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06.08.2008

Ethiopian Wine: A New Frontier in Africa

I'm a sucker for pioneers. Especially those that strike out into the wilderness to try making great wine where no one has tried before. This is why I was positively tickled when I learned about people making wine in Thailand a few of years ago.

My latest source of delight in this regard is Ethiopia, which frankly is a much more likely locale for winemaking than Thailand. Thanks to the famine in the 80's, most people's mental picture of Ethiopia looks like this:

africa_desert.jpg
Photo by Calips96

But Ethiopia is far from a flat wasteland. In fact, it is incredibly mountainous. A lot of it looks like this:

ethiopia_mountains.jpg
Photo by Moi of Ra

Presumably those who are embarking on winemaking in the country, including The Castel Group, France's largest wine producer, are exploring these cooler, higher elevation areas of the country.

Ethiopia, with it's large population of Coptic Christians (who make up about 60% of the population), is perhaps the most likely winemaking population in what is a mostly Muslim dominated Northeastern Africa (though it should be noted that there are significant vineyard plantings in Tunisia, Morocco, and Egypt). Hopefully the Ethiopians can do a bit better than their neighbors to the North, as Egyptian wine is positively dreadful.

I wish them the best of luck. Read the full story.

Thanks to Arthur for tipping me off to the story.

Comments (10)

Arthur wrote:
06.09.08 at 12:23 AM

Great use of images. When I read this story, it was those green mountains that came to mind.

Nancy wrote:
06.09.08 at 7:29 AM

Lovely picture of the highlands. Remember White Nile and Blue Nile, Alan Moorehead's (?) bestsellers of the '60s? All about the sources of the Nile, one of which is in Ethiopia. Hills + rivers = good wine transportation possibilities, no? Perhaps the Egyptians could import.

Philip James wrote:
06.09.08 at 12:07 PM

Alder - thats great. I have a friend from Eritrea, and, not that I've been, she was telling me about the lush mountain lake regions.

As you say above, not what the average person thinks of when they hear those countries.

Owen wrote:
06.09.08 at 1:05 PM

A couple of Ethiopian restaurants here in Sacramento carry Ethiopian wine. I have only tried the red and it was dreadful - a noxious blend of brett, vinegar, aldehyde & acetone. The beer is much better!

Alder wrote:
06.09.08 at 1:38 PM

Owen,

Thanks for the comments. How unfortunate. Maybe this new entrance by the French firm will help.

06.09.08 at 3:07 PM

What grapes?

Alder wrote:
06.09.08 at 7:31 PM

The grapes are all international varieties: 40% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Syrah and 10% Chardonnay. Over 750,000 vines will be planted.

winenegress wrote:
06.10.08 at 11:03 AM

I lived in Ethiopia as a teenager in 1973-4 and traveled in Eritrea (Asmara, Massawa), Mekelle, Gondar, Axum, Harar, Dire Dawa and other points. A couple of things to point out: As much as Ethiopia would like to claim links to the old Abyssinia (see Queen of Sheba), the country is equally Muslim and Christian (my dad designed the population census for them back in the 70s and strongly suggested they not include religious affiliation on the form if they wished to maintain the perception of being a "Christian" republic.) Second, wine production at all is more good news for country that has been ill served by all of its leaders. It's my understanding they are beginning to market their coffee (a much better bet than the wine at this point) so let's hope the lovely people of this country finally have some leaders looking after their best interests.

Neil Frye wrote:
06.11.08 at 10:59 AM

Ahoy there from the southern tip of Africa.
What a fascinating idea, wine from the tropics in Africa.
I do hope they can battle the elements.
Quite a lot of farmers tried in dear old Zimbabwe without much success, however perhaps one or two of the beautiful hills which are fanned by the cooler breezes might yield up something.
We do make some surprizingly good wines in our warmer regions of the Cape with the help of irrigation.
We wish them the best.
Neil Frye

Vineyard Marketing
Cape Town

Chad wrote:
06.13.08 at 1:21 PM

WOW! Those pics are incredible.

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