MILLESIME BIO 2010 – EXTRA – WALKING LIKE AN EGYPTIAN
The biggest surprise of this edition of MILLESIME BIO did not come from one or other well-known wine producing country, but actually … from the desert!
Making wine in the desert seems completely crazy, and in a way it is. Making organic wine in the desert is even more crazy. A huge challenge undertaken by André Hadji-Thomas (managing director) and Labib Kallas (factory manager) of the Egyptian International Beverage Company, EGYBEV. Egypt has an old tradition of wine making, more than 5000 years long!
There is plenty of sunshine in Egypt, 10-12 hours a day (!), but very little rain (less than 80 mm a year!). That means that total irrigation is absolutely necessary, especially if you consider the daily temperature of 45°C! The water is pumped from ten 120 m deep wells under the vins, enough to irrigate the 250 ha vineyards at the right moment (early in the morning). Why organic? Well, actually, it is easy to work organic when you have no real disease or other natural hazards. But it is also a philosophy of the owners to work as much respectful for the environment than possible. They produce their own organic fertilizers, from pruned branches and manure, just enough to get healthy plants. One of the biggest challenges is the right choice of varietals. Since the establishment in 2001, EGYBEV tried many different grapes for white, rosé and red wine. At the moment, the most promising ones are petit verdot, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah and grenache for rosé and red, chardonnay and vermentino for the white. The vines are growing on old terraces along the Nile river, like in the time of the old Egyptians. The soil is mostly sandy with a small (<15%) amount of clay and traces of organic materials. The grapes are harvested by hand and put in small crates to avoid crushing. Trucks bring them to the winery as fast as possible, while the temperature is hold under 15°C. The winery (a HUGE investment, in the middle of nowhere) is a state of art and high-tech. Stainless steel tanks with thermo-regulation, modern presses, very professional laboratories, … everything necessary for the production of quality wine. No copies of old or new world wines, but wines with an own identity, matching the local needs and the international quality standards. No 100 pp. Parker wines, but great wines where people may talk about while enjoying a good glass of it.
For who is still wondering how this could work out, just a few notes about those two guys in charge. André Hadji-Thomas is a Franco-Lebanese agronomist who graduated at the Agriculture Faculty of … Montpellier! He has 20 years experience in wine trading management. Labib Kallas is a Lebanese agronomist and oenologist who graduated at the Oenology Faculty in Bordeaux 15 years ago and has been involved in the production of wines ever since that time. They are supported by two well-known wine consultants: Professor Denis Dubourdieu (Faculty of Oenology, Bordeaux) and Professor Alain Carbonnieux (Faculty of Agriculture, Montpellier).
But now, what about the wines? I tasted two of them at MILLESIME BIO in Montpellier:
Jardin du Nil blanc 2008: made of chardonnay and vermentino. Appealing light color, fresh and aromatic (citrus), fresh and juicy, delicate and pure on the palate, crispy, zingy and elegant in the finish. Technically speaking a very well made wine, will get more complexity and depth when the vines will be older. But for now, despite a little bit too short finish, it is already a nice gastronomic wine. No idea about the price, but it is absolutely a ‘safe’ wine to enjoy during your stay in Egyptian hotels…
Jardin du Nil rouge 2007: made of cabernet sauvignon and merlot (For the 2008, petit verdot and syrah will be added for more complexity). Nice, appealing purple red color, fruity and floral in the nose, fresh, fruity, juicy, medium-bodied and well-balanced on the palate. Soft tannins. This wine is technically well-made, is already very enjoyable, but will surely get better every year while the vines are getting older and give more concentration and complexity. Same as above, a good and ‘safe’ choice during your stay in Egyptian hotels.
I wish both gentlemen lots of luck and success with this astonishing revival of the Egyptian wine business! Website (soon available?)