The Napastak stand

GiniFest Is Back: The Armenian Wine and Spirits Festival Finally Takes Place in Person

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BURBANK, Calif. – After rescheduling several times and instead holding virtual events, the team behind GiniFest was finally able to hold the third annual Armenian Wine and Spirits Festival in person on July 25. Tickets were sold out one week before the event. The outdoor patio of Castaway, a restaurant and event center in Burbank, CA, was transformed into a huge tasting center full of exquisite wines and spirits from Armenia and California. Winemakers were paired with stations serving cheese, fruits and snacks, sweets and pastries by various brands. All this delivered with live Armenian romantic songs and showcased artworks makes for a perfect Armenian event with a breathtaking view of Los Angeles.

Anush Gharibyan-O’Connor and Stepan Partamian

This year’s GiniFest is especially meaningful. Anush Gharibyan-O’Connor, the executive director of the festival, finds an empty chair inside the restaurant to rest her feet after a long but successful day and shares with me the stories of the hardship that the winemakers went through due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Artsakh in 2020. She says: “The imports have been pretty much nonexistent, and consumption in Armenia was very low as well. Then, when they were coming finally out of COVID, the war hit. A lot of people who worked in wineries had to go and fight in the frontlines. And we, being here and introducing Armenian wine to non-Armenians, make people buy wine and get excited about wine, [which in turn] gives the opportunity to people [in Armenia] to make more wine and keep their jobs.”

The display of Aran wines

Due to the circulating new Delta variant, most of the winemakers from Armenia could not attend GiniFest. The importing and distributing companies took on their roles with the utmost responsibility. The festival made it possible for three wineries from Artsakh to present whatever product is left after November 9. Apris, Takri and Aran lost everything during the war in Artsakh.

Alexandra Kaprielian, Takri Wines

Takri means roots in the Artsakh dialect. The biggest loss for the Kaprielian family was the loss of their employees of many years, young boys who perished during the war. In some ways, Takri is fortunate to have a factory in Stepanakert. The winery was in Banadzor village in Hadrut province which is now under the control of Azerbaijan. “We have now acquired new lands and we will start cultivating them. But unfortunately, the taste of Takri will not be the same,” Alexandra Kaprielian of Takri Wines observes with sadness.

Emilia Bagdasarian, Apris Wines

Emilia Bagdasarian of Apris Wines was presenting its 2018 vintage, the only wine that was saved. Over 50,000 bottles are estimated to be lost. All the white and rosé wines were bottled with corks in them and not labeled yet. Red wine was in the tanks and barrels. The vineyards of Sireni are the ones that are left in Martuni and Amaras, the area which is controlled by the Russian peacekeepers. Only with their support can the Bagdassarian family go and work there. She exclaims: “It’s very emotional and difficult. We are not going to be able to produce the same wine: Vines need a lot of care and attention. Since we’re not there every day, we’re unable to do this. However, when we are there, we are doing it with the best of our abilities. We may be able to have some sort of collection. We are more focusing on harvest and preservation.”

Apris Wines

The family is in the process of rebuilding the brand in Armenia. They managed to bring over and replant some indigenous vines like Sireni and a few other grapes. For the Bagdasaryan family, Apris was a project of passion more than a business. Keeping people in Artsakh busy and giving them the opportunity to live and work in their motherland was and still is essential to Apris. “We have to keep going. If we don’t, there will be no opportunities,” Emilia adds.

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Ambassador Armen Baibourtian, the Consul General of Armenia in Los Angeles

Apris is one of the favorite Artsakh wines of Ambassador Armen Baibourtian, Consul General of Armenia in Los Angeles. Despite all the losses and struggle these wineries went through, he is hopeful that the skills and the art of winemaking that they developed will be continuous. “They must find other ways and we all must do everything for Armenian wine to have its unique place under the sun,” the consul general states determinedly. Baibourtian finds very significant the fact that not only wines from Armenia are represented in GiniFest but also Armenian winemakers from California, Napa Valley are here.

Lusine Hartunian, founder of Napastak Winery

He is talking about one of the Armenian wineries in Napa, Napastak. Lusine Hartunian and her family expanded the winery’s purpose by turning it into an epicurean boutique, a “gourmet lifestyle brand.” That means that the winery came to GiniFest with an entire spectrum of gastronomic experience: bread soaked in balsamic vinegar, olive oils and mustards paired with a red wine kept the stand occupied the entire evening.

The Napastak Winery stand
The Napastak Winery stand

After the hardships of the pandemic, business started to improve for the Napastak winery over the last couple of months. Its supporters are mainly from the Armenian community, people who drive all the way from San Francisco just to see the winery, notes Lusine, proclaiming: “My goal is to get the Armenian name out there and let the world know who we are, what we are capable of. It makes me proud to have an Armenian brand in Northern California where there are not many Armenians.”

Napastak’s name is much loved also among non-Armenians, who enjoy the winemaker’s hospitality. Together with her husband, Lusine also owns a distillery which produces brandy and vodka. But it’s for “before and after dinner.” “The wine is part of the dinner,” declares Lusine, smiling.

Stepan Partamian, founder of GiniFest, speaking

Stepan Partamian, the founder of GiniFest, shares the festival’s ambitious purpose to involve non-Armenians. He and Anush invite many restauranteurs and wine specialists to taste the Armenian wine at the festival. “We are very self-enclosed as a community. We can introduce our products to all the people in Southern California with its population of 11 million. The Armenian wines are so advanced that it is important to present them to non-Armenians,” quickly adds Stepan, and moves on to greet his special guests.

Topics: GiniFest, Wines

Part of the proceeds from the festival are being donated to support students in Armenia with their tuition costs. The next, fourth annual GiniFest will take place on Sunday, May 22, 2022.

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