Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Letter 22: Chateau Armens

Château Armens
Yeghegnadzor, March 2006


There is a very well hidden family secret[1] in the Armen family. Garbis, the patriarch of the clan has not told his children or his grand children of the existence of their ancestral château in the south of France, in the St-Émilion wine producing region. As a matter of fact, I understand he did not even bother to put it in his will. “Château Armens” is a ‘Grand Cru’ Appellation Contrôlée St-Émilion, which was acquired a few years ago by the Comte Alexandre de Mallet-Roquefort.

We happened inadvertently on the château when we were searching our way to find the town of Castillon. This town, 40 kilometers east of Bordeaux is the site of the last battle of the 100 years war between the kings of France and England. The people of Castillon created some twenty years ago a ‘sound and light show’ which has become world famous. It is the re-enactment of some of the historical background leading to the battle and the actual battle that are portrayed by some 600 volunteer actors from the region with some 60 horses and some paid staff who look after the lighting, the sound, the costumes, the ticketing, the out-doors meal before and after the show and the related entertainment.
With my continued effort to bring similar sound & light shows to Armenia for increased tourism, I decided to go to the Castillon la Bataille S&L show, and try and learn how they do it. Thanks to my sister Lena and my wife, Sheila, we managed to do more. We got to meet with the director and he invited us backstage during the preparations and briefings to the actors before the battle. We also got him interested to come to Armenia (on a French government sponsored project) to help develop the Armenian S&L show projects (See my Letter from Armenia: Gyumri’s Sound & Light Show).

So can you imagine our surprise when we suddenly see on the road the sign for Garbis’ château. We stopped and took some photos (see http://www.flickr.com/photos/aterjanian/sets/72157600803881621/ ) and realized the château was located in a municipality called “Saint Pey d’Armens”.

That kept us wondering about the origin of the name. The only word that was not obvious in the municipality name was ‘Pey’. Ethymological research of local dialects led me to two meanings for ‘pey’: The first meaning is ‘puits’ meaning ‘waterwell’ and the other is ‘pays’ which means ‘country’. Therefore the translation of ‘Saint Pey d’Armens’ would be: ‘Holy well of Armens’ or ‘Holy land of Armens’; either way, I thought we could claim it as part of Hayastan, before the Turks did ;-)….

Unfortunately we were there on a Sunday, the château’s winery was closed, the only place open was the boulanger/pâtissier (Bakery) but they had no ‘pakhlava’ and they were from out-of-town and could not enlighten us about the mystery of Saint Pey d’Armens. So we returned on the Wednesday in time before the winery shut and managed to buy two cases of 2001 at 20 Euros a bottle. I am told it will be drinkable in 10 years. But we also bought some of the paraphernalia the château offers, such as pouring spouts and wooden signs with the name “Château Armens” well emblazoned on each of them. We will donate one to Garbis’ family. I also immediately tried to get exclusive rights to import the wine into Québec and Ontario. We also found out that the château exports over 100 cases per year to a wealthy Armenian in Moscow, whose first name only is ‘Armen’, and I am pleased to say that you can now buy Château Armens in some of Québec’s SAQ liquor stores (see: http://www.saq.com/ and search for Armens ).

The representative of the Maison Malet-Roquefort, Mr. Pierre Larché was in Toronto on January 24, 2006 for a “dégustation” promoting the sale of their wines, including Château Armens”, but he says it may be a while before the LCBO (Ontario Liquor Board monopoly) agrees to import “Château Armens”. Before he left, Mr. Larché promised to help look-up in the Bordeaux archives the origins of the name St Pey d’Armens.

Another producer with the label Armens is “Château l’Eglise d’Armens”[2]. It is owned and operated by Bertrand and Jocelyne Martigne. Mr. Martigne is the son of a small farmer of the Bordeaux region who decided to build a winery in St. Emilion and produce his own wine. He slowly bought-up small parcels of eligible ‘St-Emilion’ vineyards and now owns approximately 4 hectares, which is enough to justify the building of a small but very modern winery (see photos). It is located next to the Church, hence the name ‘Eglise d’Armens’. Despite their size, “Château l’Eglise d’Armens” has won the first prize and the appellation ‘Grand Cru St Emilion’ for several years in a row. I hope we can find and interest a small farmer (from France or Italy) with such a knowledge to come and help build such a modern small winery in Yeghegnadzor, to take advantage of the best soil, water and sun conditions for growing our, yet not so famous, ‘Areni’ wine-making grape variety. I hope we can develop such an export opportunity for Armenia and interest investors and drinkers.



[1] I was recently able to elucidate why Garbis had kept the secret to himself all this time. Apparently, when as the official representative of “UK Dept of the Environment” he gave a lecture to the Bordeaux “1971 Conference Européene de Logement Social”, the title of "Bourgeois de St. Emilion" was conferred on "Le Docteur Garbis Armen" in none other but the famous wine cellar next to St. Émilion’s famous tower. The green silk velvet "Certificat de Bourgeois de St. Emilion" which was awarded to him at the time has been kept with him until now and brought all the way to Vancouver with him into retirement... One can see now that in the 1970’s, at the height of the cold war, bearing the title “Bourgeois” would have landed one in the Gulag archipelago if you ever set foot in Armenia, and I hope you can understand why this was kept a secret.
[2] Martigne, Bertrand:11 Le Bourg 33330 Saint Pey D'Armens Tel: 05 57 47 16 45, fax : 05 57 47 16 54