SOMM: Cup of Salvation Image

SOMM: Cup of Salvation

By Benjamin Franz | June 28, 2024

A series of deeply thoughtful documentaries devoted to the craft of winemaking, SOMM represents the very best work of director/producer Jason Wise. With the latest entry, Cup of Salvation, Wise explores the lives of winemakers Vahe and Aimee Keushguerian. Winemaking is an ancient craft in Armenia. Although it had been paused for 100 years due to Turkish rule and the Islamic edict that all grapes are strictly for ‘eating,’ Armenians resumed winemaking as soon as they reclaimed their independence. Gentle reader, this documentary celebrates every aspect of winemaking, from the growing of the grapes to the final bottling of the finished product.

Throughout SOMM: Cup of Salvation, we are gifted several talented storytellers to guide us through the rebirth of the Armenian winemaking tradition. Vahe Keushguerian is a natural presence in front of the camera. He’s so relaxed and passionate that you cannot help but be transported into the various valleys in his vineyards. Archaeologist Boris Gasparyan has a gentle, laconic way of depicting how the ancient wine caverns of Armenia functioned. It’s within this series of caverns that ancient Armenians first developed their methods of winemaking, dating back to the 4th century B.C.

“…the rebirth of the Armenian Wine Making tradition.”

Various grapes are featured in SOMM: Cup of Salvation. In part, this is because each variety of grape creates a specific wine. Also, these species of grape have not been used in a long time. The winemakers are intentionally learning how to revive both winemaking and growing grapes, particularly in Armenia. One of the most heartbreaking moments is the admission Armen Khachaturian, a wine merchant, makes when he notes Armenian winemaking experienced many fits and starts depending on who ruled the country. Christian rulers always insisted on wine. Muslim rulers, not so much. My favorite of the species of grapes discussed is definitely the Areni. Given its flavor profile, which features a note of black pepper, it also seems to be a red wine that delights many wine drinkers.

One of the most fascinating anecdotes is how the USSR approached Armenia’s winemaking. The central committee in Moscow apparently directed the winemakers of Armenia to brew medicinal preparations out of their grapes. That these glorious, rare grapes were deemed worthy for the Soviet equivalent of Dimetapp is simply chuckle-worthy. One of the stories SOMM chooses to explore is Vahe’s desire to build a bomb-proof wine cellar. Another, more trepidatious and terrifying story is the Keushguerian family’s decision to develop a wine from the grapes of Iran, specifically the Rasheh varietal. The uncertainty Keushguerian has while presenting his first bottle to be sampled and judged in New York City is so poignant. Here’s a wine whose grape was dangerous to acquire and which represents a sort of wine that hasn’t been sampled in 50 years. Its flavor profile, including cherry, is striking and speaks to its Asian origin.

Ultimately, SOMM: Cup of Salvation speaks to the Keushguerian family’s mission to resurrect and restore Asian and Near Eastern varieties of wine that Mankind has not drunk in many a year. This is a wonderful film. Seek it out. Also, if you come across a bottle named Molana, which is the Keushguerian brand of wine prepared from the Iranian Rasheh grape, I encourage you to try it. This is such a powerful emotional moment in our shared history.

SOMM: Cup of Salvation (2024)

Directed and Written: Jason Wise

Starring: Vahe Keushguerian, Aimee Keushguerian, Armen Khachaturian, Boris Gasparayan, etc.

Movie score: 9/10

SOMM: Cup of Salvation Image

"…a powerful emotional moment..."

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