Season 2 of Armenia by the glass podcast
We kick off Season 2 of Armenia by the glass podcast with Karen Tsharakyan, owner and founder of Stork Wines.
Karen was my guest in June 2021 for episode 2, when he spoke about how his wine journey, from purchasing his first vineyard in the village of Taperakan in Ararat Province, managing a challenging harvest in 2020, to bottling his vintage that year. In episode 6, Karen comes back to tell us how far he has come on this journey.
Elaine: When we spoke back in June 2021, you were about to bottle your 2020 vintage. How did that go?
Karen: We bottled in July 2021, which was a bit late as we sourced all the components from France, like bottles and corks. Unfortunately, they took a while to arrive, which led to a slight delay with bottling. We were hoping to start selling at the height of the season, but we missed a bit of it. The good news is that we are now catching up.
Elaine: Did you age the wine in oak or put it into stainless steel?
Karen : We didn't put it in oak as this requires some preparation. After harvest which took place in late October, the wine matured in stainless steel for about six to seven months.
Elaine: Could you describe the wine notes for the 2020 vintage?
Karen: Citrusy with apple blossom notes. Dry and easy to drink. It's pleasant on its own and with light hors d'oeuvres, cheese and seafood.
Elaine: When was the wine ready for the market?
Karen: It was ready July 2021 and that's when we started negotiating with retailers and wine outlets. I describe our strategy as a "seeding" strategy. This goes back to my days working in the tobacco industry. We identified key channels we wanted to first introduce our product to, and as it gains traction we’ll expand the distribution. We are now in over 20 outlets in Armenia, and these include selective channels like specialised wine stores and premium restaurants. InVino, an iconic wine bar on Saryan Street, was the first outlet to take stock of Stork, and we are grateful to them for that. You can also find Stork in restaurants like Barev Arev, which opened a couple of months ago. It is a really exciting place, with contemporary Armenian cuisine. We hope to be in similar places, but we are staying out of the grocery chains.
Elaine: Do you have plans to sell outside of Armenia?
Karen : Yes, absolutely. In early August, we managed to export some stock into the UK. It wasn’t without its challenges because it was post-Brexit. Despite the difficult conditions, it took only six weeks to ship from Armenia to the UK. So, the lead times should reduce when the dust settles, and we'll have supplies in more regularly.
Currently, Stork is sold by Charles Masraff of Wines of Armenia, who is based in Scotland. He presented Stork at an event at the House of Lords, with the British Ambassador to Armenia and various British MPs present. I am pleased to say our wine was very well received. It is always great to have these events as we don't want Stork to be limited to Armenian consumers in the UK. We believe that Stork has a broader appeal.
We're also looking into exporting to Russia because Armenia is part of the Eurasian Economic Union. The key is finding the right partners and introducing them into the main markets like Moscow and, perhaps, St. Petersburg.
We've also been encouraged recently to take part in an initiative involving the Vine and Wine Foundation. With the support of the Armenian government, they set up a hub in Berlin, where small producers, like ourselves, can take part and send some of their stock in a mixed container to be stored and sold from there. It gives producers access to the EU market. So, we're looking into that, and hopefully, this year, we'll do something about that.
Elaine: It's incredible what you've done in quite a short space of time. When I spoke to you back in June, you talked about the various challenges, such as the 2020 harvest, when you faced COVID and the war. So, it's quite incredible what you've managed despite those challenges. Now that I mentioned the harvest, how was it in 2021?
Karen: It wasn't without its challenges but less so than in 2020. The grape yields were much lower in 2021 compared to 2020. But this was intentional as we decided to reduce the yield to improve the quality of the wine. We are waiting to see how the final product will turn out. So far, with the tastings I've been doing with the team at WineWorks, the wine is coming along.
Elaine: When we spoke last time, you hoped to build your winery. How are those plans going?
Karen: They've succeeded! It took us a lot longer than we thought because it involved ordering large pieces of equipment, like fermentation tanks from Bulgaria. It took several months for them to arrive, but they finally did in November 2021, and now they are in place. We also bought other essential pieces of machinery such as pumps, crusher and destemmer and we now have all the equipment in the winery. We now need a few accessories but will have the winery up and running for our 2022 harvest.
Elaine: When we spoke back in June, you had all these plans to produce your first vintage, build your winery etc. You've done that. So what's next?
Karen: I guess it's getting those exports projects up and running, expanding the distribution in Armenia and expanding the wine range. Then, maybe, we'll start to expand the vineyards, but that's more of a long term project. We are hoping to attract external investors for some of these initiatives.
Elaine: Do you think there have been developments in the wine world in Armenia since we last spoke? I have seen quite a few new entrants to the market in the last few months, and it seems like a thriving wine scene?
Karen: Several new producers have entered the market in that time. So, it's becoming more and more interesting. I started noticing trends in some grocery chains. I can tell that the amount of shelf space dedicated to wine is growing at the expense of the spirits and the vodkas, which traditionally dominated the category. I see this as a positive trend in line with the growth in the sort of consumption and popularity of wine amongst Armenian consumers. So watch this space! I think this growth will continue.
Also, a couple of nice new restaurants and wine places have opened up, and they help drive people's interest in wine. As I mentioned earlier, there is also the hub in Berlin which is important. I think it will have a long-term, positive impact that needs to be managed correctly. Knowing the people involved and my colleagues from the industry, we tend to pull together and help each other out. So, hopefully, this will be good for everyone.
Elaine: Thank you, Karen, so much for taking the time to speak with me.
Karen: Thank you for having me.
For more information about Stork Wines go to their website.