|By Philip Whitfield
Special to the Daily News Egypt
A soft, languid mist of fine rain caresses the lush, gently rolling hills and valleys that protect this fairytale village outside Bordeaux and its treasured 820 vineyards. On 7,800 hectares of limestone and clay Saint- Émilion and eight neighboring communities whose borders were set in 1289 by Edward I, King of England, also Duke of Aquitaine, produce no less than five Premiers Grands Crus Classés and 46 Grands Crus Classés.
In the churchyard two score of pristine white tents are set up in a garden fête formation for a Spring Festival to sample superb wines others will match with fine cuisines in faraway restaurants, paying up to ?300 for the privilege.
Not far from here, the World’s oenophiles are gathered for the greatest wine event ever: Vinexpo; 40,000 people walking the halls, mesmerized by the offerings of 2,400 exhibitors from 148 nations.
And here, among them, is Egypt. The desert winemakers proudly display a portfolio of premium wines, as appreciated as much as any in this sophisticated emporium of excellence, where Baron Rothchild’s Mouton Cadet rubs shoulders with Moet et Chandon’s Champagne.
A catchy Egyptian message draws them to Egypt’s booth: If the French can build pyramids.we can make wine.
Egypt has caught the imagination of the French and Italian winemakers, the largest producers in an industry valued at $330 billion. In recent years, Egypt’s wine renaissance has risen to $100 million, as vines planted five or so years ago along the Cairo-Alexandria Road have responded to the challenges posed by a scorching desert climate.
Egypt’s wine portfolio
The portfolio of premium wines, taken abroad for the first time, has received universal acclaim from wine growers and producers and import/exporters from many European countries, Brazil, China and Chile.
“We didn’t expect such a wonderful reaction on our first outing, says Marwa Nour, the wine promotion manager for Al Ahram Beverages (ABC), as she pours the hundredth glass in a day filled with tasting, chit-chat and business card swapping at Gianaclis Vineyards for Beverages’ tasteful booth, strategically placed alongside the entrance to Hall 2 on the enormous Vinexpo showgrounds.
More than a thousand journalists have descended on Vinexpo. Agence France-Presse’s cameras roll as ABC’s head of marketing Philippe Saintigny is quizzed extensively. The reporter wants to know why Egypt has the audacity to enter such a competitive market, long dominated by the Bordeaux wine masters.
Saintigny reminds his inquisitor that winemaking began in Egypt 4,000 or more years ago and Egypt was the first country to introduce appellation controlée, stamping bottles with date and origin. Excavation has uncovered caches of wine buried with the Pharaohs, sustaining their journey to the afterlife, as much a part of their entombment as gold.
Praise for Gianaclis
The Egyptian wines introduced at Bordeaux are Domaine de Gianaclis depuis 1882, which honours Nester Gianaclis, the Greek-born winemaker who established the Gianaclis vineyard and winery near Alexandria in the 19th century.
After nationalization in 1963 the winery fell into neglect, offering an opportunity to the Heineken Group who paid $287 million for ABC in 2002 and began the wine renaissance. ABC planted 100 feddans of vines in partnership with Karim Hwaidak and his brother-in-law Jeorgen Peters. Their Sahara Vineyard at Katabah, has produced two exceptional premium wines: Caspar, a white Viognier made from grenache noir grapes with aromas of white currents, ripe apples, white peaches and white floral orange blossoms, and Nermine, a dense rich red blend of syrah, carignan and grenache noir grapes, which personify Egypt’s complex culture and the noble provenance of its viniculture.
ABC’s Domaine de Gianaclis Zaman (Tempranillo and Grenache) is medium deep red color, with an attractive strawberry fruit nose with a hint of strawberry and red cherry. Andre Veysiere, a French expert, was impressed: “Le vin est excellent, he said, an opinion shared by Barbara Germain and Agnés Sacy Germain, distinguished wine professionals.
Domaine de Gianaclis Ayam (Viognier) drew praise all-round, too. “Soft with excellent balance, said Emanuele Angelini, from Puglia in Italy. “Il vino é magnifico, he pronounced after half an hour of tasting.
ABC’s Production Manager Sebastien Boudry carries much of the responsibility for elevating the quality of the wines from Gianaclis. “Obviously there are enormous challenges to overcome: the heat in the desert and the irrigation requirements are probably the most difficult. Here in Bordeaux it is not permitted to artificially water the vines. In Egypt we have to. But we are conquering these obstacles one by one and are producing premium wines that are a valuable asset in Egypt, particularly to support tourism and the growing domestic market for quality wines.
ABC’s CEO Marc Busain believes it’s important to affirm Egypt’s accomplishment in the company of international wine experts. “We don’t intend exporting Egyptian wine in the near future, he says. “First we have to establish the integrity of our premium wines in the minds of people in Egypt, who have a poor perception of Egyptian wines based on the pre-privatization era. Tourists consume 80 percent of Egyptian wine. We need to educate them and the expatriate and domestic consumers.
“Vinexpo has validated our faith in Egyptian wine and the people who have accomplished so much in such a short time