Country of Dust

Episode 8: These bottles have a story

August 30, 2023 Country of Dust Season 1
Episode 8: These bottles have a story
Country of Dust
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Country of Dust
Episode 8: These bottles have a story
Aug 30, 2023 Season 1
Country of Dust

Wine has been part of Armenia’s story since the beginning, and it can be a bridge from its ancient history, to the Soviet era, to today. In our final episode of the season, we talk to Mariam Saghatelyan, co-owner of In Vino wine bar, about the resurgence of wine culture in Armenia. And we delve into the unexpected ways that uncorking a bottle of wine can connect you to the pulse of the country. 

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Show Notes Transcript

Wine has been part of Armenia’s story since the beginning, and it can be a bridge from its ancient history, to the Soviet era, to today. In our final episode of the season, we talk to Mariam Saghatelyan, co-owner of In Vino wine bar, about the resurgence of wine culture in Armenia. And we delve into the unexpected ways that uncorking a bottle of wine can connect you to the pulse of the country. 

Support the Show.

HOST: I remember being in Armenia back in 2008. I’d be on a road trip, and we’d pull into a little rest stop. There’d be these tables - they’re still there -  with women selling apples and dried fruit and gata. And there would also be these reused plastic bottles. But they wouldn't be filled with soda. They’d be filled with this sweet homemade wine. It wasn’t the fanciest, but it was definitely fun.

The wine wasn’t what I was used to. If you’re had wine from places like France or (where I’m from) California - you’ve most likely had a dry wine. Those road-side wines are different. 

MARIAM: Because during the Soviet time, we used to produce these sherry-style port-style wines. They're used to that - the older generation

HOST: Mariam Saghatelyan knows wine. She co-founded In Vino - one of Armenia’s most well known wine bars. 

MARIAM: Sweet wines are made by fortifying the wine. So what they would do is they stopped the fermentation using sulfur, or cooling down the wines

HOST: But Mariam only has dry wines at In Vino. When they first started, customers weren’t used to it: they came in and Mariam had to explain what she was even selling. But now, customers feel right at home.

MARIAM: A person just walks in, literally, goes to the shelf, grabs the wine, comes to the register. They know where the wine is that they need. It's like a person feels like they're at home. I love that change of pace.

HOST: As Armenian palettes have changed, the Armenian wine industry has been reinvented: today it focuses on dry wines, and it is booming. In 2018 there were 25 wineries, in 2022, there were one-hundred-and-fifty. There were SIX TIMES more wineries than just four years before.

Wine has changed, and Armenia has changed with it. And if you pay attention, you can taste where Armenia has come from, and where it is headed. 

Welcome to Country of Dust - stories of a changing Armenia

This episode:  These bottles have a story

I’m Jeremy Dalmas.

HOST: Mariam doesn’t just like wine. It. Is. Her. Life.

MARIAM: When someone says they don't drink wine, at first I'm like, “Okay, so like an allergy or something?” because I don't want to believe that this person doesn't drink wine. So it's like, well, you don't drink: What do you drink? What do you do? Like what's your poison of choice, you know?

HOST: She’s showing us around In Vino. The walls are stacked from the floor to literally the ceiling. You need a ladder to get to the top.

MARIAM: So here we have wines from Lebanon, Israel, from Mexico and Canada, US, Australia, Argentina, Chile and South Africa. Did I say New Zealand?

HOST: There are bottles from France, Spain, Portugal, Italy. It looks like a wine library in here.

MARIAM: And they always listen to good music, the wines, and they're staring and, you know, saying “Pick Me Pick Me.”

HOST: And when you walk in, the Armenian wines are right in front of you. 

MARIAM: It used to be just this shelf here. And now it's all this to here. Then we have wines of France. You see how compacted they are now? Because all the Armenian wines are taking over.

HOST: There are so many Armenian wines now that they’re crowding out the ‘fancy’ French ones. It shows how much has changed since In Vino opened in 2012. 

MARIAM: When In Vino first opened, we had only had 10 drinkable Armenian wines. And when I say drinkable, I literally mean like, “Okay, this is good. This is good.”

HOST: That was hardly an industry. But people had started to invest in Armenian wine. During Soviet times, Georgia was the country assigned to make wine while Armenian grapes were used for brandy. Wine fell out of focus. Then in 2011 a team of archeologists published a paper about the discovery of the oldest winery in the world. It was 6000 years old, and it was here in Armenia - in this cave by the village of Areni. This helped kick-start the industry. It got people to remember that Armenians have been making wine for a long, long time. And because it’s been part of Armenia since prehistory, it was easy to start up again.

MARIAM: With other cultures who don't drink wine who are mainly beer drinking, it wouldn't have happened this fast, I think, this rebirth.

HOST: This balance between the old and the new is so Armenian. Winemaking is both ancient and innovative. The same way Armenia has been around for thousands of years, but the country is just a few decades old. And wine is like this time machine - it lets you travel in between all these eras of Armenia’s past

Mariam no longer says that there are just “10 drinkable wines”

MARIAM: I tell people, like, I'm not ashamed right now of all the 250 we have today. 

HOST: Mariam was born in Yerevan, but while she was growing up, she spent 10 years in the U.S. In 2004, after her family returned here, they opened up this restaurant called The Club. It was one of the early fancy restaurants in the city. 

At the time there were a few professional Armenia wines, but they were unhappy with the consistency.

MARIAM: Because one bottle was amazing. The other bottle was corked. One bottle was vinegar. So no constant quality of wine.

JEREMY: Really? You'd opened up a bottle and it would be like vinegar?

MARIAM: Yeah, like just outright horrible wine.

HOST: Her godfather arranged a meeting between him, his son, and Mariam where he suggested that they open up a little place that specialized just in wine. 

MARIAM: We had no idea what we were getting into, honestly

HOST: They were the first wine bar in the country.

If you walk into In Vino now, it feels so lived in. But when she first saw the space, it was this dusty, abandoned room. 

MARIAM:  It was just like an empty place full of tiles and white walls. I even remember when we first opened the neighbors would come down and they'd be like “What is this place?” And when we told them it was wine, they're like “wow, this place has it only been like for handbags.” It was a place for you know selling children's clothing.

HOST: In Vino is on Saryan Street. I used to live right off Saryan back in 2009, and it was a quiet neighborhood. I would walk down the street a few times a day, and there was not much going on: No restaurants, barely any people.

MARIAM: They were like, “Are you sure this is going to work?” And we were just like, “No, nobody is sure. Of course, we're not sure.” But we want to try it because it has never been done before.

HOST: Saryan was where you would go to get your old computer fixed. That Saryan street feels like it is from a different country, and - in a way - it was a different country. Yerevan had fewer businesses, fewer events and fewer people out around the city. 

Armenia was in an earlier stage of figuring out who it would be as an independent country. But there were people like Mariam who were excited about the possibility here - who wanted to see where Armenia could go next. 

Saryan street has transformed since In Vino first opened. Most of those computer shops and kids clothing stores have been repurposed into chic restaurants and bars. Now, the street is synonymous with nightlife.

MARIAM: But on Saryan where we have new places, open everyday. Like I'm looking at these places. And I'm thinking this is probably like an apartment or something and all of a sudden it's like a little cafe. This is considered, now, the hipster street. And I love that.

HOST: In summer, it is bustling 7 nights a week - walk down Saryan on a Monday and there will be people crowded at tables up and down the sidewalk for blocks.

Wine has been part of Armenia’s story since the beginning - and it can be a bridge from its ancient history, to the soviet era, to today.

But, it can also take us back to an Armenia from just a few years ago - an Armenia that was just so different.

MARIAM: Each and every single one of these bottles has a story behind them.

HOST: Unlike most drinks, there is this connection between wine and the land where it’s from. The flavor comes from how people have worked the dirt and grown the grapes. When you sit down with a bottle there is a moment to really connect with its story. People don’t have that same experience with vodka, or milk, or juice. 

In winemaking there’s this word: terroir. It means everything in the environment that went into making that bottle of wine.

MARIAM: So the climate, the air, the weather, and every year it's different.

HOST: That connection came sharply into focus in 2020. 

MARIAM: So now 2020 vintage wines are very, very specific. Because every time you open a 2020 vintage, what do you remember? What was going on in the world?

HOST: There are some wineries that Armenians don’t have anymore. When the war broke out in 2020, Mariam had a friend who had to evacuate from a winery in the Hadrut region of Artsakh. Hadrut is now under Azerbaijani control - Armenians can’t go there anymore.

MARIAM: She just grabbed a few bottles of wine off the table when she was coming here from the winery. Unlabeled, unmarked wines. We had no idea what they were. And we were sitting here drinking wine, with all these emotions, and we're talking to each other. Everyone has a way of dealing with what they're dealing with. And I think to each person, there's like a different way. But wine is a medium.

HOST: They were sitting around a table with a bottle that came from a specific place. Drinking it was a way to process it all: losing the winery, losing the land, losing the war. 

Uncorking a bottle transports a bit of the past right there in front of you. It literally does, there’s a liquid that’s been preserved in there for maybe years. But it also figuratively brings back your memories. Think - what is on a wine label? The winemaker, the grape, and then, right there: where it’s from and the year. You look at that year, and go back to that time. It’s a story.

It’s hard to drink a 2020 Armenian wine and not think about the war. About the land where Armenians have been making wine for thousands of years, that is now empty of Armenians. 

Nyree, picks up a bottle of Zulal wine.

MARIAM: Yeah, so this is actually 2016 reserved Sereni from Artsakh. So this is why it's so special. The very few left. 

HOST: There are hundreds of grape varieties that are from Armenia. The one used to make this wine, the Sireni grape, is indigenous to Artsakh. Nyree can’t resist. She ends up buying it.

We say goodbye to Mariam, step outside onto Saryan Street, and look at the bottle she just bought.

NYREE: it feels like something of this moment of the of the years we've lived through here. I probably won't drink it.

It makes sense, to want to hold on to the bottle, it’s a way to hold on to everything else. But that’s not what wine is for. So a few months later Gohar, Nyree, and I, sit on the same balcony where we started this season.

JEREMY: Should we open it?


GOHAR: Thank you

JEREMY: It's a tart. It feels dark.

NYREE: Feel earthy. 


HOST: Since It’s from 2016, it has lived through some history.

NYREE: Yeah, a lot has happened since this was bottled. But I feel like we're honoring it in a way by drinking it together.

HOST: The story of Saryan street shows how quickly things can change here. It shows the potential.

After the Revolution, the country was electric with possibility. When I came here in 2019, it was blossoming. I remember walking down Saryan Street during this festival called Wine Days. They closed it off to traffic for the weekend so wineries and restaurants could set up dozens of stands. People were out, wandering up and down the blocks, drinking glass after glass of Armenian wine. They were in the streets and they were smiling. I hadn’t seen anything like it here before.

It was so far away from the quieter, more stoic Armenia that I first came to a decade before. But 2019 also feels far away from the Armenia of 2023. An Armenia that has 120,000 people blockaded in Artsakh. An Armenia that’s living with a constant creeping threat of war. And 2023 Armenia is one that’s also filled with whole new groups of people who’ve been arriving since the war in Ukraine. 

During our talk, Mariam repeatedly brought up how she felt that the growing wine industry is helping Armenia grow - despite all the uncertainty.

MARIAM: We're not scared that something's going to happen, we're continuing to work. Because through that, you can show your support for your country for this piece of land that we call ours. 

HOST: It’s one of the themes that kept coming up all season - again and again, the people we talked with brought up how the people of Armenia rise and fall together. It wasn’t a question we were asking, and not everyone said it. But we kept hearing it.

Kolya referred to Armenians as his family:

KOLYA: I think it's the responsibility of everyone in the family to try and make each other a little bit better. 

HOST: Mane talked about it

MANE: This is what I love - these people have already become a member of your family, the big family.

HOST: And Ruben said it

RUBEN: We're all part of the same chain. Everyone link, we each one of us is a link in that chain. We're all connected. And a chain, you know, sinks all together. If you throw a chain in water, no links will be left floating on a surface. It's going to sink all together. 

HOST: The past few years have been turbulent, often divisive, but for better or for worse, Armenians have been living through all this together.

Gohar Nyree and I, we each have thought about this a lot. About where Armenia is now, how to process it all, and what comes next. 

GOHAR: I’ve lived through a lot of changes: the Soviet Union breaking up, Armenia struggling through independence, political regimes getting more repressive, hopes rising and being crushed... 

But the most recent changes feel different. Living through the 2020 Artsakh war has changed how I see Armenia.  

For 30 years, I took for granted the fact that I have a country. A place I can call home. Now it doesn’t feel like I am standing on solid ground anymore. But this is the way things are now… and we’re living through it.

NYREE: Gohar is right, things do feel different lately, the stakes feel higher. This moment feels existential. But it’s not the first time Armenians have felt this way. 

In our first episode, I read “The Country of Dust”, Vahan Tekeyan’s poem that our podcast is named after. He wrote it in the aftermath of the Armenian genocide, but it feels like it’s meant for us, now. 

He writes “How can you dream of old architecture today” “when every edifice caves in to make way for new shapes?

Meaning: how can you live through change, through loss? How can you honor the past but also find your place in the newness? When every edifice caves in to make way for new shapes, how do you act, instead of just watching it all crumble and turn into something else?

And then Tekeyan gives us an answer:


Դիզուէ. փոշին լոկ այդպէս պիտի նորէն քար ըլլայ...

Accumulate. Dust consolidates into stone.

Thanks for listening to this season. 

Country of Dust is created and produced by Nyree Abrahamian, Jeremy Dalmas and Gohar Khachatrian; with help from Gabrielle Kaprielian. Sound engineering and music by Jeremy Dalmas. Graphic design by Nooneh Khoo-dah-verd-yan. Thanks to Areg for holding down the fort, thanks to Chris Natalie for taking / who took some amazing photos, and thanks to Monty.

This show has been a labor of love and took a lot of work. If you like what you heard - we have a crowdfunding campaign - please consider donating! It will really help us to continue making the show. Yes it’s true! We’re making a second season! Details on how you can support us are in our show notes.

And, of course, you can follow us on Instagram and Facebook for updates and details on our stories. Our handle is the same as our name “Country of Dust”.

Thanks for the support from

  • The Creative Armenia - AGBU Fellowship
  • Impact Hub Yerevan
  • The Vahé and Lucie Foundation
  • and the Nexus Center for the Arts 

And, again, thank you thank you thank you for listening! This podcast is for you, and we hope that it helped you understand Armenia better - whether you’re from here, or if you just learned how to say Shnorhakalutyun. See you soon.