- Category: Food & Drink
- Published: 02 August 2014
- Written by John and Helena Baker
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Oldest winery ever discovered sits in the footsteps of Noah
Mount Ararat — where according to the Bible, Noah's Ark came ashore — majestically overlooks Armenia's capital, Yerevan. This peak is an essential element in the nation’s sense of identity, especially since a great majority of Armenians have long lived in a diaspora spread across the globe.
Today, however, Mount Ararat is not even in Armenia. It stands a little over 30 km across the border with Turkey, a country with which Armenia has no diplomatic relations, in the main due to the genocide of 1915.
Armenia is a small and ancient nation (population 3.2 million inhabitants, with another 8 million living abroad), located at the southern end of the Transcaucasian region that bridges Europe and Asia, bordered by Russia, Georgia, Iran, Turkey, Azerbaijan and the Caspian Sea. The region has for ever been a meeting point for a mix of cultures, which is reflected in Armenia's long and often troubled history. Interestingly, it was the first country to adopt Christianity as its official religion.
As is the case with Georgia (usually reckoned to be the seat of viticulture), Armenia's mountains and plains bear evidence of mankind's first winemaking endeavors. Vines are indigenous and excavations have revealed that vines of the genus Vitis vinifera silvestris (ancestor to the today’s wine grapes) have been growing here for over a million years.
The 6,100-year-old winery that was discovered in 2007 in a cave in the village of Areni in the southwestern Vayots Dzor province is the world’s oldest, dated at least a thousand years before the one unearthed in the Jordanian West Bank in 1963.
This winery has a press, fermentation vats, storage jars, while pottery shards, grape seeds and pressed grape remains were also present on the scene, and a leather shoe was found in the same cave the following year.
Areni is also the name of the noble grape variety, whose wines received their first written mention in the 5th century. The Areni is perhaps the most interesting of all the myriad local grapes, giving at best some fresh, delicate almost Burgundian reds in the Yeghegnadzor region southeast of Yerevan.
Despite lying between the Black Sea (an inland sea) and the Caspian Sea (variously classed as the world's largest lake or also a sea), the climate in most Armenian vineyard areas is very dry and decidedly continental, with vast deserts to the south and extensive plains to the north. Vines grow mostly between 500 meters and 1500 meters where diurnal temperature swings can be extreme.
Winters are also harsh enough to warrant protection as the threat of frosts both in spring and autumn is very real. Despite these and many other difficulties the arrival of decent irrigation methods has made viticulture a more practical undertaking in today's Armenia, allowing it to rise in commercial importance.
There are 13,000 hectares under vine though the majority of these supply raw material for the far more illustrious Armenian brandy. Much investment nowadays comes from Armenians abroad and wineries are modernizing slowly from the old Soviet-style wine factories that traditionally still supply the huge but largely unsophisticated Russian market.
Winery of the month: Vinařství Šabata
Vladimír Šabata, not long out of the Lednice wine school, set about making his first wine in his back garden in Břeclav. Later his family moved to a property in Rakvice that had a minute 10 ares of vineyard attached. Here he made wine with friends and in 1997 he went as far as bottling his first solo batch. This only awakened the desire to go professional. Subsequently he found and purchased a small property in the not-too-distant hilltop village of Zaječí where he based his small production. In 2004 he was joined by his eldest son, Václav.
With boom times sweeping Moravia, Šabata decided on a new expanded project, building a modern winery on a virgin site outside the village. By 2009 this allowed for an annual production 30,000 bottles. With youngest son Jan now on board, Šabata and his old colleague and investor Ivan Beneš, founded the company Vinařství Šabata s.r.o. in 2011.
Vinařství Šabata has dedicated itself not just to making better wine but to the growing trend of eno-tourism, running tastings for groups, with lodging also available at the newly-completed 12-room Penzion and Restaurant U vinařství within the complex.
Šabata has always stuck close to nature with all grapes sourced locally, and the company speciality is the red and rosé made from "samotok", the free-run (unpressed) wine made fresh and ready for sale every year on Nov. 11, as with traditional Saint Martin's new wine. Another house speciality is the Sur-Lie cuvée, a special blend which spends a minimum of nine months on its lees.
Wines come from 15 grape varieties and cost between 105 to 155 Kč. See also: Vinarstvisabata.cz
Wines of the Month:
White: Ryzlink vlašský 2013
Producer: Vinařství Vladimír Šabata, Zaječí, Moravia
This is a Welschriesling made from grapes that grew on the Přítluky slopes near Zaječí. The wine has a pale straw appearance with distinct goldeny tinges on the rim. The nose is elegant, floral, very fresh with a good dab of butterscotch well to the fore. The bone-dry palate is very pleasing, green apples delicately flushed out with a predominant mineral character. Refreshing and light - just 11% alcohol. (125 Kč)
Red: Areni Nairian 2008
Producer: Areni, Armenia
This wine has a beautiful deep red aspect, it is dry, made in the famous Armenian wine village of Areni in the Vayots Dzor region. On the nose one can sense tobacco, juniper and forest berries, mingled with mountain herbs. The wine is well-knit in the mouth, with a full texture and highlights of delicate raspberry accompanied by pleasing vegetal and spicy tones. This is a modern-style Areni: clean, transparent and smooth, with good acidity. Matured at least two years in oak barrels from the Caucasus itself. (259 Kč)