By Shakeh Avoyan
Armenia’s expanding brandy and wine distilleries could face a shortage of grapes by 2005 unless local farmers enlarge their vineyards to keep up with demand, the country’s single largest grape buyer warned on Monday.
“If the current trends continue until 2005, we will risk having a grape output that will no longer meet the industry’s needs,” said Pierre Larretche, chairman of the French-owned Yerevan Brandy Company (YBC).
Visiting the wine-producing Armavir province in the southern Armenia, Larretche urged farmers to begin planting new grape vines no later than 2003. A vine takes from 4 to 5 years to start bearing fruits used for the production of wine and brandy.
YBC, which is part of the French group Pernod Ricard, bought 15,000 metric tons of grapes last year and plans to increase the purchases by 5 percent each year.
According to the Armenian ministry of agriculture, the country’s aggregate grape output stood at 116,000 tons in 2001 and still exceeds business demand, resulting in disproportionately low prices. This in turn hampers the expansion of vineyards mainly located in the fertile Ararat valley. Their total area has shrunk considerably since the Soviet collapse.
YBC last year offered the highest price for wholesale grape purchases: 75 drams ($0.14) per kilogram. But wine-growers complained to Larretche that even that barely allows them to make a living.
The grape production began to recover in the late 1990s amid the emergence of new private wineries. Export of wines and other alcoholic drinks from Armenia soared last year. YBC alone almost doubled its sales abroad.
Larretche told RFE/RL that the market will reach an “equilibrium” in 2003, after which the farmers will have to keep pace with mounting demand. “This is a very promising sector of the Armenian economy,” he said.