I heard about the Arba Wine Festival within my first few weeks of arriving in Kazakhstan and I have been looking forward to it for months. It sounded like a fun, and weird, opportunity. Not to mention a nice weekend in the Almaty countryside!
The vineyard is located about two hours outside of Almaty; luckily, our tickets included bus transportation there and back. The location was breathtaking: mountains and foothills on one side and the vineyard to the other side. It was a really hot day and there were already more people than I expected, so we hustled through the gates as fast as possible to walk the long path through the rows of vines to some shade (and wine). As we neared the festival center, baskets of fresh fruits and vegetables were positioned on either side of the path inviting people to help themselves. Just beyond this bounty were tables offering baursak, a traditional Kazakh snack of fried balls of dough, and slices of melon. A nice welcome!
I spotted the wine station and promptly hoovered the baursak so my hands were free. Before arriving, I wondered how this “all you can drink” wine situation would work out. A $3 deposit gets you a wine glass. But not just a wine glass, a wine glass with its own harness and string to go around your neck so that you never lose your glass! And next to the wine glass station were the casks of chilled white wine… Now I’m not a huge white wine person, but Arba makes a few I enjoy. The one they offered that evening tasted apple-y, almost like a cider! It was cool and refreshing and gone just as the rest of our group was making their way in from the buses… Perhaps I was a little over-eager for this festival?
Luckily the sun started to set offering a reprieve from the intense heat. The owner of the vineyard then gave a welcome speech and ceremoniously opened the casks of red (which were on a cart being pulled by an adorable donkey) for all to enjoy (and some* maybe enjoyed a bit too much)!
In addition to wine, they offered delicious plov, another dish found across Central Asia consisting of rice, meat, carrots, garlic, onions, and sometimes other additions; it’s delicious! It is also good for soaking up a stomach full of wine!
Long after sunset, the music shifted temporarily and spotlights illuminated a giant barrel into which, people began pouring baskets of grapes! My shoes were taken hostage by a member of our group forcing me to join in the fun of stopping grapes. It was cool and quite sticky, that’s all I remember. I’m glad I did it though! The best part is, we should still be in Kazakhstan when they release the 2017 vintage, which means I’m buying bottles and making family and friends back home drink my feet wine! Cheers!
Oh, and yes, I remembered to return our wine glasses to get our deposit back.
*Our group had settled around a few haybales enjoying the live music when an extremely intoxicated woman in her late 50s/60s came and started harassing us. She was pulling people out onto the dance floor and tried to get my husband and I to join, so we quickly exited the situation for more wine. We waited several minutes until the coast seemed clear before returning to our group’s area. As I was leaning over to set my glass down, I felt someone come up behind me and grab my breasts! As I was looking directly at my husband, I knew it wasn’t him, and quickly realized it was the drunk woman come back to haunt us. Instead of fighting her off, I just willingly went to the dance floor to escape her. Then she went back for my husband. Even though he said “no” politely multiple times, she kept insisting and was literally hanging on him and trying to drag him to the dance floor. All this flailing eventually caused her to knock his newly filled glass of red wine all over him. She was so drunk she still didn’t realize or care when he showed her what happened. Eventually he was able to maneuver away from her and escape.
Within an hour she was passed out on a haybale with a coat over her face. I can only imagine the hangover she had…*