Machar is easy to drink, like juice, but it hits the head. In no case should you chase “machar” or young wine with grapes – it gets you drunk instantly. How to choose a good wine? I’m conservative on this issue – I choose what I once liked and am well familiar with.

I have repeatedly confirmed from my own experience that two glasses of good wine are beneficial for health. Provided that you did not drink anything else. Good wine normalizes blood pressure and will not cause a headache, be it red or white.

Author: Karin Andreas

Translated by Vigen Avetisyan

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