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  • Podcasting in Armenia: A Tour of the Areni-1 Wine Cave

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    I’m no wine snob.

    Sure, I love a glass after a long day of work. And, yeah, I can throw a few words around like “full-bodied” and “dry,” although I don’t really understand what they mean. But when I was invited to visit Armenia to report a story for the Smithsonian’s Sidedoor podcast on wine cultural heritage, I said cheers and booked my ticket.

    If you’re like me, you don’t know a whole lot about Armenian history and culture. France, China, Mexico—while I haven’t visited all these places, a sort of mental image pops into my head when I imagine the experience. But Armenia? A blank and mysterious canvas.

    Some of the most amazing Smithsonian research happens abroad. As the host of Sidedoor, I was asked by the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and the Office of International Relations to report a story from the field. The work of both of these offices revolves, in part, around preserving and sharing stories from diverse, far-flung cultures—in this case, for the 2018 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Their jobs are inspiring, and I had always wanted to experience it firsthand.

    Here’s what I learned before the trip: in 2007, the oldest known evidence of winemaking was discovered in the Areni-1 cave complex. It’s this very site in southern Armenia that has had a major impact on how archeologists understand humanity’s earliest civilizations. While in country, I was to receive a site tour from the scientist who discovered the centuries-old artifacts and interview him about the impact the excavation has had.

    Flash forward.

    After two layovers, I landed in Yerevan around 4 a.m. The cab driver spoke little English, and I sleepily held up the address of my hotel. He stared at my cellphone screen, nodded, and accelerated forward. I pressed my nose against the window of the car, anxious to grab my first glimpse of the capital city. We zoomed down a highway and turned off onto a quiet, winding road. Two-story buildings in various shades of cream, light pink, and gray flanked either side of the cab. We continued driving on a narrow cobblestone street until we pulled in front of the hotel.

    As I grabbed my bag and walked into the lobby, I took a deep breath. I had arrived. My time is Armenia would be pretty brief—just over forty-eight hours, but my colleagues had set up quite the itinerary for me.

    I could attempt to write some poetic entry about the life-changing experience I had in Armenia, but I would rather show you.


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    I’ll do you a favor and cut to the chase: I fell in love with Armenia. The people are incredibly kind, the scenery ever-changing, the food carb-olicious and fresh, and the weather sunny and mild. The wine is as good as any I’ve ever tasted, with a history that can’t be beat (but it can be drunk!).

    And good news! Now that you’ve seen some of my Armenian adventures, you can hear them too by listening to this week’s episode of Sidedoor.

    And even better news—you don’t have to fly seventeen hours to experience Armenian culture. This year’s Folklife Festival will highlight all kinds of stories and, yes, wine from the country here in Washington, D.C.

    Tony Cohn is the host of Sidedoor, the Smithsonian’s podcast, and a marketing specialist at the Smithsonian’s Office of Public Affairs.

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