Thursday, February 20, 2014

So, have you tried French-made Ethiopian wine?

On my way out to Ethiopia's Omo Region, I stopped by the new Castel Group Winery in the Rift Valley near the crossroads town of Ziway (Zeway) about 200 km south of Addis Ababa. I wanted to see what France's largest wine producer could do in the Horn of Africa.
At the entrance to the vineyards and winery a small army of friendly, but insistent guards greeted us.
After calling the winery to get permission for us to enter—I had no appointment, the uniformed guards thoroughly checked under our Land Cruiser. Fortunately, they found nothing but leaking oil. After a half an hour of convincing the winery manager how important I was as a visitor, the guards allowed us through.

What a first class operation with all shiny new French-made equipment. And current French winemaker since January 2011, Olivier Spillebout, knows how to grow grapes in the heat, as he made wine for Castel in Tanzania and Morocco before this Ethiopia gig.

Simple but elegant architecture.
For nearly a week, the team of local workers was efficiently bottling some of the one million bottles to be produced. And of course, the new oak barrels are all French.
They are bottling a red blend named after the region's ubiquitous thorny Acacia tree. Obviously, someone was thinking of their market.

A worker washes a filter which is part of the sophisticated irrigation system used in the 162-hectare vineyard.

Admittedly my expectation bar was set rather low from my experience on a previous Omo trip with wine produced by the only Ethiopian-owned winery. The wines I tasted at this Castel winery left no doubt in my mind that the French know how to make wine, even in Ethiopia.
So where can you buy a bottle of this French-made Ethiopian wine after the first release later this year? 

Try Ethiopia.

Winemaker Spillebout explained that they are aiming for the local market first, then  expand into the Middle East. He never mentioned Europe or the USA. So if you want to try the wine, I suggest getting a cheap flight to Ethiopia.