When one thinks of wine one thinks of France; vineyards rolling over the soft Burgundy countryside, or chasing the river through the Rhone valley. We think of Northern Spain, and the vast open plateaux of Rioja, or the steep terraces of West Germany on the banks of the Rhine. There are few among us who would think of Egypt. Little wonder, Egypt is hardly known for its wine production – or its wine consumption. Yet, within the fertile folds of the Nile Delta lays one of the oldest wine producing traditions on earth.
The importance of wine to the Ancient Egyptians has been well recorded. Both for ceremonial purposes and in the pursuit of leisure, our Egyptian ancestors indulged heavily in the consumption of the alcoholic grape drink we still enjoy today. Even through Egypt’s Islamic age this tradition continued, as Egyptian Christians and Jews brewed wine to be drunk (often in secret) by nearly everyone. But the history of Egypt’s modernised wine industry begins with a young Greek at the end of the 19th century.
In 1882, Nestor Gianaclis arrived in Egypt in search of a location on which to construct a vineyard. After some time, he settled on a spot in the Nile Delta, not far from the port city of Alexandria. In those days the annual Nile floods ensured constant hydration and fertility for his vines, and the predictable, dry conditions made it a competitive spot to cultivate grapes for wine production. The vineyard still bears his name to this day, and continues to be the number one producer of wine in Egypt.
“We don’t have the complex soils of Europe, but we can certainly surprise people with the wine we produce.” David Molyneux-Berry is the head wine consultant for Gianaclis Vineyards. One of the founding members of the prestigious Sotheby’s Auctioneers of London, David spent most of his career as their chief wine auctioneer, proudly conducting the first wine auction in New York since prohibition. He certainly knows a thing or two about wine, and nowadays puts his depth of knowledge into helping Gianaclis restore its former glory.
“We do a lot of experiments in our wine cultivation,” he explains, “and we get some good results. We have attended wine expos in Europe and received very positive feedback on what we produce.”
Under David’s guidance, Gianaclis has gone through a vast array of different grape varieties, inspecting which type works best under the conditions the Egyptian Delta has to offer. An experimental vineyard on site at the winery keeps track of the conditions of the plants through high-tech satellite technology. An age away from ‘flood irrigation’, the vineyards are part of the movement spearheading the far more efficient ‘drip irrigation’ in Egypt – good not only for the environment, but also the quality of the vines. Gianaclis even boasts the largest water purifier in Egypt to assist with the production process.
All grapes are destemmed, crushed, and fermented on site. The barrel room is maintained for the slow fermentation of the finest wines on offer. Here, wines are left to sit in oak casks brought over especially from France at a cost of €850 (LE7500) each. The wines are allowed to mature slowly and to take on the select flavour of the French oak.
The result is fantastic, and David is the perfect guide to explain. He pours a bottle of Ayam White and holds it up to the light. “You see this wine has taken on the properties of some very common fruits. You can smell the aromas of peaches, green apples, and pears from the first sniff.” One of the waiters on hand opens up a bottle of Zaman Red and pours David a glass. “Zaman is the same, it is very fruity but in this case it is red fruits, berries, blackcurrants etc.” He is certainly a firm advocate of his own wine.
“We want people to realise how good our wine has become,” says David. “I remember one French wine merchant who was in a similar situation. Its reputation had dropped, through no fault of its own, and it had to get its name back out there. They sent off bottles of their finest wines to all of the wine critiques of France with a label attached that simply said ‘remember how good this used to be?’ That month, everyone was talking about them!”
This is what David and the Gianaclis team have been trying to do. They now allow tour groups to visit the winery, where they can learn more about the history of the establishment and wine production in Egypt. They lead their guests around the fermentation and bottling process, to give people an idea of how the industry actually works. The trip includes ample tasting opportunities of their finest wines, as well as a European style buffet in the beautifully fashioned visitor centre.
“We’re still expanding,” says David. “We are beginning to build a refinery to create a thoroughly enjoyable whiskey. We currently produce whiskey that is drinkable, but we are looking to take it further and create something that people can really enjoy!” Tour groups who visit now can see the refinery being built; in the not so distant future they will be able to try the whiskey for themselves!
David and his team have high hopes for the future. The ancient art of Egyptian wine production lies in their hands and they are positive about the steps they are taking. Perhaps it will not be too long, until consumers the world over will find ‘Egyptian Wine’ sections in their local wine merchants.
Are you inspired to visit Gianaclis? Join us on our next ‘Maadi Messenger Meet-up’! We will be taking a tour and a tasting excursion as a group on the 16th of January. Transport from Maadi and Zamalek is provided and the entire trip costs just LE150 per person. Check out the ‘Community News’ section for more details, sign-up on Facebook for further updates, or call Eddie on 01099161003 to arrange a booking!
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