Welcome to Jordan. A magnificent territory, where for only a few decades, two estates have been reviving a wine industry that has disappeared for nearly 2000 years. A very interesting return to the front of the world wine stage.
MAFRAQ, A VITICULTURE COMING FROM THE NORTH
Although Jordan is not yet well known for its modern viticulture, which appeared less than 30 years ago, its wines already look promising. Like those of Saint-George estate (Zumot Company), located in the Mafraq region, 45 minutes north of Amman, along the Syrian border ; where the Zumot family was able to identify parcels of land suitable for growing vines, in order to plant 220 hectares in 1996.
Sandy-loam soils with old decomposed rocks, culminating at 620m above sea level, which we visited under a blazing sun. The stage was set. Despite the heat, the vines grow here with an impressive energy.
Omar Zumot, who has studied and practiced winemaking in France and who has been managing the cellar since the company’s conception, believes strongly in the potential of Jordanian wine. “The wine in Jordan dates back to 2000 years before Christ. It has just been completely lost for centuries“, he explained, smiling.
Continuation of the visit with a memorable tasting in the cellars of Saint-George winery, in Sahab, 30km north of Amman. We met Iva Boyuklieva, an oenologist from Bulgaria, as enthusiastic as pedagogue and who has been leading the winery for 11 years. “It’s not always easy to find your place in this universe when you’re a woman ; but working for Saint-George is a chance: a unique opportunity to be able to vinify about thirty grape varieties“, she said.
Continuous learning and a communicative passion for wine, which has trained us, barrel after barrel, to taste not far from forty wines!
A fantastic experience and the opportunity to see that varieties such as Merlot, Petit Verdot, Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon can produce wines with great freshness in Jordan. We even met “the man who can take the wine from the barrel by doing kung fu”! So cool.
WHEN THE SNOW OF THE MOUNTAINS MEETS THE DESERT OF BASALTE
With more than 330 days of sunshine a year, dry summers and constant breezes, the Jordanian climate seems to be suitable for growing grapes ; under irrigation, of course.
JR Wines – aka Jordan River Wines – was the first winery established in Jordan in 1953 by the Haddad family (owner of the Eagle Distilleries Group), with the desire to revive the wine industry in the country. “Wine has been made in Jordan since biblical times. It was important for us to reconnect with this tradition, too long forgotten, by looking for terroirs favorable to viticulture“, Nasri Haddad, the technical director and oenologist of the group explained.
In 2004, JR Wines planted 120 hectares of vines, also on the Mafraq plateau, at 840 meters above sea level.
We learned that in Antiquity, a volcano – now extinct – has poured basaltic lava fields on the mountains, making this region one of the most fertile in Jordan. “Add to that the snow of the mountains in winter, which allows us to irrigate the vines, and you have there the keys to the success of viticulture in full renewal“, Nasri Haddad added. A small miracle of nature, in the middle of the desert.
There are some 45 grape varieties grown on the estate, mainly from France, Italy and Spain. Important research for the future of the Jordanian wine industry, where each parcel is carefully studied, in order to identify the grape varieties that will best adapt to this part of the world. The results are already very promising.
And the JR Wines estate continues to innovate, as it is about to send some of its wines to Spain (Merlot, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon), to age them in temperature-controlled tanks filled with seawater (2). Just to see how Jordanian wines could behave with such ageing. Case to follow.
CONCLUDE ON A MANSAF, OR NOTHING
Have you ever lived a Mansaf (3)? Yes, I say lived, and not eaten, so the experience is unique. It is a national dish with thousands of flavors, consisting of lamb cooked in a fermented yogurt sauce and served with rice and almonds.
It is eaten standing, using only the right hand to grab the food, after making small balls of food between your fingers. We were lucky enough to be invited to share this incredible dish at Omar Zumot’s place, the director of Saint George. Pour a few glasses of Arak… and you’re in paradise!
Thank you to Saint-George and JR Wines for their warm welcome. And thank you to Alizée Raymond and her husband Guillaume for hosting us so kindly in Amman.
(1) Cereals such as barley or wheat, fruit trees and vines were probably cultivated in Petra. Presses dug in the rocks were found, probably dating from the period of Roman domination, when great importance was given to the wine. The Romans settled in Petra from the year 64 BC. It is believed that wine was produced there more than 2000 years ago.
(2) Program carried out via a joint venture with the Sea Aged Wine Group.
(3) The name Mansaf comes from the term “big plate” or “big dish”. It is usually prepared for the whole family. It can also be found in Palestine and Iraq.