Today my wife and I had the opportunity to tour the largest winery in Egypt, Gianaclis, near Alexandria in the Nile River delta. Even though wine is not particularly popular with most Egyptians today, it has a long history in this country. There is evidence of wine in Egypt dating back almost 6000 years, where jars containing tannin residues have been found in the tombs of pharaohs. The Ancient Egyptians were also the first people to document the process of making wine via painted scenes on pottery and in tombs.
So roughly three hours after leaving Cairo we finally reached the Gianaclis winery and were greeted with a light snack of mini-sandwiches, pastries, fruit and juice. This was followed by a short documentary on the history of and process of making wine at Gianaclis. Apparently Gianclis has been in Egypt since 1882, though for much of the past 50 years the winery had been managed by Egyptian military officers who cared little for the integrity of the wine-making process. Fortunately, this has changed in recent years. Now under the management of Al Ahram Beverages Company (owned by Heineken International) the premises has been completely updated and international standards have been implemented.
After the documentary we were introduced to our guide, David, a consultant for Gianaclis. David has spent his entire career in the wine/spirits industry all over the world and for the past couple of years has been working to help modernize and revitalize Gianaclis’ operation. It was evident that David must have a background in microbiology/biochemistry as he did an amazing job at communicating rather complicated biological and chemical processes in an easy to understand form without dumbing things down too much. It really seemed like if given the opportunity he could happily speak for hours about the process of making wine, which was great.
To begin our tour, David led us outside to the winery’s experimental garden. He showed us the plants where they are experimenting with different water delivery systems with the hope of improving efficiency. As you might imagine the climate in Egypt presents certain challenges to growing grapes. While the weather is warm and incredibly consistent day-to-day (which is a huge benefit), the soil is sandy, it rarely rains and the water from the Nile has a higher salinity than would be ideal.
Following the garden we meandered through the complex, stopping every so often to discuss the various processes associated with the building we were standing in front of. We found out that while they do have a small vineyard onsite, the majority of their grapes are either grown at the nearby Gianaclis Vineyard or by local farmers (for their lower end brands).
As we toured the facility it was amazing to me (and I suppose this is probably true for all food/drink producers) how virtually nothing in the entire process goes to waste. Unusable skins and seeds are further fermented to make various types of spirits. Protein that is filtered out (to remove wine’s naturally cloudy appearance) is sold to animals producers where it is used as feed. Even the twigs/stems that are discarded from the grape bunches are sold to tanners who use it in the process of making leather.
When we returned to the visitor centre we were treated to a great buffet lunch and of course some wine tasting. We got to sample three of their wines – a white (Chateau de Granville) and two reds (Cape Bay Merlot and Chateau Grand Marquis – a Bobal/Cabernet Sauvignon). My favorite was probably the white although the Grand Marquis was quite nice as well. Of course we had the opportunity to purchase wine from their shop onsite, but as their prices were the exact same as what they are in the city, we decided to pass.
All in all it was a really great day. It’s always nice to get out of the city and see a different part of the country. And when you can add wine to the mix, it’s even better! If we have visitors come our way, I wouldn’t hesitate to return as it makes for a very enjoyable day trip.