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Reviving the ancient tradition of wine-making in Egypt

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Egyptian wines are making a comeback

Egypt’s revival of its tourism sector following the coronavirus pandemic impacts on its wine industry as well as its expanding hotel sector.

Today, popular wine brands in the country include Omar Khayyam, Ayyam, Shahrazade, and Beausoleil, which are served in many of Egypt’s hotels, resorts and the bars in some of the more upmarket neighbourhoods.

They’re set to get a boost this holiday season, particularly as Egypt has just scrapped all coronavirus rules for tourists, who previously needed to be fully vaccinated or take the Covid test 72 hours before travelling.

Owners of vineyards in Egypt have also seen growing demand from European importers since the pandemic.

Exports of grapes, garlic, strawberries, pomegranates and beans rose as much as 30 percent in 2020, year-on-year, according to the Ministry of Agriculture’s Central Administration for Plant Quarantine.

As Egypt is a majority Muslim country, many locals abstain from alcohol but, in recent years, the Egyptian International Beverages Company has promoted the move from producing wine made from imported grape juice – and not renowned for its quality – to making Egyptian wine made from grapes cultivated in Egyptian vineyards.

The modern wine industry remains relatively small scale but Egyptian wines have received some recognition, having won several international awards. In 2013 Egypt produced 4,500 tonnes of wine, ranking 54th globally, ahead of Belgium and the UK.

Ancient wine tradition

In fact, winemaking has a long tradition in Egypt dating back to the third millennium BC.

For ancient Egyptians, during the Predynastic period, wine making and preservation was attested in the south of Egypt. Large quantities of wine jars were discovered in the tombs of Early Dynastic nobles, which signified an early appreciation for wine drinking. 

Wine was mainly available in festivals and special occasions, but it was consumed in daily life as well. According to research, the wine in ancient Egypt was essentially produced from grapes, pomegranates, and date. 

Its use, beyond that of drinking, was also as offering to the gods and the deceased in rituals, but also in medical treatments.

However, wine consumption was different from that of brewed beer. Wine was made exclusively for the royalty and elite. 

Beer, together with bread, was a staple of the Egyptian diet – but wine was the beverage of the rich. 

Egyptians produced wine from locally grown vineyards dotted around the Egyptian lands from lower and upper Egypt. Most of the vineyards in Egypt were located around the Nile Delta. 

Before President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s era from the 1950s to 1970, Egypt’s wine industry was largely run by foreigners.

Amid the wave of nationalisation brought by Nasser in the 1960s, authorities nationalised Al-Ahram Beverages Company, Egypt’s chief winemaker and manufacturer of the ubiquitous Stella beer.

The industry began to get more restricted in the 1970s, when the Egyptian government began limiting alcohol venues and shops. 

In the early 2000s, with the expansion of tourism in Egypt, alcohol companies sought to expand the alcohol industry again.