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 !

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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.

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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 

Mauritius made wine…from fruit

What? How? Wine Explorers are also writing about fruit wines?!?
No, dear readers, rest assured. Wine Explorers is indeed the first global survey of countries where wine is produced “from grapes”. And it has occupied us very well.
However… It appears that there were vines in Mauritius in the 90s! We had no real confirmation of this, yet being the curious explorers that we are and being only being a few kilometers away from Mauritius – we were in La Reunion – we decided to go and check for ourselves !

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Wine “made in Mauritius” ?

After arriving on the island we conducted our survey with the Oxenham family, major players in the production, importation and distribution of wines and spirits in Mauritius. Steve Oxenham, the winemaker of the group, explained to us that Mauritius has been effectively experimenting making wine from grapes, first by importing dried grapes from South Africa, then replaced in the 60s by concentrated grapes.
But what about the vines ? « In the early 90s, sugar farmers planted wine grapes instead of table grapes by mistake », Steve told us. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Muscat, Chenin and Sauvignon Blanc.  That presented a great opportunity for trying to make wine! But the experience was short-lived.

from left to right : Steve, Dean & Alan Oxenham

from left to right : Steve, Dean & Alan Oxenham


The climate of Mauritius doesn’t lend itself to viticulture : too little sunshine exposure and harvesting time during the rainy season… « In hindsight, we realized that it wasn’t a coincidence that the settlers planted sugar cane in Mauritius and vines in South Africa. They understood the issues related to these two types of plantations well », Steve explained, smiling. The wine experience in Mauritius only lasted five short years…
Light disappointment for Wine Explorers, but short lived. If Steve is Oxenham’s winemaker, it’s because there is a type of wine production in Mauritius… wine made from fruit other than grapes: pineapple and lychee! The Oxenham’s are the only ones to produce these types of wines on the island.* So we decided here to make Mauritius “the exception that confirm the rule”, we’ll explain to you how to make fruit wine. And you will see, the process is very similar to the production of traditional white wine.

How does one make pineapple and lychee wine ?

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We were invited to attend the production of pineapple wine. The ripe fruit are harvested and hand cut – only the head is removed. Then the pineapples are mechanically crushed. A great show!
The must thus obtained is immediately yeasty to start
fermentation. Cold maceration (10 ° C) is done in stainless steel tanks with added yeast for 2-3 days. A few pumpovers  (mixing action in the tank to improve maceration) are done. Then the fruit is pressed to collect the juice. Fermentation is followed by chaptalization (addition of sugar), to increase the final alcohol content to 12% vol. After adding a little SO2 the wine is stabilized, filtered and bottled.

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Lychees are shoveled, pitted and lightly crushed. Juice extraction is complex because it is important not to crush the kernel : its bitterness is such that it would destabilize the balance of the final wine. Everything is done by hand! The rest of the process is similar to pineapple wine production from fermentation to bottling.

Wines that we would like to see on more prestigious tables

After the demonstration was completed, we tasted the wines. They were simply fascinating! True gastronomic wines in which we found the purity and delicacy of pineapple and lychee fruit. It would be easy, during a blind tasting, to think that the lychee wine is an Alsatian Gewürztraminer… imagine.
Alan Oxenham, marketing director of the Group, took the opportunity to tell us a story : « if you drink a glass of pineapple wine after taking a bath in the sea, the salt you have on your lips will amplify the taste of the pineapple and will offer more intense flavours ».

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Seriously? Looking at our surprised faces, Dean Oxenham , 4th generation to work for the Group, added with a smile : «when I was a kid, the only way for me to eat pineapple was to take a few slices with on my surfboard and once in the water, dip each slice in the sea before eating it – similar to dipping toast in coffee for breakfast».
The idea seemed simultaneously crazy and great to us. So we decided to test it ourselves.  Luckily we were hosted in Trou aux Biches, in the north of the island, in a beautiful bungalow facing the sea. Here we were, putting on fins, masks and snorkels, going for a diving trip to discover the local fauna and flora.

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Back from our « water walk », eyes still filled with images of harlequin fishs, corals and other clownfishs (I thought I saw Nemo), lips tasting of iodine, we savoured a delicious glass of fresh pineapple wine. Oh surprise –  sea salt marries perfectly with pineapple and sublime scents… An unlikely equation which recalls the magic of sweet-savory dishes…

Mauritian fruit wines haven’t finished to make good noise, that’s for sure!
Good rum too, according to Ludovic. Will keep you posted… 

WineExplorers’cheers,
JBA

*For more information : www.oxenham.mu