Siberia is, by extremes, a far cry from Whatcom County. It’s a chin-scratcher that a Siberian winemaker by way of Armenia would settle down in this part of the world. Margarita Vartanyan’s story emerges from revolution, international strife, oppression and liberty. In November 1920, the Republic of Armenia was abolished and, under Dictator Joseph Stalin, became the Soviet Socialist Republic of Armenia. Margarita’s relatives were exiled to Siberia where the family would remain until Mikail Gorbechev’s Perestroika political reforms helped bring an end to Cold War tensions. Thus it happened that after living in Siberia for thirty years, Margarita settled in Armenia and learned the family winemaking tradition before making her way to the United States. In 2008 Margarita founded Vartanyan Winery, with a hillside vineyard, located off Mount Baker Highway just a few minutes east of Bellingham.

The fireplace warmed tasting room has east facing windows, and an expansive grassy area is a terrific spot to have a picnic lunch or dinner, and a glass or two of wine. On summer weekends, Margarita invites a variety of musicians to entertain at the winery. These little music festivals have been known to attract significant crowds of wine and music enthusiasts who drink, eat and dance the day way. The concerts are free, although a nominal (usually $7) donation is suggested. The incredible views of Mount Baker, the bucolic setting and rural isolation is just icing on the cake. Vartanyan Winery is the real draw here. This boutique winery produces at least 12 different wines. Although there are currently three white wines available, the emphasis at Vartanyan is – clearly – on red wines.

Vartanyan’s premiere red wine is the 2008 Trilogia, a blend of Cabernet Franc aged in Russian oak, Syrah aged in French oak, and Merlot aged in American oak. The different type of oak really does make a difference, as each imparts distinct characteristics into the wine as it ages in the barrels. Modestly priced at $19.95 a bottle, Trilogia is a fantastic food wine. Paired with duck, beef or pork emphasizes the wine’s dark cherry and berry flavors, and enhances Trilogia’s silky soft finish.

Aged in new French oak barrels, the 2012 Malbec for $23.95 is a rich red wine redolent of fresh berries, with a bit of vanilla on the nose. This wonderful little wine is fantastic alone, and phenomenal when paired with spaghetti in a sun-dried tomato and goat cheese sauce. Yet, this Malbec is versatile enough to pair beautifully with tuna packed in olive oil! A skillfully crafted Malbec, such as Vartanyan’s, is well worth the price.

The tasting room is usually open Friday 1:00–5:00,
Saturday 1:00–6:00 and Sunday 1:00–5:00, but Margarita
is happy to accommodate other days and times by
appointment. www.vewinery.com

"In 2008 Margarita founded Vartanyan Winery, with a hillside vineyard, located off Mount Baker Highway just a few minutes east of Bellingham."