While it seemed most Capetonians chose Mauritius to escape the cold and wet winter, we were doing the same, but just ended up a little to the west of the popular tropical island, in Madagascar. Somewhat less touristy, this big island (it’s slightly bigger than France!) is about more than lemurs and vanilla. Similar to other former French colonies Madagascar also produces wine! How much do we know about African wine other than the South African industry?
South Africa’s well-established wine industry is currently the eighth biggest in the world, but there is quite a bit more to wine production in Africa that we either might have forgotten about or don’t know about at all.
As Madagascar was my inspiration, let’s start there. The winemaking culture was introduced by the French and the main varieties today are hybrids such as Petit Bouchet, Villardin, Chambourcin and Varousset and Couderc Blanc. Vineyards grow in areas with cooler altitudes – on steep slopes in the highlands. Of the eight wineries, the only one growing Vitis vinifera (the European grape varietal mainly used in winemaking) is Clos Nomena.
Algeria – Winemaking in this North African country dates to the Phoenicians era and it is the second largest wine producing country in Africa. By the 1960’s, Algeria was the world’s fourth largest wine producer and the largest wine exporter. Yes, back then, it was responsible for twice as much wine exports than the other major exporters, France, Italy and Spain, combined! What happened? After independence in 1962, French import restrictions caused a serious decline in wine exports from Algeria and the industry collapsed under poor management and state intervention. (Read more)
Morocco – An arid country like Morocco? Indeed! And other than producing a variety of red and white wines, there is even some wine tourism going on! Château Roslane, about 5 hours from Marrakesh, is the first winery in North Africa to be listed as a château viticole for the quality of its wines, but it also has a luxurious hotel and spa, gourmet restaurant and beautiful landscape.
Tunisia – With a dry and warm climate like Morocco, Tunisia’s vineyards grow in a favourable environment. Consumption is mainly domestic. Since the last decade’s decline in North African tourism, the wine industry here has lost close to fifty percent of its market. (Read more)
Egypt – Produced since ancient days, wine used to be an important part of the Egyptian lifestyle, but its popularity has decreased since the country became Muslim-dominated. Because the Egyptian government raises such high customs duties on imported wines (and alcohol in general), the few local winemakers use the lack of competition as a good reason to focus on producing quality wines. (Read more)
Tanzania – The Tanzanian wine industry is the second largest producer of wine in Sub-Saharan Africa after South Africa. Initially all the vineyards were planted in the Dodoma Region but today vineyards are also grown in the northern regions such as Kilimanjaro. The industry received investment from South Africa’s Distell in the late 1990’s and today produces for local consumption while exporting to neighbouring countries. (Read more)
Ethiopia – The wine tradition in Ethiopia only started in 2007 when the well-known Castel family from France planted the first vineyards in this Northern African country to establish Castel Winery.
Namibia – Supermarket shelves in our neighbouring country are usually packed with South African wine, but they have four wineries of their own. (Read more) The Erongo Mountain Winery near Omaruru in the Erongo region, also home to the coastal towns of Walvis Bay, Swakopmund and Henties Bay, has a picturesque setting and gourmet restaurant.
Zimbabwe – Most of us might know more about the Zimbabwean sommeliers who featured in the movie, Blind Ambition, than we know about Zimbabwean wine. The first grapevines were brought to the then Rhodesia in 1890 and commercial production started in the early 1960s. Due to, among other, land reform and political unrest, viticulture has stayed a very small part of agriculture with very limited production of Chenin Blanc, Colombard and Pinotage.
Africa is so much more than wildlife and minerals. While African wine might not really receive international acclaim, each industry that creates jobs, has the potential to support the industries of agriculture, hospitality and retail and contribute to the economy, should be treasured in our developing world.
Do you know about any other African countries that produce wine? Let me know!