The Castel Group, France's largest wine producer, is starting wine production in Ethiopia.
The group is planting grapes on 125ha of farmland in Zewey, 200km south of the capital Addis Ababa. A further 175ha is available for further planting in the future.
The land has been acquired from the Ethiopian state which, as Castel communications director Franck Crouset told decanter.com, 'invited us to produce locally-grown, quality wines, to help revitalise their wine industry.'
Castel expects to invest around US$4.2m in planting the vines this year, and the same amount again in constructing a winery and vinification facilities in 2009.
The trading name will be Castel Winery Private Ltd Company.
The grapes are all international varieties: 40% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Syrah and 10% Chardonnay. Over 750,000 vines will be planted.
The first of Castel's Ethiopian wines are expected to be released by 2011, and will target the local market as well as neighbouring African states such as Uganda, Sudan and Kenya, with expected exports of around 50% of production.
Castel's decision to open in Ethiopia came about following president Pierre Castel's meeting with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi during a visit to the country in January 2007.
The project should create permanent employment for several hundred local people. There is a history of wine production in Ethiopia, but the industry entered a period of decline after wineries were nationalised by the military regime and production facilities not upgraded.
Crouzet added, 'We hope to revitalise the local wine production, as well as cementing our own presence in the highly important African market.'
Currently, the Castel Group owns 1500ha of vineyards across Africa, with 240ha in Tunisia and 1,500ha in Morocco.