Waters Edge Wineries Introduces Armenian Wines To Urban Drinkers

Food & Drink

The next time you go out to eat at a nice restaurant, ask your server if they offer any Armenian wines. The odds are high that they won’t even know what an Armenian wine is and even higher that it won’t be on their wine list. Yet, it’s just that mysteriousness that motivated one expanding winery concept to put a selection of Armenian wines at the forefront of a new initiative designed to drive sales and land new customers.

When Ken and Angela Lineberger, the founders of Waters Edge Wineries, rolled out their concept of an urban micro-winery franchise in 2004, they knew they were introducing the public to a different idea. By transplanting a winemaking facility into the heart of urban neighborhoods, they could make wine accessible, much like craft beer had done decades earlier with their brewpubs. Drinkers could meet with local winemakers on sight and dive into different styles of wine.

These days, there are fifteen Waters Edge Wineries spread across the U.S. in locations as diverse as Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, to Findlay, Ohio. Combining elements of a traditional winery experience with a popular wine bar bistro concept, they offer wines made on-site. Blended with juice sourced from well-known wine regions in the United States and internationally, consumers can imbibe popular wine styles on-site and purchase bottles for home.

Recognizing that consumer buying preferences had shifted coming out of the pandemic towards premium brands with authentic stories, Waters Edge decided in 2023 to lean into a new offering. They would bring in collections of wines from small family-owned producers across the globe that highlight both well-known regions and ones off the beaten path. While its debut was from an area wine lovers know well, Tuscany, Italy, its next offering of a selection of Armenian wines brings one of the world’s oldest and least-known grape varieties to the heart of America.

“Part of what we offer our consumers is the story behind the wine; they get an up-close education of what it takes to make a great wine in our urban wineries. That’s part of what makes us so different; we transport people to wine country,” says Mark Mitzenmacher, director of operations for Waters Edge Wineries. “So, when we were introduced to the story of Armenian wines, we knew that it was something we wanted to promote to our consumers.”

A mountainous country wedged between Turkey, Georgia, Iran, and Azerbaijan, Armenia has a long history with wine. Its first grapes are said to have been planted by Noah after his ark came to rest there, and the world’s oldest wine-producing facility from 4000 BC is in the country. For most of its history, winemaking flourished in its rich volcanic soils. That vibrant wine culture waned during the Soviet era when the country was incorporated into the USSR, and production pivoted to Brandy.

Following its independence in 1991, Armenian winemaking slowly regained its footing. In the last decade, it has just started to gain attention from the international wine community. Much like countries like South Africa, Argentina, and New Zealand, areas that were only somewhat recently “discovered” by drinkers, Armenian wine can surprise with each sip.

Waters Edge Wineries rolled out four Armenian wines across its locations: Areni/Sireni blend, Areni Reserve, and Voskehat. Areni, an ancient grape variety more than 6,000 years old with vines over 120 years old, is Armenia’s signature grape. A light to medium-bodied red wine reminiscent of Pinot Noir, it presents flavors of cherry, currants, black pepper, and cranberry. Sireni wines are deeply colored, full-bodied, and rich in flavors. Voskehat, known as ‘golden berry,’ is an indigenous variety akin to Chardonnay with vines that have endured for over 250 years.

For the first round of Armenian wines, the company brought in 16,000 bottles through a partnership with Storica Wines, a distributor dedicated to introducing them to the U.S. market. Priced between $40-60 per bottle, the wines allow Waters Edge to offer its customers a chance to try something exotic and different with a rich story behind it. It is a point of differentiation that the company hopes will help it drive traffic by bringing new consumers to its micro-wineries. Plans are to continue offering wines from the country for the next several years.

“Just being able to be part of introducing these wines to the United States is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’s rare to find wines of this quality that are relatively unknown,” says Mitzenmacher. “By introducing people to Armenian wines and their culture, we hope to help resurrect a region rich in winemaking history that deserves its place back on the world stage. So far, our customers love them and love hearing the story behind them.”

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