EGYPTIAN winemaking: FROM CLEOPATRA TO MODERN FRENCH-ASSISTED EXPERTISE
Wines

But as the 1900s wore on, so did the quality of the Gianaclis winery until the government put the Gianaclis Vineyards for Beverages on the table for privatization in 1999 and it was whisked up into the fold of the region's dominant beverage group, the Al Ahram Beverages Company (ABC), which completely turned what many considered as a poor quality beverage into a top-notch wine.

"When ABC acquired Gianaclis, the brand name was associated with everything negative. It was often referred to as Château Vinaigre or Château Migraine," recalls Gianaclis Vineyards for Beverages CEO Fatenn Mostafa, who compares the vineyard's renewed popularity to that of Egypt's famous Stella beer. "When ABC was privatized in 1997, Stella-the beer of Egypt since 1897-was also associated with everything negative. Every bottle had a different taste and quality. We inherited a brand name that was a star in Egypt, like Gianaclis, but the star had completely faded away. In the space of a year we succeeded in turning around the image of Stella by improving the quality with technical experts from Denmark, investing heavily in marketing and expanding beer availability. In two years, Stella shone again with a 90% market share and is now being produced in a state-of-the-art US$50 million new brewery, the biggest in the region," Ms. Mostafa says.

She said that ABC looked upon the Gianaclis acquisition as a mini-Stella. The first thing they did was improve the inferior quality of the wine by taking on a French technical partner, the 200-year-old Ginestet company, which supervises all stages of the winemaking process. "The first priority was to pick a technical expert with a reputation of being among the best connoisseurs of wine. The Egyptian consumer will say France without hesitation. Our Egyptian technical production manager and I traveled the world. We went to Chile, California, South Africa, Italy and France. They all had very good wine and technical know-how, but we decided to go with the French because of the marketing possibilities in Egypt," Ms. Mostafa explains.

Within one year, the company doubled its sales of its Omar Khayyam cabernet sauvignon red, Rubis D'Egypte rosé and Cru des Ptolémées pinot blanc white. "If you go to any bar or restaurant in Cairo today, I guarantee you will find Gianaclis wine on the table," Ms. Mostafa challenges. "Now the challenge is to expand and market an Egyptian legend in a wine bottle to the rest of the world."

A FOREIGN SUCCESS STORY

ACCORDING TO the Roman lyric poet and satirist Horace, Cleopatra was a connoisseur of the delicious white Mareotic wine produced from the vineyards out-side Alexandria and would often serve it to Caesar on warm romantic Egyptian nights a little more than 2,000 years ago. Dry traces of this famous wine are still found in jars discovered inside Pharaonic tombs. Wine production is nothing new in Egypt. Wall paintings from different eras reveal that each king had his own vineyards and some Egyptian wines dating back more than 3,000 years carried their own brand names.

In the late 1800s, Nestor Gianaclis set out on a journey through Egypt to search out the best soils where excellent wine grapes could grow and flourish. He also sought to discover the secret of pharaonic wines and whether or not they would appeal to modern tastes. Surprisingly, he discovered that the best region for his vineyards was not the fertile land along the Nile, but right in the middle of the desert, where chemical analysis proved that the soil was similar to the Champagne region of France.

Throughout the early 1900s, Gianaclis tried some 73 varieties of grapes with the help of French, Italian and Hungarian experts until hitting on the right combination in 1931. That same year, he presented his results in Paris, where experts proclaimed that the world could once again enjoy the wine so acclaimed by the poet Horace.

REALIZING THAT the Egyptians have a keen appreciation for good food, Dallah for Industrial Investment Holding Company from Saudi Arabia set up its 75-year-old Halwani Brothers food division in Egypt in 1987 to take advantage of the country's huge market and attractive investment laws, says Abdul Rhman M. Abdo, the group's chairman. "We started by transferring our knowledge of processed meats, and then in 1993 we built a factory. We began with sales of US$5.3 million and now we have sales of more than US$32 million," Mr. Abdo notes.

Two years ago the company began expanding, building a factory in an industrial city to manufacture the popular regional sweet halawa, one to make jam, and another factory to process fruit, which is picked in season, frozen and then sent back to the company's factory in Saudi Arabia where it is made into jams and fruit juice. "Our next product will be a type of cake filled with dates called Maamoul," says Mr. Abdo. He says times are a bit difficult now with the current dollar exchange rate, but since his company is committed to staying in Egypt for the long term, a high dollar doesn't really present a big problem for the Dallah Group, which is a perfect example of a foreign company that came to Egypt with a direct investment and succeeded handsomely.

"If we take a good look at the Egyptian market, we'll see that it is extremely promising," Mr. Abdo stresses. "There have been a lot of improvements made by the government in relation to investment laws and also regarding facilities in the country's industrial cities. And that's very encouraging for investors who are considering Egypt as an option. There is also a ten-year tax holiday on operations for new investors."