The Scottish Borders are famous for Sir Walter Scott’s old home Abbotsford House, Jedburgh snails and Hawick Balls boiled sweets, as well as being the birthplace of the “voice of rugby” Bill Maclaren. Somehow, it has also become the hub of Armenian wine appreciation and the UK’s centre of south Caucasus viniculture.
“I knew Armenia made wine,” says Glasgow-born Ken Miller of Coldstream’s Borders Wines which launched in 2018. “After all Armenian brandy was a favourite of Winston Churchill, and Georgia’s wine making history is on the radar of most wine lovers.”
He did not, however, have any great expectations about its quality. “The Soviets wrecked so many vineyard areas across Eastern Europe, digging up quality vines and planting for mass production; even the move to making brandy was a Stalin decree. So the received knowledge was Georgia makes wine and Armenia makes brandy. But Armenia now makes quality wines from diverse grape varieties.”
History is certainly on Armenia’s side: the oldest evidence of wine making on earth are in this small, landlocked country no bigger than Scotland, with Georgia to the north, Iran to the south, Turkey west and Azerbaijan to the east. Viniculture here dates back some 8,000 years, and in the Areni cave in the Vayots d’Or region, the oldest wine-making facility known to man was unearthed, dating to 4100BC.
Winemakers today are once again making use of karases (900 litre amphora), which are buried in the earth for months as the wine matures.
“Many vineyards are located at over 1000m,” says Miller. “That’s nearly as high as Ben Nevis. Elevation is a key element for winemaking in southern latitudes, giving a warm growing season, and a proper rest for the vines in winter.”
Miller offers a mixed Armenian starter case for £85.49. The wines include Armavir vineyard’s A Tale of Two Mountains red and white and Hin Areni from the southern Vayots Dzor region.
Selkirk-based Armenian Wines UK also stocks Koor, Keush and Katavo. Founder Charles Masraff, whose father was Armenian, ran a restaurant and catering business in Yerevan, says: “Currently, we import 20 different wines including from the Koor vineyards below the twin peaks of Mount Ararat, the legendary final resting place for Noah and his ark. Few realise he didn’t just bring animals, he also brought the seeds of winemaking.”
“In Scotland we have a habit of supporting the underdog,” says Miller. “Armenian history is full of incredible heights and great tragedy, a small nation often at the mercy of powerful neighbours. But their culture, language, religion, and their wines have endured.”