Interview with Hagop Kazanjian of Galar Vines
For episode 3 of Armenia by the glass podcast, I interviewed Hagop Kazanjian of Galar Vines.
Hagop is a Syrian-Armenian who moved to Armenia in 2006. He graduated from Yerevan State University with a degree in Oriental Studies, but he pursued a career in IT and web designing. His wine journey began in 2019 when he started a three-month intensive winemaking course. Soon afterwards, he launched his first wine, Galar, made of Haghtanak grape.
Here is an abridged version of the podcast interview. You can listen to the full interview by following this link.
Elaine: Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
Hagop: I was born and raised in Aleppo, Syria, to an Armenian family. In 2006, I moved to Armenia, intending to live there. At first, I attended the Architectural and Construction University to follow in my father's footsteps as a civil engineer, but I didn't find it interesting. So I changed course and university and went on to study Oriental Studies, specifically Turkish Studies, at Yerevan State University. At the same time, due to financial reasons, I got a job in IT. It was during the time when the IT industry was booming in Armenia, and I soon started my first company. I was so heavily involved in the IT industry that it became my profession after graduating from university. I soon started my second company, a web development company, which I still own and run today.
Elaine: When did your wine journey begin?
Hagop: In 2019, there was a programme for the integration and empowerment of local women and Syrian Armenians who had moved to Armenia. This programme was a three-month crash course in winemaking and wine business. There were twenty participants, and following completion of the course, six of the best participants were selected to go onto the next stage of the programme, known as the Incubation Project. I was one of the six selected. Each of us had to produce a wine using the grape variety allocated to us. We were involved with each step of the winemaking process, from harvesting and crushing the grapes to deciding on the flavours and aromas.
Elaine: Have you always been interested in wine?
Hagop: I was really keen as a consumer, but I didn't realise the amount of science, hard work, and dedication involved in winemaking. When you are drinking wine, you enjoy it, you enjoy the aromas and flavours, but if you've never visited a wine factory, you cannot imagine the amount of hard work and science involved in every bottle. This complexity made me love wine even more.
Elaine: When did you decide you wanted to start making wine?
Hagop: Before starting the course, participants were taken on visits to various wineries. We went to four different wineries: a boutique winery, an educational one known at the Agrarian University of Armenia, where our wines, Galar wines, are made. The remaining were wineries produced for mass markets. These visits allowed us to see different aspects of winemaking, and it made me realise the vast amount of planning, accounting, and risk calculations involved in the process. But, it was on a trip coming back from the Voskehat Scientific Centre for Viticulture and Oenology in Voskehat, near Echmiadzin, when I decided that I would enter the winemaking world. We passed through an area where my family owned some land in Etchzmian. It was one of my dreams to put the land into agricultural production. When I was 18 years old, I wanted to grow corn there and sell it in Armenia. So, when we passed this land on the way back from Voskehat, it was kind of a sign for me that winemaking was something I wanted to pursue. By the end of the course, I knew that I definitely wanted to enter the winemaking business and decided that I would invest my own money if I did not manage to get selected for the Incubation Programme.
Elaine: How did you make your first wine, Galar, without a vineyard?
Hagop: Each participant of the Incubation Project had to make a wine with a grape allocated to them. We actually had to draw [out of a hat] for the wine grape we were going to be using to make our wine. I was really hoping I would select the Khatanak grape as this is one of my favourite grapes. However, I drew Voskehat. Luckily, I knew that the person who drew Khatanak wanted Voskehat and we agreed to switch. I think Khatanak is one of those grape varieties which hasn't been explored as it is mainly used in blends, but I think it has a lot of potential.
Many of the wine producers in Armenia who source grapes for their wines work closely with their grape suppliers. They usually work with the suppliers throughout the seasons to get the quality of grape they need for their wines. Our winemaking process for Galar also involves sourcing our grapes, and we currently source them from the vineyards of the Agrarian University.
Elaine: Did you have an idea of how you wanted it to taste?
Hagop: During the Incubation Project, we had, aside from deciding on the style, very little room for decisions, but since winemaking is an ongoing process, decisions were made based on the wine itself. Also, the grape itself tells you what decisions to make. With our wine, when fermentation ended, we tried it and decided together with our winemaker that the wine had to go in the Artsakh oak barrel.
Elaine: Could you describe the wine what it tastes like?
Hagop: The 2019 vintage has been in the Artsakh oak barrel for seven months. It has a hint of smoky aromas and flavours from the barrel. It has the signature flavours of dark cherry and sour cherry, dried fruits, and hints of pomegranate peel on the finish.
Elaine: The label is really stunning; could you describe it?
Hagop: The logo is a curve designed and drawn by hand by Edik Boghosian. Edik is an artist, poet, and translator in Armenia.
The word "Kalarvogh" in Western Armenian means curvy roads, and it represents the curvy roads my wife and I took throughout our lives. My wife, Gohar, was born in Armenia, immigrated to the U. S. when she was nine years old, and later returned to Armenia. I was born in Syria, came to Armenia in 2006, and we met here in Armenia. We also have very different professional lives, so if you put all these things together, there was very little chance for us to meet. So, the curve represents our journeys and bringing us together and producing Galar. The curves also represent the swirling of wine in a glass, or when you pour the wine into the glass, it sometimes makes a swirl. The thickness of the curves represents the thickness of the vines, and this [represents] heritage, tradition, and 6000 years of winemaking and now the modern winemaking of Galar.
Elaine: Where is the 2019 vintage being sold at the moment?
Hagop: It is currently sold in specialised wine shops in Armenia, such as Invino in Yerevan. It is available in some restaurants in Yerevan and Dilijan. Soon we will be expanding with the new vintage, and with more quantity, we will be able to work with more venues. We are also hoping to export to the US, Europe, and the UK.
Elaine: You are now selling your 2019 wine, and you've just bottled 2020 - what's the next step?
Hagop: The next step is to develop our vineyard located in the Etchmizin, in the Armavir region. Hopefully, in a couple of years, we can start making our wine from our own grapes. I'm also currently studying for the full 18 months certificate with EVN wine Academy. I realised that the three-month crash course was just an introduction, and if I wanted to enter the wine business, I would need to learn more. So, I decided to enrol, and I got accepted last November. We've just finished the first semester, and I am currently doing an internship at Trinity Canon Vineyards. It's a really cool programme.