I never imagined that Ethiopia produced wine until I arrived jet lag and weary at my hotel in Addis Ababa, went to the bar and ordered a drink. “Do you prefer red or white?” the gregarious bartender asked with a smile. “What do you have” I replied, being kind of a wine connoisseur. He rattled off the different wines starting with South Africa and then asked if I’d like to try an Ethiopian wine. Ethiopian wine? I was shocked. “Is it good?” I questioned trying not to sound like a wine snob. “Try for yourself” he replied with a knowing grin. I began with a glass of dry white wine and proceeded on to a delightful glass of smooth red. It was delicious! This would become my five o’clock ritual for the next two weeks in Ethiopia; a ritual I dearly miss since being back home where I have yet to find a bottle of Ethiopian wine.
Ethiopia’s climate and topography are prefect for making wine especially in the Rift Valley where the climate is mild with a fair amount of sunshine and adequate amount of rain for growing grapes. Although wine had been produced in Ethiopia since World War II, the Ethiopian wine industry has never been that well known and most of the grapes were grown near the nation’s capital. In 2007, French beverage giant Castel saw the potential for growing grapes and producing wine in the Rift Valley and opened the Castel Winery near the town of Ziway about 100 miles (160 kilometers) south of Addis Ababa. Ethiopia’s wine industry was about to change along with the image of Ethiopia itself.
Castel brought in their own grapes from Bordeaux planting 750,000 vines over 125 hectares for their varieties of Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay grapes. Per a recent article in the Guardian, “First Bottles of Ethiopian Wine Produced by French firm Castel“, the first production of 1.2 million bottles of Rift Valley wine has been completed. Half of the production is intended for export, and Castel plans to double production over the coming years hoping to compete with and rival South African wines.
I had been enjoying my nightly glass or two of Ethiopian wine for well over a week, not having the time to stop and think about where it was actually produced. It took a six-hour drive south of Addis Ababa into Ethiopia’s sensational Rift Valley where I visited my first Ethiopian winery. Near the town of Ziway about half way to our destination, our caravan of land cruisers pulled over for a brief stop at the newly opened Castel Winery tasting room. The intention was to buy a few bottles of wine however there really wasn’t a way we could stop at a winery without enjoying a glass of wine.
My jaw dropped open in surprise as we pulled into the parking lot and entered the building. It was stunning, gorgeous and so out of place. Right across the street was a reminder that we were in rural Ethiopia and we had just driven three hours seeing women carrying jerricans of water on their back, men and children riding donkey carts, and herders tending their cattle along the side of the road.
I was excited to enter the building and explore what it looked like inside. I was not disappointed. It is gorgeous and the ceiling is built like a giant tukel (a traditional grass and mud hut that most rural Ethiopians live in).
I headed into the wine shop to buy a few bottles of wine for the road. For a highly competitive price of $10 a bottle, I can see how Ethiopian Rift Valley wine is going to give South African wine something to think about.
I loved the colorful artwork inside Castel. Here are some of my favorite pieces.
We were only supposed to have a short ten minute stop, but somehow our group found the outside terrace and we all ordered a quick glass of wine. It was delicious!
I could have spent the entire day at Castel sipping marvelous wine and touring the vineyards but sadly it was time to leave. We had about a three hour drive to our location for the next couple of days and no one wanted to fall asleep in the car. The scenery of the Rift Valley is way to stunning to miss.
I was in Ethiopia as a reporting fellow with the International Reporting Project.
References used for this post:
“First Bottles of Ethiopian Wine Produced by French firm Castel” (The Guardian, published July 23, 2014)
Addis News article “First Bottles of Ethiopian Wine Produced by Castel”
For more about Ethiopian wines:
Wine Explorers: The vineyards of Ethiopia
That is so awesome. I love the sense of place in the setting, the art and nature… atmospheric.
Have you found any way to buy this in the US or even Europe?
Thanks Jill! Not yet. I looked briefly at our wine store but didn’t see it. But I did read that they are trying to export it to countries that have a lot of Ethiopian expats and we have quite a large population here in MN so I bet if I look hard I can find it! 🙂 It really is delicious!!!
Who would have thought Ethiopia produced wine? I hope it does really well.
I know Debra! I was so surprised. And it actually is very good wine! I hope it does well too. I think Ethiopia is really on the verge of development. I could see it everywhere with all the road and building construction. It is going to be quite a different country in the next couple of decades.
That is fascinating- and beautiful! I would love to visit Ethiopia
Thanks! I loved Ethiopia. It is beautiful, the people are wonderful and it felt very safe. I would love to go back. So much to see and do there.
Now there is a big surprise on this journey!
Yes indeed Sue!!!
Really beautiful artwork, Nicole. I had no idea that Ethiopia had its own wines. I’ve never seen them in South Africa. I must have a closer look on our shelves here. 🙂
I loved this place Sylvia. It was wonderful.
Well, I am stunned once again! A winery? A gorgeous winery! I must make a trip to Ethiopia. Incredible.
Yes crazy isn’t it Debbie! I was shocked to see Ethiopian wine and it was so good too!
When we lived in Mexico we came across the most interesting liquor store that did wine tastings and carried wine from all over the world, Ethiopia being one of them. It was the first and only time I have seen wine from this region.
Wow, really? I can’t believe you found Ethiopian wine in Mexico! That is pretty amazing!
I was shocked!
love your post…Ethiopia looks amazing an I love the wine….
Thanks Danny! I loved Ethiopia and only saw a tiny bit. Would love to go back.
Thanks for sharing @thirdeyemom, I am Ethiopian so reading your article and those positive comments made me feel great about my Country!
So glad you enjoyed. I loved visiting Ethiopia and only touched the surface. I would love to go back. It is a beautiful country with wonderful people and a lot of culture. Someday I hope to return.
I loved the Rift Valley wine, when I was there to visit my families in Ethiopia. It tasted amazing. I can’t wait to see it in the counter somewhere in the states. There used to be more varieties of wine in Ethiopia like Axumite, Gouder, and now Rift Valley.
Yes it is truly delicious. I really had no idea that Ethiopian produced wine until I was there. The Rift Valley is a beautiful place.
I am an expat residing in London. I’ll make sure to check it out in December. Cheers! !
Thanks for the comment! Lucky you, that you can go have some Ethiopian wine. I have yet to find it here in the States but I’m going to try at a local Ethiopian restaurant. 🙂
Congratulations to my country ETHIOPIA, Castel Winery and all wine lovers!! I have a Great Dream to See my Country, will be the LEADER in Wine Industry from Africa and also the highest competent worldwide!! Now, Ethiopia is in the World Wine List! To contribute my best, I am learning European Master of Science In Viticulture and Enology in the world’s largest wine producing countries (France and Germany). I hope I will be good #EthiopianWineMaker and Producer!
Thanks #thirdeyemom for sharing!