1st Wine Explorers’ world wine tasting…

“Exceptional guests for a unique journey around the world of wine“

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On June 16, seven professionals from the wine industry did us the honor of joining the WINE Explorers’ team, in order to share the discoveries of the first part of the trip, which began in January 2014. A unique tasting, where 12 countries were represented, as that we are very happy to share with you today!
A complicated choice because after a year and a half of peregrinations and 180,000 kilometers traveled, over 2,250 wines had been tasted and listed.
 Some wines were tasted conventionally while others were served blind, to give some surprises to a public of connoisseurs.
The idea was not to judge these wines, but to assess the potential of each of the selected wine regions and discuss the notion of terroir.

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They attended the tasting  : Patrick Schmitt MW, editor in chief of The Drinks Business (UK), Debra Meiburg MW, consultant (Hong Kong), Jean-Claude BerrouetSandrine Garbay, cellar master of Château d’Yquem, Thomas Duroux, CEO of Château Palmer, Stéphane Derenoncourt and Rachid Drissi, purchasing manager of the prestigious negotiant Duclot.

24 wines from 12 countries were tasted

DRY WHITE WINES
Kristall Kellerei, 2013, Rüppel’s Parrot Colombard, NAMIBIA
Aruga Branca Pipa, 2009, Katsunuma Jozo Winery, JAPAN
Virtude Chardonnay, 2013, Salton, BRAZIL
Skyline of Gobi Chardonnay Reserve, 2013, Tiansai Winery, CHINA
Tasya’s Chardonnay, 2011, Grace Vineyard, CHINA

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RED WINES
Pinto Bandeira Pinot Noir, 2014, Vinícola Aurora, BRAZIL
Nouveau, 2013, Château Mani, SOUTH KOREA
Cuvée prestige, 2014, Castel, ETHIOPIA
Grande Vindima Merlot, 2008, Lidio Carraro, BRAZIL
Don Manuel Petit Verdot, 2013, Tacama, PERU
RPF Tannat, 2011, Pisano, URUGUAY
Don Manuel Tannat, 2012, Tacama, PERU
Juan Cruz Tannat, 2012, Aranjuez, BOLIVIA
Cuvée Ameena Syrah, 2010, D’Orrance Wines, SOUTH AFRICA
Cuvée Violette, 2012, Le Vieux Pin, CANADA
Emma’s Reserve, 2012, Silver Heights, CHINA
Kerubiel, 2005, Adobe Guadalupe, MEXICO
5 Estrellas, 2009, Casa de Piedra, MEXICO
Le Grand Vin, 2012, Osoyoos Larose, CANADA
Ensemble Arenal, 2010, Casa de Piedra, MEXICO
Raizes Corte, 2010, Casa Valduga, BRAZIL

SWEET WHITE WINES
Vendange Tardive, 2012, Vignoble du Marathonien, CANADA
Vin de Glace, 2011, Vignoble de l’Orpailleur, CANADA
Tomi Noble d’Or, 1997, Suntory Tomi no Oka Winery, JAPAN

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TOP 3 OF THE JURY – WHITE

1Aruga Branca Pipa, 2009, Katsunuma Jozo Winery, JAPAN
(100% Koshu, 6 months in French oak, then 2 years in bottle)
” Bright wine, slightly gold. Nose of vanilla and acacia ; even more complex after opening, slightly smoky. Mouth with a round, smooth and fresh attack. Very delicate and subtle ”
Food & wine pairing : fish and beurre-blanc sauce

2Virtude Chardonnay, 2013, Salton, BRAZIL
(100% Chardonnay, 6 months in French and American barrels)
” Beautiful clarity, light yellow color. Fresh nose with some floral notes. On the palate a pleasant acidity and an interesting balance. The volume comes from the grape. A wine that displays some personality ”
Food & wine pairing : fresh tagliatelle with salmon

3Vendange Tardive, 2012, Vignoble du Marathonien, CANADA
(100% Vidal, noble rot, slow cold pressing)
” Intense gold color. Pretty nose, deep, notes of pineapple, apricot and mango. Smooth in mouth, with candied peach and apricot. Beautiful wine, dense, rich and sweet but still harmonious ”
Food & wine pairing : vanilla ice cream and hazelnut feuillantine

Two other wines also got the attention of our jury…
Rüppel’s Parrot Colombard, 2013, Kristall Kellerei, NAMIBIA
(95 % Colombard, 5% Sauvignon Blanc/Chenin)
A very aromatic wine, light and pleasant… that seduced by its “drinkability “.
Tomi Noble d’Or, 1997, Suntory Tomi no Oka Winery, JAPAN
(100% Riesling, noble rot)
Undoubtedly an unusual wine…

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TOP 5 OF THE JURY – RED

1Cuvée Violette, 2012, Le Vieux Pin, CANADA
(100% Syrah, 14 months in barrels with 19% new)
” Intense deep red color. Green pepper notes on the nose with herbs, olives and blackcurrant. Beautiful mouth, slightly herbaceous with a tapenade and red berries profile. Nice tannins, light oak and very good length. A wine full of elegance and finesse ”
Food & wine pairing : veal chop

25 Estrellas, 2009, Casa de Piedra, MEXICO
(Blend of Tempranillo, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache and Cinsault, aged for 12 months in French and American barrels)
” Complex and earthy nose. Black olive, plum. Mouth well structured, balanced and harmonious. Good length with an aromatic finish. A wine with lot of finesse ”
Food & wine pairing : chili con carne

3Kerubiel, 2005, Adobe Guadalupe, MEXICO
(38% Syrah, 16% Cinsault, 16% Grenache, 6% Tempranillo, 3% Viognier)
” Garnet color, early evolution. Intense nose of jammy fruit (plum, strawberry, gooseberry). Very nice, evokes childhood. Mouth also on black and ripe fruit. Beautiful and dense structure in mouth. Seductive and very well made ”
Food & wine pairing : sautéed veal and wild rice

4Le Grand Vin, 2012, Osoyoos Larose, CANADA
(50% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Petit Verdot, 9% Cabernet Franc and 4% Malbec, 20 months in French oak barrels with 60% new and 40% of one wine)
” Nose of spices and wild herbs (rosemary, sage, thyme), combined with ripe black fruits. Round mouth, full, balanced. Elegant and harmonious tannins. Remarkable density and length ”
Food & wine pairing : lamb

5Pinto Bandeira, 2014, Vinícola Aurora, BRAZIL
(100% Pinot Noir, 6 months in French oak barrels)
” Light color, quite dense. Nose of modern Pinot noir, woody, ripe and fruity with notes of blackcurrant. Quite fine. Nice texture on the palate. Precise extraction, long length. Beautiful final ”
Food & wine pairing : white meat or marinated red tuna.

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A few words about the countries presented

ASIA

China : a giant which is just beginning
World’s 5th biggest producer and current largest consumer of red wines, China remains primarily a country of extreme conditions of production, with temperatures ranging up to +40°C in summer to -40°C in winter in many central regions, forcing the vines to be buried each winter. The vines are quickly damaged and it is impossible to keep old vines in many regions. Quite an important problem for the elaboration of super premium wines. However, the size of the country offers many different mosaics of climates and soils, allowing hope for a nice future for a production which is so recent. Some top winemakers, as Emma GAO in Ningxia, have already shown us that it is possible to make some very fine and elegant wines.

South Korea : too much moisture for Vitis vinifera
A unique Korean wine presented during the tasting has helped us to highlight the fact that in very wet cultivated areas (90 to 100 %) – as here in South Korea or in Taiwan, for example – wine production requires the planting of hybrids vines other than Vitis vinifera. This seems to suggest that quality wine production is compromised in regions relatively close to the equator, where the humidity is constant and the cycle of the vine is continuous.

Japan : great elegance in the land of the Rising Sun
Japan is a country with generally difficult weather conditions, with a wet climate. The meticulous care of the vine still allows them to produce some very nice wines, especially from the Koshu, Riesling or Pinot Noir grapes. The tasting has shown that Japan can produce very elegant and aromatic wines, both dry, like the delicious « Aruga Branca Koshu » from Katsunuma, or sweet like the cuvée « Tomi Noble d’Or » from Suntory, a surprising botrytis Riesling (moisture combined with an altitude of over 700 meters here becomes an asset).

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AFRICA

Special mention for South Africa
A terroir already well known by connoisseurs for decades now, this tasting was the confirmation that South Africa can produce magnificent and elegant wines, especially from the Syrah grape variety, as here in the Robertson region with the cuvée « Ameena Syrah » from Dorrance Wines which was unanimously appreciated.

Ethiopia : a country as beautiful and endearing as atypical and confusing
11 million bottles produced per year, including 1 million by the CASTEL winery. Real potential in this wine region located 100 kilometers South of Addis Ababa, the capital. You can find here beautiful poor soils perched at 2,000 meters above sea level, with cool nights that allow the grapes to gently reach nice maturity, especially for red wines. Rainfall, often low, but offset by drip and controlled irrigation (as in Chile or California), allows the plant to receive just enough water. The global impression of the wine tasted is positive, even if it is strongly marked by its aging in new oak barrels. We guess a real potential for this young wine country… to be remembered.

Namibia : a confidential production
This country has only four wineries, less than four hectares each! Located North of South Africa, viticulture remains anecdotal there.

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AMERICAS

Brazil : a real potential
The country opened its borders only 25 years ago and is just beginning to reveal its potential. The region of Serra Gaucha, situated around the 29° parallel South, is already promising, both for sparkling and still wines. A topography which reminds us of Tuscany, a rather temperate climate, plenty of sunshine, a moderate but good altitude (700 meters on average), combined with expertise thanks to the Italian immigration and strong technical investments, promise a bright future for the Brazilian wine industry.

Bolivia, a land full of promises
Wine production exclusively in altitude (1,600 to 2,800 m) is probably the main secret of Bolivia’s success with quality wine production; mainly for red wines. Because despite the semi-tropical location of the country around the 21° and 22° parallel South, the region of Tarija (the country’s main producing region), benefits from drier conditions at over 1,600 meters and has a remarkable terroir, mainly composed of well drained sandy loam soils and schist dating from the Jurassic period.
In many Bolivian wines we found freshness, elegance and some complexity, like during the tasting with the cuvée « Juan Cruz Tannat » from Bodega Arranjuez.

“Coup de Coeur” for Canada
The classification of this first WINE Explorers’ tasting is telling: the Okanagan Valley, in British Columbia, is full of treasures. Near the 49° parallel North, the climate is governed by a coastal mountain range that protects the region from cold and wet depressions swept by the Pacific Ocean, 400 km to the west. The result : a warm and dry climate with annual rainfall of 200 mm and an average temperature of 22°C during spring and summer time. The region produces fantastic red wines, fresh, with beautiful elegance and finesse. Another great discovery – at the other end of the country, some 4,400 km to the East : the sweet white wines of Quebec, from hybrid varieties such as Vidal or Seyval. A very small production offering very nice wines with concentrated aromas, thanks to a cool climate and grapes harvested (very) late by a few irreducible passionate winemakers.

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Mexico : the beautiful surprise
The region of Baja California, South of California, was one of the best surprises of the first WINE Explorers’ tasting. Located on the 31,5° parallel north, this semi-desert region lacks of water (less than 200 mm of rain per year in good years) and does not forgive any approximation. It results in solar wines, powerful and balanced, meticulously blended, combining up to six grape varieties in the same cuvée and show how important it is to consider Mexico as one of the next stars of tomorrow’s new-world red wines.  A nice recognition for a country that was, in 1554, the pioneer of the Americas in terms of viticulture…

Peru, a great terroir
The Ica Valley is the main region of production of the country. The climate is dry and hot. “A bit like Chile“, some said. And even if we are here on the 17° parallel South, this region is suitable for producing wines in exceptional conditions, ” thanks to the characteristics of its unique climate and its alluvial soils”, loved to emphasize great wine figures like Max Rives and Emile Peynaud. At the foothills of the Andes, red wines made from Petit Verdot and Tannat grapes can give very good results.

Uruguay, to follow very closely
Despite a fairly dense and rather concentrated annual rainfall, very conscientious wineries know how to produce very nice wines, especially red, with rather early varieties such as merlot, or other less early as tannat. It is the case of the Pisano winery for example, which benefits from clay and limestone soils with very high pH (7.5 to 8), giving mineral and complex wines. In the land of meat lovers (52 kg consumed per year per capita !), wine knows how to find its place with style.

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THE FINAL WORD

All regions of the world are not conducive to viticulture. Yet, many factors such as soils, altitude, climate, grape variety or climat can create special conditions for the production of very nice wines. A protective mountain barrier, a South-facing hillside… are sometimes the ingredients for an elegant and complex wine. However, what can make each of these wines some ‘great’ wines is above all the skill of the winemaker and his meticulous knowledge of its terroir.
Understanding a terroir is adapting its cultivating system, choosing the appropriate plant material, making the right choices in the vineyard and in the winery. Jean-Claude Berrouet reminded us during this first tasting of this wise definition of terroir, given by Olivier De Serres in the 17th century and which aptly illustrates this final word : ” Air, land and complant are the foundation of the vineyard“. Let us not forget that.

The conclusions of this first WINE Explorers’ tasting still remain relative because unfortunately we do not have the chance to visit all wineries of the countries we explored (it would take although 10 generations of explorers to try to visit them all!). And as we all have a different palate, it is possible that we sometimes lacked objectivity. That is why it was very important for us to be surrounded by leading experts in the world of wine, with various backgrounds and experiences, to balance the impressions that we had when tasting these wines the first time.

This experience remains primarily a humbling lesson and of open-mindedness, for wines sometimes “outside of the usual standards” but with an undeniable potential and personality. We will renew it with joy next year!

The world of wine is far from having revealed all its secrets…

WineExplorers’cheers,
Amandine Fabre & Jean-Baptiste Ancelot


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS :
We thank our partners to believe and follow this project : the VIDELOT Group, DB Schenker, Château Lafon Rochet, Château Calon Ségur, Château La Conseillante.
Thank you to Elisabeth Jaubert, Ariane Khaida and Jean Moueix for having made this tasting possible.
And thank you to all the people close to the project and who encourage us every day.

Ethiopia, an African jewellery

Welcome to Ethiopia! A country of touching beauty where it feels good to be alive.
It was so hot getting off the plane! We just landed in Addis Ababa, the highest African capital, perched at 2,300 meters altitude. An amazing City in full cultural revolution, a living testimony of past civilisations.

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Ethiopia is known to be the strategic crossroad of Africa – almost all countries of the world have an Embassy in Addis Ababa – since it hosts the African Union and the United Nation Economic Commission for Africa.
Some of you also know tedj, the Ethiopian honey wine flavored with gersho leaves, similar to hops. But did you know that the country is home to an ancient wine producing culture, have two wineries producing together 11 million bottles and has been consuming wine since the beginning of the 20th century ?

Awash Winery, the oldest estate of ​​Ethiopia

Awash Winery, which has been in existence for 70 years, is the oldest active winery in the country. This 117 hectares estate, which is situated majestically on a mountain plateau rising to 1,200 meters above sea level, will soon expand its vineyard planting another 180 hectares, alongside the existing vineyard.

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Because the estate, acquired in 2013 by Blue Nile, a company created through a partnership between Mr. Mulugeta Tesfakiros – an emerging real estate Ethiopian developer – and 8 Mile, a capital pool company chaired by Sir Bob Geldof, famous Irish musician and activist for the African cause – prospects for development now appears very good. “Continuous improvement of the quality of wine, renovation of equipment and training of Awash staff will help to establish Awash Winery as a strong brand in the country”, Mr. Tesfakiros told us. The vineyard’s potential is impressive.
Renovations are numerous (much equipment have to be replaced) and the cellar is old, but once the site will be finished, wine quality will improve.

Abraham de Klerk and JBA @ Awash Winery

Abraham de Klerk and JBA @ Awash Winery


For now the winery isn’t far from the 10 million bottles mark produced annually, with exclusive consumption on the Ethiopian market. And even though Awash Winery has already been approached by foreign customers, there are no exports planned at the moment, since there isn’t even enough wine to satisfy the local demand.

Non-standard harvests and transport of grapes : the Awash case study

The vineyard is located in Awash Merti Jersu, only 115 km southeast of Addis Ababa. However we had to get up at dawn since we had to go back the same day and as it takes a good 3 ½ hours driving with a 4X4 :the roads are very bad and we had to drive carefully. The landscapes were of breathtaking beauty: houses with thatched roofs, half-naked children playing on the floor in front of the ocher doorstep, endless stretches of desert, majestic palm trees and camels greeting us throughout our journey, all in a patchwork of colours worthy of the finest clichés.

9-Ethiopia-harvest cession at Awash wines
Here vines are to be found close to the equator, implying a much shorter vegetative cycle than in Europe or South Africa for example. It is possible to harvest up to twice a year: from November to December and from June to July. This is the case at Awash. (Except that the harvest was in April, because the purchase of the estate took a little longer than expected). “But the vines will  return to their normal cycle by November”, Abraham de Klerk, Awash winemaker, explained to us.
And even though we were only a hundred kilometers awy from Awash cellar, in the center of the capital, don’t forget that Ethiopia routes can be (very) bad, especially for trucks! It takes more than 7 hours for a truck loaded with grapes to complete this vineyard-winery path. A dangerous and high risk mission because the grapes – despite the protective sheeting on top – can get burned under the warm African sun.

9-Ethiopia-harvest cession part 2 at Awash wines
In the near future these trucks will be replaced with new refrigerated ones. At the moment the grapes are left in the truck overnight to lower the temperature of the berries before pressing them the next morning.

Awash Winery’s wine range

Once the vineyard tour ended we returned to Addis Ababa. A tasting of the wines awaited us the next day.
The range consists of four wines :
A white and a red made from the grapes from Awash vineyard :
Kemila Medium Dry White 2013*, a slightly sweet white, mainly from Chenin blanc (80%) and Grenache blanc. Golden colour, oxidative nose with notes of beeswax. Fresh mouth with white flesh fruits.
Axumit Sweet Red Wine 2013*, a blend of red Grenache (60%), Sangiovese, Petite Syrah, Gamay, Nebbiolo, Dodoma and Tinta Amarela. The most popular Ethiopian wine with a nose of red fruit and a great acidity.
And two resineous wines** : Awash White wine 2014* and Gouder Red Wine 2013*.

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A peculiarity at Awash: they constantly recycle wine bottles. Thus we could find old bottles, 40 to 50 years old, on the market! A great environmental initiative.
Exclusive information: a  Méthode Cap Classique (MCC) sparkling wine made from 100% Chenin Blanc will enlarge the range in November.

The time has come for the sheep

Mr. Mulugeta Tesfakiros kindly organized a visit to the second Ethiopian winery: Castel Winery, for us the next morning. “Because in Ethiopia there are no competitors, only friends and neighbours”, Mulugeta said smiling.
But for now let’s go to Langano Lake where we were invited for the night to the Langano Bekele Molla Hotel, a hotel and restaurant complex that will soon open its doors to the public. The kitchen has just been finished, but the fridges were still empty!  A team of local chefs were coming to cook during the weekend. They brought vegetables, fish and most  surprisingly…a live sheep with them!
Speaking to one’s future meal is an intriguing moment, to attend the sacrifice of the animal – within the set rules comprising both art and respect for the beast.  It is however a unique experience that I’m not ready to forget (even though I must admit that I was very pale for a few minutes after it was done).
Finally we had a lovely dinner.

Castel Winery, the Ethiopian new vineyard

After a good night’s rest in the wilderness, fully recovered from our emotional evening, we were at Castel Winery, in the town of Ziway, 163 km south of Addis Ababa.

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This project vineyard was created in 2007 as a partnership between the Ethiopian Government and the Castel Group (one of the largest wine producers in the world and n°2 in the production of beer in Africa). This young estate – with 120 hectares of vines planted between 2007 and 2009 – previously sold a large part of its production to Awash Winery and has just started bottling its first vintage in the beginning of 2014. We arrived at the right time !
At Castel Winery one harvest per year is chosen, for a total production of one million bottles. The second crop is green harvested , explained Olivier Spillebout, the winemaker of the domain. “We wouldn’t necessarily produce much more with a second harvest, so we prefer to let the vines rest”, he added.
Olivier suggested to go for a ride in the vineyard with the pickup ! A nice vineyard faced us, exclusively planted with international varieties: 55 hectares of Syrah, 38 of Cabernet Sauvignon, 14 of Merlot and 12 of Chardonnay. In addition there are 42 hectares of Sangiovese, planted in the 80’s by the Government.

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And suddenly, we encountered a surprise. “What all these huge trenches along the river for?”, we asked Olivier. “It’s there to protect the vineyard from hippos”, he replied smiling. In addition to being one of the most dangerous animal species in Africa, hippos could easily ransack the vines without this natural barrier !

Castel Winery’s wine range

Located 1,600 meters above sea level, with an annual rainfall of 650 mm, average temperatures of 25 degrees year round and sandy soils, Castel Winery met good conditions for the development of quality wines, and in addition to that the cellar is brand new.
The two ranges of wines at Castel :
Accacia, the tradition range, with fruity wines aged in stainless steel tanks.
Acacia Medium sweet white 2013, a 100% Chardonnay, with a taste of banana and white flowers, and a medium sweetness in mouth.
Acacia Medium sweet red 2013, a blend with equal proportions of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and Syrah. Nose of black fruit. Sweetness in mouth, which is very popular and appreciated from Ethiopian palates.
Acacia Dry red 2013, the same blend in a dry version, with intense black fruit flavours and good freshness.

Rift Valley, the premium range with wines partly aged in French oak barrels.

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Rift Valley Chardonnay 2013, a nose and mouth with peach and citrus aromas. Very fresh. The addition of woodchips gives some roundness in mouth.
Rift Valley Merlot 2013, a crunchy wine full of red fruit. Wood softened tannins.
Rift Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, a more powerful beautifully structured wine.  Well made.
Rift Valley Syrah 2013, the most interesting wine we tasted, with hints of spice, black fruit and violets. Nice surprise.

The Scarecrow watches over the vines

It is impossible to conclude this article without presenting a unique job…
The vine has many predators  when the grapes are growing on the vines – some more and some less dangerous. The vineyards of Zimbabwe and Kenya face monkey attacks, in a quest to find sweet berries to put in their mouths, and in this case armed guards are stationed at key points in the vineyard. It is effective and dissuasive. In Ethiopia we have seen that even hippos can be a threat. But the main scourge for many vineyards remains bird attacks! When a squadron attacks a vineyard, it can decimate a crop within just a few minutes. One method, used in countries like Namibia, is to put nets over the vines. Rather effective, but expensive if needed to cover over 100 hectares…

Scarecrow @ Awash Winery

Scarecrow @ Awash Winery


While in Ethiopia –  both at Awash and at Castel – we saw for the first time a job as improbable as unique: the job of being a scarecrow ! It is effective because labour is cheap and the sound of the whip snapping trough the air is very impressive. We found the demonstration spectacular. Imagine, every 30 meters throughout the vineyard, a human scarecrow is stationed, waving his whip with energy. A nice concert !

For us, in summary, Ethiopia has been an invitation to travel, a profound meditation to ourselves. A return to core values, where man and nature are listening to one another. This country has opened our eyes to the beauty of the world around us (if not already done, this has amplified it for sure) and it showed us how fragile our ecosystem is and that it needs to be preserved.
Go visit these two wineries, you will be very welcome, words of explorers ! 

WineExplorers’ment votre,
JBA

 

*The vintage is not mentioned on wine bottles.
**Ethiopians consume mostly resineous wines since the beginning of the 20th century : dried grapes – coming from Turkey or South Africa – rehydrated before fermentation.