South African wine is regularly exported all around the world, but what about wine from the rest of the continent? The biddies look into wine from different countries throughout Africa, including from Zimbabwe, where the subject of the documentary Blind Ambition are from.

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Sources:

Africa’s Top 6 wine producing countries – FurtherAfrica

Wine Enthusiast, The Rise and Fall of a North African Wine Giant

Vinography, All About Egyptian Wine

Agbi, Brief History of Egyptian Wine

Xinhaunet, African Wineries Tap Chinese Market

Wine Searcher, Moroccan Wine

Wine Searcher, Tunisian Wine

Wine Along the 101, Alluring Wines of Tunisia

Wikipedia, Ethiopian Wine

Wine Searcher, Zimbabwean Wine

Wine Enthusiast, Exploring the History of Wine in Morocco

The Grapevine Magazine, The Splendor of Moroccan Wine

Around the World in 80 Harvests, Tunisia: A Generous Terroir?

This Day In Wine History, The Forgotten King of Wine Exporters

Egyptian Streets, Oaks and Corks: The Brief History of Wine in Egypt

Daily Meal, Tej: The Ethiopian Honey Wine With Ancient Origins

Image Credit: SevenFifty Daily

Study Notes On African Wine:

*Please note these are the literal notes we created to record the podcast and sections may be copied and pasted from our sources above.

African Wine

  • African vineyards existed as far back as 2500 BCE
    • Dates back to Phoenician times and then continued through the Roman Era
    • Art of winemaking was lost in the 7th century due to Islamic bans on alcohol but French colonization in the 19th and 20th centuries brought back winemaking and drinking
  • North African countries used to have a thriving wine industry
    • Before they gained their independence a lot of wine was exported to France
    • Today, it has greatly diminished but its hard to believe that North African countries produced a third of the world’s wine output in the 1950s
    • Some attempts have been made to recover the wine industry but today, due to a heavy Muslim population where alcohol consumption is forbidden, weights down on local consumption

ALGERIA

  • Algeria has a long wine-growing history prior to colonization
    • 18th C British traveler Thomas Shaw claimed Algeria had wine that rivaled Portugal and Spain
  • Phoenicians and Romans long before that
  • 1830 – During the “Scramble for Africa”, Algeria was one of the first African countries to come under European rules and King Charles X of France
  • 1850s-60s the settlers started vineyards
  • Was the world’s fourth largest wine producer in the early 1900s
    • 1880-1930 colonial viticulturists created a “wine-growing empire” under French rule
    • Wine industry grew on the back of expropriation of land and exploitation of labor
    • By the 1930s, wine was Algeria’s top export, and more than half the value of the total export industry – most wine went to France (since most of the population was Muslim)
      • Was producering about 6-7% of all wine globally
      • Accounted for 67% of wine exports
      • In contrast – France was the largest producer at the time but only made up 12% of exports due to in country consumption
  • Algeria gained independence in 1962 – wine industry has been challenged there ever since
    • European settlers had owned 90% of the vineyards
    • “In the 60 years since Algerian independence, wine has remained precarious, pulled in different directions by its rich but thorny history and current political and religious pressures. But local producers and purveyors say the industry is ripe for revival, and deserving of it too.” (Wine Enthusiast)
    • A lot of conflict. Wine industry tightly connected to imperialism. In 1971, Algerian leader Houari Boumediene ordered that vines across the nation be uprooted
    • Also religious pressures in a majority muslim country
    • Decline attributed to no more EEC benefits so it could no longer export grapes to West Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg ETC
      • Also, the state (Algerian Muslims) took over ownership of previously French owned vineyards and converted the vineyards to things more in line with their religious beliefs
      • Tighter restrictions: Needed certain bottles to go to EEC countires
  • Tried to find other markets to sell their wine in response to regulations
    • 1969 – Algeria signed an agreement with the Soviet Union to sell 5 million hectoliters of Algerian wine to the Russians over 7 years but Mosco set unprofitable prices and the trade did not continue
    • By early 21st century, Algerian wine production accounted for just .2% of the global total and .1% of world’s wine exports
  • Two major wine cultivators in the country today: the privately-owned Société des Grands Crus de l’Ouest and the state-owned Office National de Commercialisation des Produits Viti-vinicoles.

MOROCCO

  • History
    • Moroccan viticulture predates the Romans, but they were the first to produce wine on a large scale
    • After the fall of Rome, Islamic dominance slowed alcohol production
    • Became a protectorate of France in 1912, and like Algeria, began to see a growth in wine production (but not on the same scale)
    • After independence in 1956, wine industry created by the French became depressed, and then in 1966 EU import laws prevented Moroccan wine from reaching their markets
      • ECC – European Economic Community quotas
  • TODAY: vineyards cover now only a fifth of the area they did when it gained its independence but it is still the second largest producer of table wines in Africa
    • By the 1950s, Morocco was one of the largest wine exporting countries in the world 
    • In the mid 1970s-1980s vineyards were taken over by the state and new protocols further diminished wine production
      • Vineyards could not compete due to fixed grape prices that were not determinant on the quality of the grape yielded
    • In the 1990s, King Hassan II appealed to French investors and wine experts to return the industry to its former glory
      • He is a graduate of the University of Bordeaux
      • Also known as a peacemaker for foreign relations in northwestern Africa 
      • French investors were offered long term lease agreements for vineyards owned by the state
      • Tailan, William Pitters, and Groupe Castel (Bordeaux wine companies) jumped at the opportunity 
    • Morocco is a hot country with a desert climate so most vineyards are on the foothills of the coastal Atlas Mountains
      • The relatively high altitudes and cooling effect of the nearby ocean preserve acidity in grapes and help create balanced wines
      • The best regions for wine are the high altitude vineyards of Menkes Fes and Berkane
      • There are 7 wine regions  and a total of 14 AOGs (guaranteed appellation of origin) and 2 AOCs (controlled appellation of origin)
      • 6 of the 7 regions are clustered on or near the Atlantic coast, to the southwest of SPain and Gibraltar, near Meknes, Rabat, and Casablanca
      • The rest of the region is farther east bordering Algeria and the Mediterranean Sea
    • The country produces 40 million bottles of wine annually but only about 5 percent leaves the country
      • Top consumers of Moroccan-made wine are France, Belgium, and England
  • Varietals
    • 75 percent of wines made here are red
    • Carignan, Alicante Bouschet, Cinsault, Grenache
    • Native varietals Abbou, Doukkali and Maticha
      • Another is Taferielt which is a blue-black grape and its origins trace to the Moroccan wild vines that once cloaked the Rif mountains
      • This could also be found in the Balearic Islands before phylloxera (called Farrana Noir)
    • Recent plantings in 2000s have been focused on Syrah, Cab Sauv and Merlot
    • White varietals (small amounts): Chenin blanc, muscat and clairette, chardonnay and also sauvignon blanc (challenging in hot climates)
    • Recommended to avoid whites, but instead do the vin gris or roses
  • WINERIES:
    • SODEA – a state owned company – dominates the Moroccan wine industry 
    • Most are owned by French companies and employ French winemakers and viticulturalists
    • However, a notable exception is Spanish winemaker Albert Costa of Priorat’s Vall Llach who is working on a project with Les Celliers de Meknes 
    • Thalvin-Domaine des Ouled Thaleb is the oldest winery in the country (established in 1923) and makes 100-percent Syrah

TUNISIA

  • Similar history to Algeria and Morocco with respect to the Phoenicians/ Romans and then the French colonization and then departure and being boxed out of European wine markets
    • Began in 800 BC with Carthage was founded
    • Ancient Carthage was known for its wine production and was home to the world’s first documented viticulturist – Mago
    • He wrote a long guide to agronomy and viticultural practices
    • When the Romans sacked Carthage, they stole Mago’s book and took it to Rome where it was translated from Punic to Greek and Latin
    • The book included advice on how to plant and prune vines, where to plant them, and how to make wine
    • 1800 years of Muslim rule put a halt to winemaking until 1881 when the French conquered Tunisia 
  • The majority of Tunisian wine production is rose (65%)
    • Syrah, Carignan, Sweet & Dry Muscats
    • Well known wineries include Ceptunes, Domaine Neferis
  • Climate:  it actually has a Mediterranean climate with maritime influences, very much like Sicily.  Except for the rare blast of hot Saharan wind known as Sirocco, the climate is very conducive to growing grapes.
    • Sometimes the Sirocco winds can be beneficial and reduce the humidity in the grapes but when it shoots to temperatures over 40 C it can burn or dehydrate the grapes
    • A harsh Sirocco wind is rare
  • Majority of wine production is in Cap Bon, a north-eastern peninsula
    • It has perfect soil (mixture of clay, sand and limestone-calcareous soils) but soil studies are not common or important like they are in CHampagne 
  • 7 AOCs
  • About 40 million bottles produced here as well with 60% made by a government-supported co-op and the other 40% made by five privately owned wineries and mostly consumed within its own morders
  • Tunisian wines now finding a market in the US thanks to Kathy Bailey of Travis Wine Imports
    • Traveled to Tunisia in 2012 and liked the wine but was disappointed it wasn’t in the US
    • Issue of pricing (“Americans won’t pay more than $8”)

EGYPT 

  • Long history of winemaking
    • Grape vines probably imported from Canaan (small region that now encompasses Syria, Lebanon, Israel and a bit of Turkey)
    • Egyptians provide some of the oldest artifacts of winemaking
      • Tomb paintings
      • Bas relief carvings that list best wine producing areas
    • Wine was designated drink of nobles, pharaohs and gods – some evidence that workers were not even allowed to drink wine
  • Wine in ancient Egypt was essentially made from grapes, pomegranates and dates
  • Egyptians thought wine was “the blood of those who had once batled against the gods and from whom, when they had fallen had become commingled with the earth, they believed vines to have sprung”
  • Depression of wine making under muslim conquest (7th C), but Viticulture was revived in Egypt by Greek-Egyptian tobacco merchant and entrepreneur, Nestor Gianaclis, who founded the country’s first modern vineyard south of Alexandria in 1882
    • Egypt was not colonized by the French but was a British protectorate – does not seem to have had much influence on the wine industry
      • British occupied Egypt from 1882 until 1954
      • 1963, Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nassar nationalized and merged the breweries and vineyards — seems to have had a depressing effect on the industry that they are still recovering from. Privatized again in 1997.
      • Before Gamal Abdel Nasser, Egypt’s wine industry was largely by foreigners such as Belgian businessmen
      • Became more restricted in the 1970s under president Anwar El Sadat
        • The government began limiting alcohol venues, shops, prohibited sales in grocery stores and banned advertisements from 1977 until his assassination
        • Trying to appease the Islamist movement
  • In 2013 Egypt produced 4,500 tonnes of wine, ranking 54th globally, ahead of Belgium and the UK.
    • (2005) 3 major producers of Egyptian wine today: Gianaclis (which produces the labels Chateau Grand Marquis, Cru des Ptolemees, Rubis d’Egypte, and Omar el Khayam, and which is part of an Egyptian company owned by Heineken), Chateau Des Reves (which actually imports grapes from Lebanon), and Obelisk. 
    • 2022 article lists some others
    • The two primary varietals under cultivation are Pinot Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon.
    • Vinography author was not a fan of most of what was available
      • Agbi article notes that in recent years a move to make wine predominantly from Egyptian grapes, not imported European grapes has occurred
      • References some international awards in recent years

TANZANIA

  • Tanzania, despite not having an international reputation as a wine producer, is home to the second-largest wine-producing region in sub-Saharan Africa after South Africa.
  • Grape varietals: chenin blanc, syrah, cabernet sauvignon,  and native variety Makutupora
  • Initially, grape growing and wine production were limited to missionaries, but in 1969 the Tanzanian government entered the market with the formation of the Dodoma Wine Company. (Post independence from Germans 1880s-1919 and British 1919-1961)
    • “We supervise their production. We pay for experts from South Africa and Italy to help the farmers to produce good quality grapes and good management of the vineyards,” he said.
    • Dodoma is the region where most of the wine is produced
    • International investors mainly from South Africa began to take interest in the industry in the early 1990s. In 1999 South Africa’s Distell Group Limited acquired a stake in the local Tanzania Breweries Limited subsidiary Tanzania Distilleries Limited (TDL). TDL acquired the Dodoma Wine Company and bought the brand of the government.
    • Simultaneously, in 2002 an Italian engineer started the Central Tanzania Wine company, which today is part of the top three company producing wine in the country.
  • Now exporting a lot of wine to China

ETHIOPIA

  • Known for Tej, a honey wine like mead (hard to find information on regular wine)
    • The ingredients include honey, water, and yeast plus gesho leaves (in the same family as hops)
    • Most commonly served in bereles which are glass beakers with long skinny necks
    • Wide range of flavors, styles, even alcohol contents (can be as high as 40% like… vodka)
    • First brewed thousands of years ago and is still a staple drink in Ethiopia
      • First mention is on an inscription dating back to the 3 century AD
    • Initially reserved for the wealthy but now is a universal beverage
    • A beaker of tej costs about 17 cents
    • Can sip at Tej Bars (my favorite names – Gedel Gibu Tej Bet (The Go to Hell Bar) or Obama Tej Bet named for Obama)
    • The Tej Bets in Ethiopia are still shaped by strict gender guidelines
      • Most bars are owned by women but women aren’t allowed to go and drink there
  • Considered “never colonized” – brief occupation by Italy 1936-1941
  • Contemporary viticulture in Ethiopia dates to 1956, to the establishment of the Awash Winery by entrepreneur Mulugeta Tesfakiros and Ras Mesfin Sileshi
  • As of 2014 the Awash winery had an annual output of 10 million bottles, most of which is consumed locally.[1] 
  • In 2014 the French beverage corporation Castel began producing wines of a number of varieties on a 120-hectare estate near Ziway in the Ethiopian Rift Valley
  • As of 2013 annual production was 3 million bottles, approximately half of which was exported, mainly to China

ZIMBABWE

  • Pioneers brought grapevines to Rhodesia, as Zimbabwe was then titled, in 1890. Commercial production dates back to the early 1960s and following trade sanctions imposed by Britain after Rhodesian independence in 1965, farmers diversified agriculture and expanded the viticultural production of the country.
  • From the mid-1960s, the Eastern Districts, Hippo Valley, Marandellas (Marondera) and Mazoe (Mazowe) Valley were found scattered with viticulture. However, since the mid-1980’s due to a myriad of reasons including land reform and political unrest, viticulture has steadily declined in Zimbabwe to remain on the shoulders of just a few staunch vignerons.
  • Most of the nation’s better viticultural areas are to be found in the relatively cool highlands.
  • Chenin Blanc, Colombard, Pinotage, Cape Riesling, Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah
  • Mukumbi – traditional Zimbabwean wine prepared from a fruit called mapfura by the Shona people and amaganu by the Ndebele
  • BLIND AMBITION
    • Timashe owns a winery called Kumusha Wines (3 reds, four whites, 1 rose)

KENYA

  • Hard to find info but apparently there are 2 wineries