The road to success is thorny and tough. However, if one has his closest ones’ support one passes it in a blink quite easily and the victory itself looks brighter and feels sweeter.
The Poghosyan family has been following this path for already 25 years, overcoming many obstacles and hardships on its way; however, the Fortune is always with them as it is built on the friendship between family members, love, and dedication.
Noble and powerful oak growing on top of the hills is not only a green tree but also an embodiment of power, resilience, and kindness.
The ability to love and create together with it is a real human achievement. It's reasonable to take advantage of the gifts of mother nature; taking care and appreciating every inch of the land is everyone's sacred duty.
All the wine industry is based on the gifts of nature – from grapes to the oak – and we need to preserve and protect them.
Armenia-Keg family-run winery showcases an example of a nature lover, who takes care and cherishes it. They use the benefits of nature without forgetting that only clear thoughts and human approaches will preserve this fragile balance between homo sapiens and nature.
Cooperage is an inseparable part of winemaking across the globe. If treated and combined correctly, it refines the wine, making it rounder and more mature, amazingly integrating the aromas of wine and wood.
For over 3 decades, a successful doctor, the head of the family, Armenak Poghosyan, has been engaged in cooperage. First, it was just a hobby which then turned to a family business with its traditions, principles, and, of course, secrets.
Affection for nature and love for wood played a decisive role in choosing this business as a family enterprise. The younger generation of the family was raised with ideas of humanism and harmony with nature. The two daughters are also engaged in wine: as graduates of EVN Academy, they help the family business. They work in local wineries as young enologists.
The whole family philosophy is based on co-creation with nature and deep respect towards it during peaceful co-existence.
Only in sync with nature can one achieve success and to this end, one should live in nature and learn to listen to it, be with it with his body and soul.
Oak embodies nobleness, resilience, power, and loyalty. As a symbol of inspiration, it amazingly goes in tandem with wine and the right approach makes this tandem unique.
A rough diamond in the form of young wine is polished by oak to become a noble brilliant and show its splendor off to the world. The higher quality of polishing – the brighter it shines.
The family-run cooperage is located in an Armenian village of the same name in the Tavush region. The region itself has a wonderfully favorable terroir for the Caucasian oak. Fertile loamy soils full of humus and carbonates, the temperature regime, and relative humidity of the air create comfortable conditions for oak growth. At the same time, the Caucasian oak is relatively resistant to frost and drought which make it possible to exist in the region.
The first barrel of 3l was made in 1991. Since then, the cooperage has been evolving both in terms of quality and quantity.
The cooperage production is one of the tedious crafts comparable to jewelry. Diligence and attention to detail allow achieving the needed results.
The uniqueness of the oak barrel production is in that a craftsman works with a real, living organism. The oak tree continues living after being sawed down. It fully contacts the external world as a unique sensitive retina.
So, aging wine which is also a living organism in a dead substance is like a crime, which is why these two sensory micro-organisms interacting with each other in needed conditions yield excellent results.
Undoubtedly, top-quality stock is the key to success. In the cooperage, there is a clear division of stock – coarse-, medium- and fine- fiber timber (the finer the fibers – the better the barrel). The phenomenon of the craft is that the fibration is not related to the oak type but the way it grows in a specific forest. Wherever the trees are dense they stretch up, the trunks are finer and the wood is finer, too. In rare forests do the oak trees grow in breadth. These 'fat guys' are characterized by friability. At the same time, obviously, the forest density in large areas especially in mountainous landscapes cannot be homogenous.
Armenia- Keg cooperage takes stock from the old reserves. The youngest wood is 40 years old, and it comes from Tavush. It is the owner's principled approach – all the production items should be of local origin.
The tedious process starts from drying and weathering the oak desks in the open-air yet undercover for at least 4 years. Afterward, the craftsman begins the jewelry carving using the tangential and radial methods not to harm the longitudinal fibers of the timber.
Classical cooperage production is based on the right and high-quality calcining which takes around an hour. The level of calcination varies depending on the fire intensity and the temperature (from 200º in case of fine calcination up to 300º in case of coarse calcination). Only the surface of the wood is lightly calcinated, and in case of strong calcination, the fire penetrates 3-4mm deep into the wood.
Owing to his hard work over years, the Armenia-Keg owner worked out his technology of wood processing through a trial-and-error process to remove a large number of active tannins. The key component of the family technology is the spring water. The process of boiling wood in water continues until the timbers become maximum flexible. In the case of heat treatment, the craftsman tastes the water to define the correct consistency of the broth.
In this case, the same process of wood caramelization takes place without fire: the Fortune smiled on the spring water.
Springwater is also applied for the treatment of the interior of the barrel, is cleaning. The procedure is repeated until the water is crystal clear.
After thermal treatment, the wood becomes flexible which helps the staves bend under a certain angle to get an oval form. The process requires maximum nimbleness as each stave should match the neighboring in a mosaic principle; at the same time, air-tightness is also of key importance. For full compatibility, the barrel surface is polished and 4 iron hoops are used as a fastening system.
The walls of 20l barrels are up to 23mm thick. During aging, wine penetrates and absorbs into the walls by about 10mm. The diameter of the working hole of the barrel tap is 5 mm.
The set also has an oak cork functioning by the Morse principle, a hand-carved faucet, and a barrel stand.
The percentage of waste in relation to the material used is different, depending on the volume of the barrel itself. For smaller barrels, the waste reaches up to 50% of the overall mass of the tree, and in case the volume is increased the waste proportionally grows, too, reaching up to 70% of the dry mass.
On average, 1 barrel is produced within a week in case all the staves are prepared beforehand.
The overall volume of production over 2019 made 150 barrels of various capacities. On the whole, the craftsman makes barrels of 1,5, 2, 3, 5, 7, 10, 15, 20, and 22l.
In fact, the capacity of the barrel is important in the aging of wine. In large barrels, the direct contact with the wine is decreased, while in smaller barrels, the reverse effect is observed.
In 2021, the cooperage is planning to produce new barrels with a volume of 300-350l for aging their own wine.
Just like cooperage in its time, winemaking also turned into a family hobby. However, after two young and ambitious enologists, the plans became more global.
In this regard, the cooperage purchased 3 ideally preserved karases (clay amphorae) from the village of Aghdzkh with volumes of 250, 450 and 850l.
The uniqueness of the karas, as well as the oak barrel, is in creating a natural internal microclimate by the membrane principle ensuring the inner self-organisation, completeness, barrier structure and selective penetrability which creates exclusive conditions for the development of wine.
The first steps in winemaking were made in 2013. The winery started working with Saperavi, Karmrahyut and Cabernet- Sauvignon, and since 2013, they have been experimenting with international varieties – Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Aligote.
The company focuses on varietal and exclusively natural wines, purchasing grapes from locals in Tavush.
The fermentation is fully natural, taking place in karases with the involvement of wild yeasts. Then the wine is extracted and poured into oak barrels for ageing. The duration of ageing of reserve wines makes at least 2 years.
2020 was a record-breaking year for the household with 1500l wines, and around 3t grapes were processed.
For experimental purposes, wine is constantly aged in barrels of various volumes and various grape varieties are used. After the first ageing phase, the oak barrels are used for fruit distillates, local mulberry vodka being the most popular one.
Each year, Armenia-Keg becomes more and more popular on the local market. Dedication for the work and unique treatment to each barrel makes its production popular not only in the winemaking industry but also beyond its borders.
This is a fine idea and opportunity to present both to a professional winemaker and a wine enthusiast a small oak barrel for aging his own wine which will undoubtedly be useful for the local production on the whole and for the small yet very warm family cooperage Armenia-Keg in particular.