Varuzhan Mouradian

Varuzhan Mouradian hopes he can bring Western winemaking traditions to Armenia. Mouradian, a wine enthusiast, left his job as an accountant in Glendale to move to Armenia nearly three years ago. (Courtesy of Varuzhan Mouradian / July 24, 2014)

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Not far from Varuzhan Mouradian’s Armenian vineyard, volcanic stones from thousands of years ago dot the landscape of an ancient winery.

Armenia is home to one of the oldest-known winemaking facilities, which researchers found in a cave a few years ago, but it’s by no means a wine mecca.

That didn’t stop Mouradian, a former Glendale resident and wine enthusiast, from buying open land in a valley there and planting grape vines.

He dreams of turning his rows of Areni and Kakhet grapes, varietals indigenous to Armenia, into a boutique winery fit with a Chateau façade and tasting room — a rarity in the country. He fell in love with boutique wineries in Napa and the Santa Ynez valleys when he lived in California and he wants to bring that same kind of ambience to his homeland, no matter the risks.

“One day, I went with my wife to an Italian restaurant, and I looked at all these nice bottles of wine, and I said, ‘Look, one day, I will be marrying wine. I will marry to the vine,’” he said from his home in Yerevan, which is about 15 miles from his vineyard in the Ashtarak Valley. “I am married to the vine and the wine is born from that love.”

There are about 20 winemaking enterprises in Armenia, according to a 2012 report written by an Armenian think tank analyzing the potential growth for the country’s wine sector. Comparatively, there are more than 3,700 bonded wineries in California, according to the Wine Institute, an advocacy group. Armenia and California are home to roughly 3 million and 38 million people, respectively.

Most Armenian winemakers buy their grapes from small farms rather than growing their own, according to EV Consulting’s report. Between 1976 and 1980, Armenian wineries produced 88.4 million liters of wine, dropping to 6.8 million in 2011.

EV Consulting attributed the slide to Soviet rule. Some winemakers still use outdated Soviet equipment and value quantity over quality, the report states.

But Mouradian believes Armenia can improve its wine reputation and export fine wines. The government is slowly creating tax incentives to encourage the sector’s growth, he said, and a handful of vintners like him want to create a tourist draw.

“We don’t have Armenia as a wine country on the map,” Mouradian, 48, said. “I’m positive after five, six years, yes, Armenia will become one of the wine countries known by the world.”

Mouradian was born in Armenia, but moved to Glendale when he was 24 in search of job and life opportunities. He met his wife and they later had four children. He had a successful career and invested some of his money in Armenian land and property, with hopes of one day selling it and making a profit once the Armenian economy improved.

But he became ill and could no longer take the stress of his job. He always admired his clients in the creative sector and yearned for a change of pace.

“I was missing something,” he said. “I thought I needed to do something creative.”

He and his family picked up and moved to Yerevan, but his eldest daughter, a student at UCLA, stayed behind. Soon after moving, Varuzhan reached out to his Armenian cousins to help him convert the open land he bought into a vineyard.

Mouradian has the land, the grapes and has made a few test batches of blended wines, but he doesn’t have a name for his winery and he hasn’t put any bottles on the market.

“We did a couple barrels just for testing purposes, that’s all,” he said. “I think they are good. They are perfect. Next year, I think we’ll go a little further.”