This fascinating look at winemaking in Armenia, and its neighboring countries, may be the best of the SOMM series of films. Titled Cup of Salvation, it was promoted as touching on the connection between wine and religion but also focuses on wine and war and the extent that producers will go to protect their land and grapes.
I honestly struggled with several of the first three SOMM films as they didn’t engender much viewer connection with the films’ subjects or help viewers get a good understanding why the Master Sommelier degree is so coveted and hard to pass. Despite having known almost all the wine experts profiled—given how long I lived in San Francisco—the movies didn’t really communicate why they were so obsessed with pursuing this degree.
SOMM 4, on the other hand, truly gets in the heads of its protagonists and their passions. I was lucky enough to meet Vahe Keushguerian a few weeks before the film debuted, on a trip to Armenia, and I can say the filmmakers—Jason and Christina Wise—truly brought his passion and personality to life in this film. I also appreciate that much insight was also included from his daughter Aimee, as well as other women in the wine business of various religious backgrounds.
Sadly, the wine and restaurant industries remain painfully dominated by white males and dwelling only on their experiences doesn’t always engage the rest of us or help us identify with them. Nor does it potentially stoke our passions for wine and respect for their knowledge about it.
The Nitty Gritty
SOMM 4, released on October 6th, digs into the wild and crazy head of Vahe as he wanders the world and finally comes back to make wine in his beloved homeland. It takes a detailed look at the ancient history of winemaking in Armenia and its residents’ investments in their land and religion. Armenia has long been a Christian enclave bordered by numerous Muslim countries with a tough history of war, invasion and genocide.
Vahe, after stints working in the U.S. and Italy, returns to his homeland and manages to get his daughter to work with him. In addition to vineyards in Vayots Dzor, near the Azerbaijan border—where there have been recent military conflicts causing approximately 100,000 ethnic Armenians to flee their homes—he has the wild idea to plant a sparkling wine vineyard directly on the Azerbaijan border.
He and a worried Amie conduct the harvest in bullet proof vests. Vahe compellingly notes that ancient Romans used to plant vineyards on their borders with the knowledge that people who spent years cultivating them would not easily give up their land. He hasn’t either and thankfully the Keush Rosé and Blanc de Blancs sparklers are wonderful. The former has notes of lush red fruits and is imported by Storica Wines and is available for approximately $39.99.
The film also details Paul Hobbs’—the international winemaker who helped put Argentine Malbec on the map—involvement in the Armenian wine industry with the launch of the Yacocubian-Hobbs brand, also based in the region of Vazots Dzor. Hobbs has long been a winemaking iconoclast and has sought out adventure in a number of both Old and New World winemaking areas of the world.
The Iranian Revival
SOMM 4 also delves into the fact that wine has not been produced in Iran since the Iranian Revolution in 1979. So Vahe, when he is not overseeing the harvest at home in a bullet-proof vest, decides to smuggle some grapes into Armenia to make wine from Iranian grapes under the guise that he is filming a travel show.
The film traces his covert deals and the return of the grapes to Armenia. He and Aimee thoughtfully craft a Persian-inspired label for their Molana wine label and share it with the wine community. He finds the process both fascinating and cathartic as it is the first time that Iranian grapes have been turned into wine using modern technology.
The film is a journey into Vahe’s fascinating head and it is a parable for wine production in Armenia and much of the ancient world. These grapes represent the lifeblood of their producers and they—as well as those cultivate them—need to be protected from war and tragedy on an ever more troubled planet.