Nov 7 2023
When filmmaker Jason Wise sought to make a new film in his SOMM documentary series, he traveled throughout Europe and South America, visiting different wine regions and learning about the unique wines they produce. On a trip to Armenia, he met winemaker Vahe Keushguerian and quickly decided to scrap the project he was working on — instead dedicating a film to Keushguerian's pursuit of bringing Armenian wines into the contemporary wine scene and a larger mission to inspire the world to view Aremnia differently.
During an exclusive interview with Food Republic, Wise shared that he first learned about Armenia in grade school when he was studying ancient peoples. The memory of his teacher describing the Armenian genocide — but not elaborating on any other aspect of Armenian history or culture — stayed with him. Wise has a bigger vision for the country than one being known for a history of tragic violence. "If Armenia can be known for the wines that are being produced there … it could make people look at Armenia as a tourist destination, a place for food, a gastronomic, cultural depository of history," he told us. Keushguerian shares Wise's belief that bringing attention to the quality of Armenian grapes and the singular flavor of Armenian wine will transform the way people think about the country.
Historically, countries that produce quality food and wine tend to be better known for their gastronomy rather than their political history. That's the goal Jason Wise and Vahe Keushguerian share for using Armenian wine to bring renewed interest, tourism, and global positivity into the region. Keushguerian observed the transformation of Napa Valley in California after Mondavi constructed a now-famous winery and compared it to the transformation of Las Vegas.
"If I take [Napa and Vegas] as, let's say, an indication of how wine can be a catalyst for the changes that follow, Armenia is on the right track," he reflected. "Two hotels are being built, and my winery will be built next year. All of a sudden, there will be people going to the wine country … There is a cultural shift."
Wise envisions that shift as similar to the blossoming interest in Argentina after the success of Malbec. "Argentina has had as much political upheaval and tragedy as any other country, but you think of food and wine when you think of Argentina. Why is that? Argentina has wine and food, and they do it well," he said.
There is great beauty in transforming the narrative around a country from one embroiled in politics into one celebrating its cultural achievements and the culinary elements of its soil. According to Keushguerian, "Now, [Armenians] have their own places, their own cultures of wine … only positives will come out of it, because wine brings out the best in us."
For more about Armenian wine, check your local listings for a screening of "SOMM: Cups of Salvation."