Agriculture Minister Sergo Karapetian sought to reassure anxious grape growers across Armenia on Wednesday, insisting that they will be able to sell the bulk of their produce to domestic wine and brandy distilleries.
“I repeat that every kilogram [of grapes] will be purchased,” Karapetian said during the Armenian government’s question-and-answer session in the parliament. He rejected as “populism” a parliament deputy’s claim that the government is not making good on such promises that were given to those farmers earlier this year.
“There is widespread panic among villagers and they are now hastily collecting their harvest,” Karapetian said. “But the purchasing process will continue until October 15, and they should draw up [supply] schedules together with village mayors and stop panicking.”
Scores of Armenian wine growers have blocked highways and staged other protests since the start of this year’s grape harvest in mid-September, complaining of serious problems with their sales. In recent days, trucks laden with grapes have formed long lines outside some of the country’s largest wineries mostly located in the southern Ararat and Armavir provinces.
Many farmers have to spend several nights there. Not all of them succeed in having wholesale buyers accept their grapes.
Andranik Movsisian, a farmer from the village of Kaghtsrashen, on Tuesday dumped 8 metric tons of grapes grown by him on a village roadside after a nearby brandy company, Vinar, refused to buy them, saying that they have perished and cannot be used for fermentation. “They refused to pay even 30 drams (6 U.S. cents) per kilogram,” he complained to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
“The grapes were not rotten when I harvested them,” said Movsisian. “They perished in the truck because the [brandy] plant made me wait for four days.”
The Vinar director, Avet Galstian, denied that. “At the prime minister’s urging, we promised to buy more grapes than we did last year, but we did not promise to buy low-quality ones,” he said.
Russia has long been the main market for brandy and wine distilled in Armenia. This is why Armenian liquor firms, including Vinar, have been hit hard by a sharp depreciation of the Russian ruble, which began in June 2014. Many of them have cut back on their deliveries to the Russian market since the end of last year.
According to Karapetian, Armenia’s wine and brandy producers have purchased between them around 180,000 tons of grapes so far this year, a figure close to last year’s volumes. He said they will buy at least 30,000 more tons in the coming days.