I remember a time back in the UK, when the main choice when buying a bottle of wine in a restaurant or a supermarket was generally European: French, German, Italian, Spanish or Portuguese and more rarely Austrian and Greek. Admittedly, this was some time ago and through the next few decades the wine market has opened up and the new local kids on the block were Bulgaria (at one time; their Cabernet Sauvignon was the biggest selling wine in the UK), Rumania and Hungary. From distant shores came import invaders from Australia, New Zealand, California, South Africa, Chile, Argentina, Brazil and others. Of course, in international eateries such as Chinese, Japanese and Indian restaurants you were also likely to find their own domestically produced wines; still a growing market. And with climate change, even English wine is now making a name for itself.
Now, I have always tried to be fair to each nation and sampled their wines in turn and sometimes had to sample them again and again, just to make sure of my judgement. But, to my great surprise and disappointment I had never come across any indigenous Zimbabwean wine imported to the UK. I expected that there surely must be a market as the climate and the areas of fertile land would be ideal for grape vines.
I did some research and found that there are pockets of production, but very much low key. Little is for export, which means that the local population must be quaffing the lot. Zimbabwe’s wine culture is relatively immature, but has progressed as far as establishing a basic appellation system to identify where the grapes for a wine are grown; although there are few strict wine production laws to supplement this. In the 1990’s, as in several other countries around the world, foreign “flying winemakers” typically from South Africa and Australia were employed to develop the industry. This led to the most significant steps in improving the quality of Zimbabwe’s wine. It is hoped that in the future with investment there is the prospect of Zimbabwe’s wine industry being viable and successful and able to grow and make pleasing and drinkable wines to share with the rest of the world.
The fairly young wine industry is concentrated in the north-east of the country between the capital Harare, and the border town of Mutare, Marondera, Odzi, and the southern wine areas of Gweru and Bulawayo. Mukuyu Winery in Mashonaland East is the one of oldest wineries in Zimbabwe. It was founded in the 1950s and for a long time became the stronghold and the pioneer for wine in the country; previously winning recognised regional and international wards. White, red and roséwines have been produced with mixed success. The white wines are made from a variety of grapes such as: Clairette, Colombard, Chenin Blanc, and Riesling for dry wines and Muscatel and Hanenpoot for sweet ones. Rose wines from Pinotage and Cinsault grapes are fairly dry and less full bodied and as with the whites, should probably be drunk young. The reds wines are typically round, soft styles based on the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinotage, Syrah and Cinsault grapes and have generally been quite dry and fairly full-bodied, but not yet with the fortitude of the traditional heavyweight brands of the world. Experts attest that at present Zimbabwean wines are not meant for keeping; which suits me, as I would interpret this as an instruction to consume it immediately.
Which is indeed what I did when Mercy (my partner) and I visited the Bushman Rock Estate Winery and Vineyard; as part ofa wonderful break I spent at the Bushman Rock Safari resort at Melfort, within the picturesque Nyamasanga River Valley, which is only less than an hour drive from Harare City centre. Many activities are offered there; including a safari drive / walk, cave walk, vineyard tour and wine tasting, fishing, canoeing and horse riding. I enjoyed several of the activities at this beautiful place, but especially the vineyard tour and wine tasting.
On that particular mid-morning, Mercy and I strolled over from the main lodge site to the vineyard; a lovely walk on a lovely hot day. On arrival we were greeted by our guide (whom I will call, Goodwill). He was a student on placement and was charming, pleasant, confident and very knowledgeable. We were the only ones taking the tour, so we had Goodwill to ourselves. He kept us informed and entertained, as we walked around the vineyards learning about the soil and climate and explored the inner workings of the winery while he explained the process of turning grapes into wine. We learnt that Bushman Rock is currently the only boutique winery in Zimbabwe, and has some history having been established in the late 1930’s when the vineyards were originally planted with Italian varieties. However, over the years the vineyards have moved away from the original varietals to some of the more noble French wine grape varieties. In more recent times significant investment has been made into the wine production to improve the quality. The ongoing investment and the improvements to the production have already yielded success.
And then onto the tasting: Goodwill led us onto a large wooden veranda overlooking the local Polo pitch and beyond it the beautiful vista of the landscape. He laid out a selection of several bottles of the estate’s homegrown wines. He explained that the red wines were based upon the classic French grape varieties of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, as well as Pinotage, Syrah and Alicante Bouschet. The whites were Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Chardonnay and Viognier. Goodwill had educated us and now he poured for us and shared in a rather enjoyable tasting session. I have never followed the advice that wine at such tastings should be sniffed, swirled and then spat out. We glugged the lot and found them all to be enjoyable and commendable. I feel a positivity that Zimbabwe can compete in this market; it can grow anything. Hopefully in the future it can grow and develop a wine industry with wines with diversity of flavour and distinctive characteristics. I’ll raise a toast to that……