Alex Sarafian with is wife, Talar, and two of their children in the vineyard

Vineyard Taps into Artsakh’s Past to Help Its Future

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NEW YORK — Armenia and Artsakh have a long history when it comes to wine; in fact, the oldest winery in the world, dating back more than 6,000 years, was found in Areni, Armenia. However, until the past decade, Armenia did have much success with wine, unlike its brandy, which has gained famed the world over.

Now, however, a new crop of wineries are pushing Armenia and Artsakh to be regional producers of top-notch wines.

The newest entrant in this field is Aran Winery, founded by New Jersey native Alex Sarafian and his wife, Talar Sesetyan Sarafian. Come fall, he is going to release his first batch of red and rosé wines.

Sarafian and his wife had owned Sarafian Vineyard for 14 years in Artsakh, and they sold their grapes to other wineries.

He explained, “While our vineyards produced tons of grape in the ensuing years since the vineyard’s founding, at the time the Armenian wine industry wasn’t well developed and we decided to sell the crop to other wineries or distilleries. It wasn’t until 2018 that we recognized the enormous progress that the Armenian wine industry had made over the prior 5 or so years. During a family trip to Armenia that year, we decided that the time was right to launch our own wine brand: Aran Wines.”

“Both my wife Talar and I are wine lovers,” he said.

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Sarafian Vineyards is now 15 acres of lush Sireni (also known as Khndoghni) vines. The Sireni grape is only found in Artsakh and makes a full-bodied red wine. This will be the first-ever rosé wine with the grape.

Alex and Talar Sarafian

The name of the winery is symbolic. As he explained, according to local legend, the two river valleys (Kur and Arax) in Artsakh were among the first to be settled by Noah’s descendants. A local chieftain named Aran was appointed by Armenian King Vagharsh I in the second-century AD to be the first governor of this province.

“Folk etymology holds that the name Artsakh is derived from ‘Ar’ (Aran) and ‘tsakh’ (woods, garden),” he added. “We decided to name our wine ‘Aran’ in honor of the Armenian heritage of this region.”

The vintage will include a rosé, a red and a reserve red.

“We produced approximately 13,000 bottles in 2018 and intend to double our production in 2019. We are actively working to bring these wines to market in both Armenia and the US and expect availability in Fall 2019,” he added.

IT and Economy

The third-generation Armenian-American is the founder of the Sarafian Group, specializing in software and IT.

He and his wife, Talar, live with their three children, a son, 16, and two daughters, 15 and 13.

He and his wife have been involved in helping Armenia’s economy for many years. In fact, he first went to Armenia in the early 1990s and continued in the subsequent years, as part of and later the co-director of the Armenian Youth Federation summer internship program in Armenia.

“It was during these years that I got the opportunity to experience life in Armenia, along with the hardships experienced by the local population during those transitional years,” he explained.

“Both my wife and I have been actively involved in the Armenian community in the US for years, volunteering in a broad range of Armenian organizations spanning the entire community,” he added.

“We certainly intend to spend more time in Armenia as our business ties increase. One day, we hope our children can get involved in the winery and take the reins from us,” he noted.

The Grand Shushi Hotel

Their Artsakh ventures came about in 2005. “My business background is in IT, but our first investment was to establish a vineyard in the liberated territories, at a time when there was little foreign investment in the region. The vineyard was founded on barren land in the village of Ughtasar (Camelback Mountain) in the Askeran region.”

Sarafian noted that the various sectors, such as wine and tourism, have helped Armenia’s economy. “We are both extremely excited to be able to be part of the revival of Armenia’s 6,200-year-old wine tradition. The wine industry, along with tourism and IT, has really taken off and will play a growing role in Armenia’s economy. Since the Velvet Revolution, there is new optimism in Armenia that the business climate will improve and we’re excited to see how this develops.”

Sarafian expressed his joy that many Armenians have repatriated to Armenia, though he said for the time being, he and his family will continue living in New Jersey.

Investments in Artsakh

But the vineyards were only the start. “Soon after, we embarked on other investments. Along with three other partners, we built the Shushi Grand Hotel in the historic Armenian city of Shushi.”

At the time, Shushi was a shell of its former self, bearing the marks of a brutal war. “The infrastructure at the time was still in shambles, as Shushi had seen little reconstruction back then since being liberated on May 9, 1992, a day that will always be remembered as a great Armenian victory and turning point in the Artsakh liberation struggle,” Sarafian noted.

“We faced enormous challenges in building the hotel, from clearing the rubble of the previous ruins, to assembling teams of experts to complete the construction. The Government of Artsakh was extremely supportive, as the reconstruction of Shushi was considered a national priority at the time.”

Alex and Talar Sarafian

Priority was given to making the structure as organic as possible, and therefore local materials were used, marble from the Hrav region of Artsakh and felsite stone from quarries in Ijevan, Armenia.

And he noted, “We opened on September 2, 2011 on the same day as Artsakh’s Independence Day.”

Sarafian explained that he and his wife go to Armenia and Artsakh three to four times a year and spend increasing amounts of time there.

Sarafian said he was pleased with the “development of the nice scene” with regard to wine culture in Yerevan. “Armenian wine during the Soviet days was not particularly good. It started to gradually change and it is growing and exciting.”

He added, “It is a burgeoning industry. I am really pleased that the market is big enough for everyone.

So far, Sarafian said, the reaction to the wine has been great. “Not a lot of people have been able to try it but those who have really like it,” he said.

“We are likely to expand the vineyard and plant other grape varieties,” he added, while noting specific plans are not in motion yet.

Next is creating a website for Aran wines. We can drink to that.

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