Interview with Varuzhan Mouradian of Van Ardi Winery
For episode 5 of Armenia by the glass podcast, I interviewed Varuzhan Mouradian of Van Ardi Winery.
Varuzhan was born in Armenia but moved to California, where he worked as a CPA (Certified Public Accountant). He liked his job, but he didn't intend to spend the rest of his life in an office environment. "I wanted something creative", he said, "something productive, close to nature and wine was my passion." The question arose as to where he should pursue his wine project - California or back in the homeland, Armenia. "I was thinking of doing something in California", he said, "however, my wife was also thinking on the same lines as me - we wanted to raise our children in Armenia". Creating a legacy for future generations was also essential for his project. He wanted to give his children the freedom to study anywhere in the world but have an "anchor" in the homeland, that being a wine business for them to inherit if they so wished. Armenia was chosen as the location, and after several years of planning, Varuzhan and his family moved to Armenia in 2012 to take on their exciting new project.
The planning process started in 2005 and involved Varuzhan travelling backwards and forwards between California and Armenia. He undertook a significant amount of research into the history of winemaking in Armenia, the soils and the various regions. When it eventually came to purchasing land, Varuzhan had three areas on his radar: Aragatsotn, Tavush and Vayots Dzor. The location of the vineyards was crucial for him, "Deciding on the place of the vineyard is an important step, not only for your life but also for the next generation as they will be stuck with that place".
As for finding out about the local grape varieties, Varuzhan had little information to go by, "In the West, you can go onto the internet and research about different grape varieties, where to plant them, the types of soils which are good for them, but in Armenia, at the time when I was doing my research, there was minimal information. So I had to go from village to village to ask people about the varieties they used, how they planted them, and their experience of growing them". Varuzhan selected five indigenous grapes - Areni, Kangun, Kakhet, Haghtanak and Voskehat. He also planted Syrah as he had a passion for it.
The Van Ardi vineyards are located in the foothills of Mount Aragats. When Varuzhan purchased land in 2008, it was extremely stony and required much work. He describes the process as "starting from scratch". He said, "This area, during the Soviet times, was not on the agricultural maps, as it was not useful for agricultural use." In 2008, they planted new vines on their own rootstock as the area is phylloxera-free.
In 2012, Varuzhan built a small winery and bottled his first vintage a year later. He produced 18,000 bottles a year, and it soon became apparent that this was not enough. He built a new winery and bought onboard an architectural firm based in San Francisco with expertise in designing wineries. This winery was on a hillside overlooking the vineyards and the iconic Mount Ararat. He then went on to build his main winery with a bell tower. The bell tower has an actual functioning bell in it and a sound system. "Bell and music is part of our vineyards. This is a kind of biodynamic approach, but only an approach. The vibration hits the grapes and makes some molecular changes in the structure, so I believe this is making some changes and, besides that, I believe that it is proven that the note "doh" is very good for plants, in general".
Van Ardi produces nine different wines, five reds, three whites and a rosé. The range, Tori Tori, is the name of a long-forgotten Armenian variety from the area of Van, an echo of the past in Armenia's rich winemaking's future. "Tor Tori is easy to drink, with the structure of European type of wines, less oak and more fruitiness."
Varuzhan is keen for people to discover Armenian wines. The Van Ardi winery is conveniently a half-hour drive from Yerevan's capital. A trip to this winery should be on the list of things to do when visiting Armenia for wine lovers.
For more information, click this link for the Van Ardi website.