#WomenMakingWine 2023 pt 1 ft. Aimee Keushguerian, Pioneering Armenian Wine Producer

Welcome back to my third annual series featuring women in wine who are at the top of their game. This year we have the privilege of hearing from women in various roles – from business operations to winemakers, and even CEOs and Presidents. The accomplishments of women in a male dominated industry is worth celebrating not only on International Women’s Day, but all month and all year for that matter. These amazing women are paving the way for future generations of female leaders and powerhouses in wine. I hope you enjoy learning about their journey and winemaking philosophy and feel as inspired as I do to go after your dreams. Check back here for updates as I continue to roll out these interviews daily on Instagram.

First up, let’s travel by glass to Armenia to meet Aimee Keushguerian, winemaker and founder of Zulal Wines. Aimee established Zulal in 2017 and has been capturing the spirit and terroir of Armenian wine ever since. Fun fact: Zulal means “pure” in Armenian and that’s the perfect descriptor for Aimee’s wines. She works with rare indigenous grapes like Koghbeni from Tavush, Nazeli, Movuz, Tozot, and Karmir Kot from Vayots Dzor and Sireni from Artsakh to name a few. I had the privilege of tasting Areni and Voskehat which are signature Armenian grapes. These are quality wines that are incredibly unique and worth seeking out. There’s an emphasis on sustainable winegrowing at high elevation and the combination of extreme climate and volcanic soil gives Zulal wines their distinct character. Throughout its history Armenia has grown over 400 different varieties, but today only about 30 are grown commercially for wine and brandy. Here’s a quick guide to understanding the key styles of Armenian wine which you can find under the Zulal wine label.

Areni is a thick-skinned grape that grows in tight bunches and produces a medium-bodied red wine with bright acidity. It delivers bright red fruits like bing cherry, plum, pomegranate, and strawberry with undertones of black peppercorn. It’s a perfect balance of fruity and savory. If you’re into Pinot or Gamay, give this one a try. Zulal Areni is grown in the Vayots Dzor region on volcanic and limestone soil. Vines here sit at around 1,750 meters or about 5-6k ft in elevation. This is such an exciting wine to sip and incredibly captivating for $22.

Voskehat is Armenia’s signature white wine grape. It’s dry and ranges between light to medium bodied with acidity that refreshes the palate after every sip. It’s giving delicious apricot and peach blossom flavors with herbs, florals, and citrus. Zulal Voskehat is sustainably grown in the Vayots Dzor region atop volcanic and limestone soil at around 1,400 meters or ~4500 ft in elevation. Aimee ages this wine in stainless steel to maintain fruit purity. I have to callout that this wine comes from vines that are own-rooted and between 50-100 years old! I cannot believe this one retails for $19.

A little bit about the historic Armenian wine region…

Let’s first acknowledge the fact that Armenia is one of the oldest wine producing regions in the world! Armenian wine is made in the Republic of Artsakh which is in the region of South Caucasus – also known as “the cradle of wine.” Traces of ancient winemaking date back some 6,100 years! Some historians have shared that after Noah’s Ark landed on Mount Ararat, he planted Armenia’s first vineyard. How amazing is that? If you want to experience wine in spiritual way, this is a great place to start. To say that war has impacted the wine industry here would be an understatement. Armenian wine culture has faced many setbacks, but Aimee believes that Armenian wine is going through a renaissance…. And I trust her!

Without further ado, hear more from Aimee.

Me: What makes Armenian so special from your POV?

Aimee: “Armenia’s wine industry is currently going through a renaissance. In the last decade, we have seen century old vineyards being revitalized, new brands created, ancient varieties re-discovered, and an explosion of a modern wine culture. There aren’t many winegrowing regions that are having this big of an industry growth, so it’s a very exciting time to be here.”

Me: Out of all the delicious wines you make, is there a favorite release or a favorite food pairing you’d like to share with us?

Aimee: “Zulal was founded to experiment with rare and almost lost indigenous grape varieties. I recently released a limited edition wine crafted from the Armenian grape, Karmir Kot, which was the first single varietal, micro-vinification of this variety. Our genetic diversity of grape varieties is vast, but during the soviet times, due to the planned economic structure, our winemaking was essentially halted. Re-discovering old grape varieties is super exciting, and my main motivator to push the knowledge of our terroir foreword.”

Me: Can you share more about the terroir in which you are working with?

Aimee: “The Armenian terroir can be defined by four differentiating factors. Our ancient tradition of winemaking, indigenous grape varieties, volcanic soil, and high elevation vineyards. All these factors combined, create a terroir that is unlike any other in the world.”

Thank you so much, Aimee! Your story, perspective, and wines are truly worth celebrating. We look forward to supporting your brand and future releases.

If you are interested in tasting Zulal Wines here is the link.

Thanks for sipping with us!

@smashleythegrape | The Social Grapes LLC