“Made In Ethiopia” Wine Coming To A Store Near You
Visit any Ethiopian restaurant and you’re sure to see Tej, a local Ethiopian wine, listed on the menu. Tej is a type of honey-wine that’s flavoured with gersho leaves, (similar to hops), giving it a decidedly sweet taste which can be deceptive since that taste masks its high alcoholic content. However, Tej will soon be accompanied by merlot, syrah, chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon, all made from imported grape varieties but bearing the distinctive label “Made in Ethiopia”. These wines are being made with locally-grown grapes and produced to be worthy of international standards and palates.
This move to expand the country’s wine-making tradition is part of Ethiopia’s efforts to improve its image, create new economic opportunities and firmly place the country on the world’s list of wine-making countries – a goal that isn’t at all far-fetched because due to its proximity to the equator, Ethiopia’s climate – comprising plateaus, valleys and six climactic zones – is good for grape-growing, making it possible to obtain two harvests in a single year. So, Ethiopia is now growing its own grapes and producing its own brand of wine, under the direction of French beverage giant Castel.
The effort to expand the country’s wine industry was born over a decade ago when Ethiopia’s then Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi (now late), invited Castel to gauge opportunities for vineyards in the country. Pierre Castel, the billionaire founder of the beverage firm, saw the potential in Ethiopia’s sandy soil, short rainy season, cheap land and equally cheap and abundant labour as ideal for wine production, so he bought into the idea. Upon entering into an agreement with the Ethiopian government, back in 2007, the company immediately sent out its best French wine experts to scout the country for the most ideal areas to set up vineyards. It took seven months.
A site, 100miles south of the capital, Addis Ababa, was chosen. Castel (which had already been producing beer in Ethiopia since 1998) then imported various grape varieties and began setting up its vineyard. Merlot, syrah and cabernet sauvignon grapes were chosen for red wines while chardonnay grapes were chosen for white wines. Production of the first bottle – and 1.2m bottles of Ethiopian wine – occurred in 2014 and sales began soon after.
Castel is said to export fifteen percent of its wine production, over half of which go to China and the US. These exported wines are aimed at countries with a large concentration of Ethiopians, of which there is a growing number globally. The other seventy-five percent of wine production is destined for domestic consumption, as Ethiopian consumers adapt to new wines and tastes. These “Made In Ethiopia” wines compete domestically with imported wines from well-established wine-producing markets such as South Africa and France but taxes on imported wines allow Castel’s wines to be priced below their foreign counterparts, enabling them gain (and maintain) an edge in the wine marketplace.
The wines produced cater to a range of drinkers – from high-end restaurants to the emerging wine drinker – and Castel wines can be found in supermarket chains popping up all over the country, as well as in the informal retail sector (a sector that’s dominant in most of Africa).
Similar to France’s Rhone Valley, Australia’s Yarra Valley and California’s Napa Valley, Ethiopia may soon be a household name when it comes to wine-themed tourism.
- It’s great to see Africa expanding into a sector that’s not based or dependent on finite natural resources such as diamond, oil, gas etc.
- Demonstrates the power of a vision and the ability for our dreams to take on a life of their own, improve the lives of others and exist beyond ourselves.
- In my opinion, our leadership is poor on continuity…ideas and projects do not always transition from one administration to the next. In addition, we have a habit of seeking and embracing projects that promise immediate rewards, at the expense of (and with no regard for) the public good, societal health & wellbeing and long-term benefits (and/or consequences). To see an African country and its leadership begin and follow through on an idea that took so long to materialize is not at all unappealing.
- The next step would be for Ethiopians to be trained alongside their French counterparts so that they also become skilled in identifying the best areas for vineyards, growing and harvesting grapes, knowledgeable in the art and process of wine-making (and able to meet international standards of quality) and competent in its commercialization (on a global scale).
- I’m all about African-owned businesses so if the wines – or a yet-to-emerge competitor – are produced from end-to-end, by an Ethiopian firm, that would also not, at all, be unappealing.