The Ethiopian Wine Industry

Probably the best known – at least in international markets – African wine comes from South Africa, with its distinctive Chenin Blancs or Steens, and Pinotage. However, vineyard cultivation in South Africa can trace its history only back as far as European colonization.

Ethiopia has a domestic wine tradition with roots going back to ancient times. The production of wine in Ethiopia can be traced to the early centuries of the first millennium A.D. As in other countries with long Christian influences, much of this was likely tried to sacramental wines. 

Ethiopia’s modern wine industry is now over 70 years old. Awash Winery produces 10 million bottles of wine per year, most of which is consumed domestically.

Climatic and geographic conditions in the Rift Valley make it well suited to viticulture. Annual rainfall measures about 650 mm, temperatures average 25 degrees Celsius per year and the region enjoys sandy soils, which are ideal conditions for wine production. These conditions, combined with international investment, and interest, mean that we may soon be hearing a lot more about Ethiopian wine.

According to the Ethiopian Embassy to Belgium, Castel Winery on its part is a new player in the Ethiopian wine-making industry. The winery is located in the town of Ziway some 160 km south of Addis Ababa. Castel’s vineyards were established in 2007 as a partnership between the Ethiopian Government and the Castel Group, one of the largest wine and beer producers in the world. The wine estate is spread across some 120 hectares with the grapes having been planted between 2007 and 2009. The winery started bottling its first vintage in 2014, with the goal of producing a quality wine meeting international standards.

Castel’s vineyards are located about 1,600 meters above sea level with an annual rainfall of about 650 mm and average temperature of 25 degrees celsius year round. The region has sandy soils, which according to Castel Winery are good conditions for the development of quality wines and could in a few years’ time compete with South Africa, currently the continent’s largest wine producer.

Castel Winery has a total annual production of about 1.2 million bottles of Ethiopian Rift Valley Wine. Plans are to increase production to 3 million bottles per year by 2016. Exports destinations for this production include the US and Europe. Castel Winery could benefit from the AGOA program supporting free access to the U.S. market, and from the EU’s Everything But Arm program, which provides a duty and quota-free access to the European markets.

The Castel vineyard is exclusively planted with international grape varieties that include 55 hectares of Syrah, 38 hectares of Cabernet Sauvignon, 14 hectares of Merlot and 12 hectares of Chardonnay. In the collection is an additional 42 hectares of Sangiovese that was planted in the 1980s by the Ethiopian government.

Most of the 750,000 wines planted in these vineyards were imported from Bordeaux (France). Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes were chosen for the reds that make up the biggest of Castel Winery’s Rift Valley Wines production while Chardonnay grapes were chosen for the white wines.

Some regional states in Ethiopia have also provided investment incentives for this sector, in order to further support the development of wineries. Taking advantage of the growing local demand, the export incentives and the favorable climate, the wine sector in Ethiopia is rapidly expanding.

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