YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—In a potentially massive boost to Armenia’s winegrowers, the government decided on Thursday to ban local brandy producers that use imported alcohol from branding it as “Armenian cognac.”
“From now on, those manufactures who use imported spirits will be banned from using the phrase ‘Armenian cognac,’” Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian said as his cabinet approved the measure. “Armenian cognac is the cognac which is distilled 100 percent from local grapes.”
Sarkisian added that brandy distilleries using the slightest dose of imported grape spirits will have to call their production “arbun,” a term which was coined by Armenian linguists and approved by the government in May.
The measure, fully effective from 2015, is aimed at protecting the quality and reputation of Armenia’s most famous alcoholic drink which is still very popular across the former Soviet Union, where it has always been known as “cognac.” It could also greatly boost demand in grapes grown in the country.
Under the existing government regulations in place since 2008, Armenian brandy can be sold as cognac if imported grape spirits account for up to 40 percent of its composition. According to government data, alcohol imports by local distilleries shrunk by more than half to about 1 million liters in 2008 and on to 700,000 liters in 2009.
In a recent interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Hrant Bagratian, a former prime minister who worked as deputy director of the French-owned Yerevan Brandy Company from 1998-2006, claimed that local brandy firms continue to import cheaper alcohol from abroad in large amounts. He also accused them of grossly inflating their grape purchases from Armenian farmers.
Gevorg Ghazarian, a senior official at the Armenian Ministry of Agriculture, said the government is now trying to address such concerns. “We hope that spirits will not be imported at all and that ‘arbun’ will not be produced at all,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Ghazarian added that his ministry, which is tasked with enforcing the ban, hopes to obtain by 2013 sophisticated laboratory equipment which he said is needed for verifying brandy-makers’ compliance with the new rules. He admitted that the existing verification procedures, based on the analysis of company statements, are not rigorous enough.