Bosnia and Herzegovina, the sleepy beauty of the Balkans

Welcome to Bosnia and Herzegovina, a wine country with crazy charm, which, if I believe my little finger, should soon become a talking point ?

Bosnie Herzégovine_Wine Explorers
Known as one of the last European refuges of the vine after the Ice Age, the vineyard of Bosnia and Herzegovina developed on the basis of indigenous grape varieties that had survived this glacial period(1). Hardly touched by the war of 1992-1995, the vineyard shrunk from 6000 hectares before the war, to 3570 hectares today ; concentrated mainly in the region of Mostar, along the Neretva valley.

When weddings rhyme with wine

Vilinka Winery is the story of an adorable family who embarked on the wine adventure in 2008 with 3 hectares of vines planted in the Vilinka region of southern Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Bosnie Herzégovine_Wine Explorers
The Eres family initially specialized in the organization of weddings – with a company creating wedding dresses and a reception building built at the foot of the mountains – their idea to create a vineyard capable of supplying wine during the weddings was brilliant. Because people do not joke around when it comes to wedding parties in this country: count between 500 and 700 guests on average for dinner! “If you forget to invite someone to your wedding, close to you or not, family or simple co-worker, this person will come to your house within a year to bring you a gift. It is better to invite everyone in one go! “, Velimir enjoyed to share with us.

Bosnie Herzégovine_Wine Explorers
Velimir, who is self-taught, learned all about viticulture and oenology from books. He planted his vineyard on a plateau at 400m above sea level, on white pebble soils. An exceptional terroir for the local grape varieties Žilavka, in white (pronounced “Jilavka”) and Blatina, in red; beautifully maintained by Velimir. Production is almost exclusively sold on the spot. A wedding was planned when I arrived. Everyone was busy preparing.

About fifteen pigs were being roasted on the spit and the delicious smell of grilled pork spread quickly throughout the village.

Bosnie Herzégovine_Wine Explorers
At nightfall, the guests were there and the music was in full swing. Everyone danced, feasted… and drunk Vilinka wines. The party was a huge success.

The vineyard of broken rocks

The region of Mostar is an extraordinary terroir for the cultivation of vines, with its temperate Mediterranean climate and its white soils, composed of poor fossil rocks, favorable for the production of great wines, in both white and red.

Bosnie Herzégovine_Wine Explorers
The result is a deep, mineral and stretched signature in all the good wines of the country – especially on Trnjak (red) and Žilavka (white) grape varieties. The only problem is that the stones are so compact on the surface of the soils that it is impossible to plant vines with traditional machines: they can not penetrate the soil… Nuić estate, created in 2004 in the village of Crnopod, in southern Herzegovina, found the solution, inventing a machine capable of smaching stone!

The work of a Titan, because it is necessary to break the innumerable rocks present in the soil into pieces before being able to plant any vines.

Bosnie Herzégovine_Wine Explorers
“The wine-growing history of Bosnia and Herzegovina dates back to BC and was then already predominantly in this region. It was up to us to reconnect with the tradition by taming its magnificent soils of “unique white crushed stones, which make the richness of our wines “, Ivan Planinic from Nuić estate, explained. Fascinating, after so many countries explored, to discover new planting techniques, as well as new indigenous grape varieties – showing Bosnia-Herzegovina’s identity in terms of wine and cultural wealth.

Bosnie Herzégovine_Wine Explorers
The world of wine is definitely full of surprises. An infinite playground and my garden of predilection ; for which I thank nature every day.

Brkić, a model of success

Between a micro-production of top quality wines (15,000 bottles produced per year), an organic philosophy – even biodynamic on certain wines – and an exclusive focus on two indigenous grape varieties, Žilavka (white) and Blatina (red), the Brkić estate is a must see in Bosnia Herzegovina.

Bosnie Herzégovine_Wine Explorers
Located 20km south of Mostar, in the town of Čitluk, the estate has been in existence since 1979 and has been handed down from father to son for three generations.

After the death of his father Pasko, who had planted the vineyard between 300 and 400 meters above sea level, Josip Brkić took over the estate in search of the right balance between acidity, tannins and texture. Fifteen years ago, he converted the vineyards and the cellar to biodynamic practices. “I later discovered that wine is more than a product: it is a living organism”. It was with his three boys that we discovered the vineyard and tasted the wines.

Bosnie Herzégovine_Wine Explorers
The succession ? Too early to say. Josip was pleased to open one of their rare 30 bottles of sparkling wine in traditional method, 100% Žilavka. A “trial” done in 2014 (a rainy and capricious vintage), and I must confess… very conclusive.

The Monastery of Tvrdoš

We concluded our trip by visiting the Monastery of Tvrdoš, an Orthodox monastery founded in the 15th century and dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.

Bosnie Herzégovine_Wine Explorers
It is located on the right bank of the Trebišnjica River, four kilometers west of Trebinje, in the extreme south of Bosnia and Herzegovina, only a few kilometers from Croatia (Dubrovnik) and Montenegro. Nowadays, with 150 hectares of vines spread over 3 sites and an annual production of 350,000 bottles, the Monastery of Tvrdoš is one of the major players in the country and exports its wines to more than 20 countries. Its particularity: the wine is made by the monks of the domain. Open to the public, its long underground cellars, where the barrels are stored, are open all year round.

Bosnie Herzégovine_Wine Explorers
The cuvée “Tvrdoš 2013” (100% Vranac) – which represents 60% of the estate’s production – is a pleasant wine with notes of intense black fruit, licorice and garrigue. On the palate, a taste of cherry, plum and coffee. A nice surprise.

The Bosnian vineyards have undeniable potential. It is really encouraging. Moreover, as Professor Marko Ivanković, Director of the Federal Agro-Mediterranean Institute of Bosnia and Herzegovina, rightly pointed out during our meeting, “the quality of wines has evolved considerably over the last fifteen years, after the privatization of the vineyards”.

Bosnie Herzégovine_Wine Explorers
They even target a plantation of 10,000 hectares in total within fifteen to twenty years, if the country joins the European Union.

WineExplorers’cheers,
JBA

 

Thank you to Vilinka Vinery, Vinogradi Nuić, Brkić and the Monastery of Tvrdoš for their warm welcome. Thank you to Marko Ivanković, Professor Marko Ivanković, Director of the Federal Agro-Mediterranean Institute of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in Mostar for his time. Thank you to Ivica Glamuzina, from Vinogradi Nuić, for organizing this meeting with Professor Ivanković. Finally, thank you to Ante Bacic, from Les Robes de l’Est, for his valuable winery recommendations.

 

(1) The three emblematic grape varieties of Bosnia and Herzegovina being Žilavka in white; Trnjak and Blatina in red.

Karibou ! Welcome to Tanzania

One can’t speak of Tanzania without mentioning the magic of safaris – meeting with his majesty the lion king, the greatness of the city of Daar El Salam or the beautiful beaches of Zanzibar…
However we didn’t suspect for one second that it would be possible to find vines in this country. And yet… Tanzania is indeed a wine-producing country !

Arusha

Arusha


To travel in Tanzania… you better have a (good) guide

There are different ways to get to Tanzania from Mauritius. We decided to fly to Nairobi (Kenya) and to cross the Tanzanian border by bus. This allowed us to stop in Arusha, a strategic « crossroad » between Dodoma (the production area to the South) and the Kilimanjaro to the East. Looking back on our trip, I must admit that it was the fastest option… but that was assuming we took the right bus !
Our guide – with whom we exchanged e-mails in a very schollar-like English fashion – advised us to take a bus “leaving from Nairobi at 2pm and arriving to Arusha at about 6:30pm” which seemed perfect! Well, almost… Because there are two buses going to Arusha – but that we learned only later.
The first one is an express bus departing from the airport. Bad luck, we took the second option : a mini bus from the airport to the city Center, then a bus to Arusha – which was very difficult to find and made us run like madmen in 35° C, 70 kg bags on the back, arriving right on time at 2pm to buy two tickets, soaked from head to toe. Except that this bus left to Nairobi at 5pm in reality, 3 hours more later the express… and finally dropped us in Arusha at night, at 2:00 am !

2014-03-18 12.39.50_EDT
Luckily our guide still waited for us at the meeting point. Yes, he is always there at night. It’s a small miracle.
The next day at breakfast we laughed and smiled about our misfortune over a good cup of coffee. Then  it was time to go to a Tanzanian vineyard.

Dodoma, where missionaries brought vines to Tanzania

Our guide announced that there is  wine production 40 minutes south of Arusha : Masika Brand winery. Nice scoop! We decided to go and see for ourselves. Once there, we were greeted by Erik Zweig, the owner. Ah, but where are the vines? No vines to be found here Erik explained, we only produce plum, banana and mango wines. Oops, wrong place… We took the time to chat with our host, sipping a glass of sweet wine made from banana and lemon. Erik told us about vineyards 5h drive east of Arusha : Sakarani Monastery, run by the Benedictine Brothers.
The opportunity was too good to resist! We contacted the monastery. We spent two days waiting in Arusha – where we tried going out downtown a few times but were constantly harassed by people begging for money. Taking out the camera is unthinkable in these conditions.
Still we had no response from the monastery. We decided to get bus tickets for the next day. Nothing beats an improvised exploration on the field. The same evening we received an answer from Brother Selestine : ” we effectively have a small vineyard but consider closing the winery this year. At the moment we are quite overburdened with repairs on our buildings and farm work.  Unfortunately we can’t received anybody. We’re sorry”.  A little disappointment…

Tanzanie Quadri.ai
Fortunately we are flexible. So we fashioned a new plan. We decided to leave for Dodoma, the capital and wine region of the country, the next day. We would depart at 6am with our guide, as there are no less than 10-hours drive to Arusha-Dodoma. However,  our guide never turned up… and only he could drive in Tanzania, pass police checks and ask for directions! We waited for three days before we admitted the obvious: our guy disappeared in the wild.
So, we lost a week and could no longer afford to stay where we were.  Time was running out and other vineyards were awaiting us, so we we spent our time searching for a new guide. No pictures of vines to be found in Tanzania dear readers, we do apologise.
But the Wine Explorers are tough ! After looking in every supermarket in the city we finally found four bottles of Tanzanian wine. A real war treasure !

Two wineries : Dowico and Cetawico

We decide to improvise a tasting at a hotel in Arusha, where we ask for two wine glasses per person, not to mix white and red. Let’s be professionals. The terrace overlooking the hotel will be the ideal place for a tasting in rules.

M93A4601_EDT1
Dowico
(Dodoma Wine Company)
Imagi Dry White 2013 : notes of apple and white fruits. Final on quince fruit. Very light. To drink cold. 11% alcohol.
Dodoma Natural Sweet White 2013 : a nose of rhubarb and surprisingly enjoyable. The same delicate scents as one of my grandmother’s warm pies leaving the oven. The mouth is short and sweet. Apple finish. 8.5% alcohol.
Imagi Dry Red 2013 : Bordeaux style nose. Nose of black fruit, leather and a touch of green pepper. Short mouth. 11.5% alcohol.
Cetawico (Central Tanzanian Wine Company)
Chenin blanc 2009 : gold colour indicating that the wine seemed to be oxidized. Nose of wax and acacia flowers. . Slightly sweet and quite short mouth.
Another cuvée exist in red : Sharye, a blend of Syrah, Aglianico, Marzemino and Teroldego.

In hindsight, I will quote here the most famous expression of the country – so incredibly appropriate to our misadventure : Hakuna matata ! Which means : “no problem, everything is fine.”
Always keep things in perspective. Tanzania is a beautiful country and we will come back, words of explorers. The wines are light and without much complexity but who cares, we had fun with this impromptu tasting. Next time, we will go straight to Dodoma. But for now let’s focus on Kenya and the Rift Valley, where new explorations are waiting for us !

WineExplorers’cheers,
JBA 

 

*Retail price for the 4 wines: 12 000 TSH, about €5.30/bottle 

Madagascar – behind poverty, great beauty

« Nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed »,  said Lavoisier.

If there is one country in the world where the sentence of Lavoisier is applied to the letter, it is Madagascar ! From a pencil to a shower head, through a car wreck or a pair of shoes, each daily object from our western life found here in Madagascar a second, a third, even up to a tenth life.

carcasse voiture

Between idyllic nature and permanent recycling, Mada is an affecting country

Look no further for old 2CV Citroën, Renault 5, Volkswagen 4L or other Peugeot 404 and 205 : they are almost all here, converted into a taxi ! A paradise for collectors? Probably, you will say . But here it is rather a survival instinct that we face constantly. A hard fact of life : Madagascar is a country where over 81% of the 23 million citizens live on less than $1.25 a day and 60% of the population is under 24 years old. Imagine…
When we move away from the cities, it is also a wild two-tone campaign where the green of rice fields, forests and vegetation is delightfully contrasted with the red-ocher colour of lands and roads. It is a true master painting which capture the eyes of the traveler. Day and night with the atmosphere of the city.

rizières
However, Madagascar is also and above all, as absurd and unthinkable as it might sound, a wine-producing country. There are a dozen wineries, mainly divided between Fianarantsoa and Ambalavao, two cities about 500km south of the capital, Antananarivo (Tananarive or Tana in Malagasy).

Finding vineyards in Madagascar : a true Exploration

Searching for contacts in the wine industry can sometimes be a way of the cross, like here : very little information is available and no address mentioned on the labels. Not even any vintage on the bottles… A bit complicated then, but far from impossible. Word of Wine Explorers !
We spent a few days in Antananarivo looking for phone numbers. After a lunch at Au Bon Accueil, in the heights of the city – to enjoy a delicious rice with shrimps and vegetables for less than €2.50 – we confronted ourselves to the hardness of the city. It is hot and humid. The atmosphere is unbreathable in some places. Black smoke from exhaust pipes make us cough. The stench from mounds of garbage littering the sidewalks and where children wander in search of some food, is hardly bearable.  Every child we met gripped our hands, begging for some money. Poor kids, how can one blame them? Welcome to the Fourth World. Such a sad and helpless feeling of having made ​​a leap back in time. Our morale took a hit.

Tana2
Finally, after 5 hours of walking, we found Royal Spirits, the wine and spirits distributor in the city. We gained some valuable information regarding local wineries and learned  simultaneously that there is a third wine region, Antsirabe, 18Okm south. Perfect, it will be our first stop.
We had one last stop to rent a car, which came with an unexpected surprise – in Madagascar one is allocated a driver! With such misery around us it seemed unthinkable and extremely annoying to have someone to take us wherever we wanted to go, but it was unavoidable. We were told that this is nessecary because the roads are bad and dangerous, it is a safety measure. In the end I must confess that it was a great help for us to be accompanied by Mr Kiady Ramaroson, our driver, throughout the 500km drive on the N7, the famous road to the south.  In addition to being an expert on controlling the countless hairpin turns, narrow pavements, zebu walking on the road, huge holes in the asphalt and passing trucks of goods in the rises, Kiady had to ask his way several times, and in Malagasy…

Kiady, our driver

Kiady, our driver


Antsirabe – hybrid grapes and non-vintages bottles

We arrived in Antsirabe, where Stephan Chan Fao Tong, owner-winemaker at Andranomanelatra winery was waiting for us. He is the last survivor in the region. “ We were up to seven wineries here in the 70s – he told us – but they all closed one after the other, some were unable to sell their wine, others sold their land to plant fodder to feed zebus“. He fears for his own fields as well because his children live in France and none consider to take over the winery .
His philosophy : to make single varietal wines to keep the identity of each vinified variety. “Hybrid grapes – by definition grape varieties crossed with at least two viti species – adapt better to Madagascar : they require less water and are more resistant to diseases, which is why the vast majority of the wineries are using them“, Stephan explained.

Stephan in his cellar

Stephan in his cellar


Two wines which we particularly enjoyed : Seyve Villard and Rouge Viala.
Grand Cru d’Antsirabe Seyve Villard NV, (non- vintage). A red wine made from the hybrid grape Seyve Villard and aged in concrete tank to keep the freshness and crunchiness of the fruit. Nose quite similar to a Côtes du Rhône. On the palate a taste of currants and violets, with a little pepper. A wine to combine with a carpaccio of zebu. Cellar price : 9000 Ariary (about €2.80).
Grand Cru d’Antsirabe Rouge Viala NV. A red wine made from the hybrid grape Viala, also aged in concrete tank. Nose of gooseberry and candy. Morello cherry on the palate. Very fresh wine giving immediate pleasure. Goes well with spicy dishes like coconut curry chicken or pork chops with paprika. Cellar price : 9000 Ariary (about 2.80€).
Other wines from the Estate : Rouge Alicante NV (9000 Ariary, about €2.80) ; Rose Viala NV (7000 Ariary, about €2.20) ; Gris de Gris NV (7000 Ariary, about €2.20) ; Blanc Couderc NV (7000 Ariary, about €2.20)

Fianarantsoa – between sacramental wine and gray wine

We are 200km south of Antsirabe. To visit the Clos Malaza, in the region of Fianarantsoa, forget the GPS, it will not find the way. An address ? There is none. We left the main road to go into the bush, creaking dampers on narrow and potholed roads,  crossing ravines by way of precarious wooden bridges, going through muddy stretches that seemed endless, to finally find Clos Malaza, lost in the wilderness. This hidden wilderness property once belonged to the King Betsileo. Ce n’est qu’au début du XXème siècles que des pères jésuites y établirent l’un des premiers vignobles de Madagascar. Depuis 1987, c’est le groupe qui depuis perpétue son exploitation.

Rizière2
It wasn’t until the early twentieth century when Jesuits established one of the first vineyards in Madagascar in this location.   Since 1987, the Mac & Frères group perpetuates its operation.
Their Rouge NV, a blend of Petit Bouschet (90%), Villard, Chambourcin (parent of Pinot noir), Villardin and Varousset seduced us with its aromas of crushed strawberries and blackberries. Fine tannins on the palate and crisp fruit. To be paired with sautéed beef and vegetables. Cellar price : 10300 Ariary (about €3.20).
Vin Gris NV, (or gray wine), another wine of the Estate, is a specialty of the country. It is a blend of white wine in majority (here 90% Couderc13) and red wine (10% de Petit Bouschet). Une curiosité. A nice curiosity. With an almond nose and a very strong bitterness in mouth. A wine to drink chilled as an aperitif, with samosas for example. Cellar price : 10000 Ariary (about €3.10).
Other wines from Clos Malaza : a Blanc Sec NV and a Blanc Doux NV, a Rosé NV and a delicious dry Vin d’Ananas NM (pineapple wine).

We are going to taste the wines of Maromby Monastery, founded in 1958 by a dozen monks of the Abbey of Mont Des Cats, in Lille, which features a 7 hectares winery providing the monks their unique source of income through wine sales. 50% is planted in Courdec13, the rest in Petit Bouschet.

Monastère Maromby3
Two white wines and two red wines are produced – both dry and sweet), and a gray wine, a sacramental wine, and two orange wines. Cellar price : between 6000 and 7000 Ariary (about €1.90 et €2.20). Des vins de méditation, sans aucun doute…

Ambalavao –noble cultivars and capital of wine

We visited Soavita, one of the most famous wineries of Madagascar and held by the Verger family since 1973 and which has seen its vineyard improve in quality in recent years to reach the top of the Malagasy wines nowedays. Thierry Bernard, an oenologist from Bergerac and a vinifier in St- Emilion, has restored the vineyard of Soavita to its pedigree.
In white, Kameleon NV, a dry white 100% Couderc13. One finds an almond nose and a palate with a nice bitterness and a little oiled side. Fresh finish with notes of pear. 11.5 % alcohol for a wine to enjoy with grilled fish. Cellar price : 12000 Ariary (about €3.70).
In red, Château Verger NV, a 100% Petit Bouschet, perfectly balanced and grading 12.5 %. structure on the red fruit (blackberry). To enjoy with a chicken mushroom risotto.  Cellar price : 12000 Ariary (about €3.70).
Also Domaine Manamisoa NV, a lighter red 100% Petit Bouschet, ideal for the beginning of the meal. Cellar price : 10000 Ariary (about €3.10).

We learn that casi all wine bottles are recycled in Madagascar (take off the old labels, bottles washed, rinsed, dried in the open air… and voila!

Soavita3
Not far away is Clos Nomena, the only vineyard in Madagascar to use noble grape varieties. The wines we had the chance to taste date from the 2010 harvest and are at the moment the only vintage produced by Clos Nomena: 2011 and 2012 weren’t produced due to too capricious weather conditions .  However, 2010 is a delight and the two wines that we tasted will remain a great memory. Interesting : they were also vinified by Thierry Bernard.
Blanc Moelleux NV, a blend of 90% Chenin Blanc and 10% Riesling, is of great finesse. The wine has lost its sweetness but got notes of honey, spices and petrol. Delicious. “Boy, a chocolate cake with this wine please”.
Rouge NV, a blend of Syrah and Malbec displays a surprising freshness with notes of mocha, spices and leather with notes of blackberry and violet on the finish. I want a roasted lamb…

Rizière 3
Our journey ends here. Madagascar has surprised and moved us in more ways than one. We will remember the beauty of its countryside and the hospitality of the locals. One thing is sure : Antananarivo is not what we will remember about this country. This is a bubble separate from, and not representative of the country. A bit like New York and the USA if you want a comparison point.
One last espresso in the gardens of Café de la Gare, – a must to go for a business lunch –  and it is already time to hit the road again to our next destination.

WineExplorers’cheers,
JBA


NB : other areas exist in Madagascar : Lazan ‘I Betsilio S.A., a cooperative of Fianarantsoa ; S.A. Chan Foui et Fils in Ambalavao, which produces Côteaux d’Ambalavao wines or Domaine Lovasoa, Cave de Fianarantsoa. Next time.

Compo_bouteille_Mada