EGYPT (Cairo) - Egyptian wines do not exactly enjoy a good reputation. Still in the nineties, the American State Department warned to drink alcohol in Egypt, reasoning that the qualities would be that bad. Compared to today, the Islamic prohibition of alcohol was interpreted very casually in wide sections of the population in the nineties.
The monopoly of the only wine cellar which had been state-owned until recently can be blamed for the bad wine quality of the last decades. Although the enterprise has been privatized and belongs to a brewing and beverage company owned by Heineken today, politics understood how to hold competitors at bay. Customs and taxes of 300 per cent on imported wines provided for sealing off from foreign competitors.
It is no good that already the old pharaohs have highly appreciated good wines, which is the reason why you can document nearly 6.000 years of Egyptian viticultural history. Back at the time of pharaohs, wine was drunk by the upper class and there has already been a precisely graduated quality system.
Today, grapes are grown on 57,000 hectares, but only the smallest amount is used for wine production. The predominant proportion of the harvest is used for the production of table grapes or they are processed to raisins.
Once again, someone, who is providing for the long overdue quality boost, is needed: Karim Hwaidak, a German Egyptian, born in Dortmund and raised in Cairo. He is one of the pioneers of Egyptian tourism and his name is closely interlinked with Hurghada and its rise to the most popular Egyptian holiday destination. Meanwhile, he is living with his family in Italy where he has discovered his affinity to wine. And he immediately asked himself, why should not it be possible to connect to his home country´s wine tradition?
In 2004, he initiated to plant the first grape vines in the north of the country, approximately 50 km outside Cairo. Since that time, a further wine estate with approximately 200 hectares near Luxor has been established, so that the Sahara Vineyards enterprise is largest grape producer of the country and can allow itself the luxury of only using the best parts of the grapes for its own wines.
Karim Hwaidak noted in an interview: "The climate is absolutely predictable, summers are evenly hot, there are no disturbing rain falls or thunderstorms and the desert provides for a relative large difference between temperatures during day and night, so that the respective flavors can be developed." His consulting enologist and professor Jose Luis Perez, whose "Mas Martinet" as already achieved cult status, is a leading figure in the Priorat (Spain) and has been supporting Hwaidak from the beginning on.
Perez comes to Egypt at least once per month and it appears that he, like Hwaidak, views it as a personal challenge to grow the premium wines here in the desert of the old Egypt. At the moment, they are experimenting with a range of different grape varieties and they take care of the grapevines by using drip irrigation.
Bravo to the hitherto existing result of all those efforts and considerations. The wines offer an astonishing quality and are a pleasure to drink. Possibly, Egypt is on the brink of a turning point, emerging into the future as wine country, like at the time of the old pharaohs 5000 years ago (m.lebert / translator e.meissner)