Wine: Rwandan adventure

30 August 2019

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I AM not an Arsenal fan, but I gather that the President of Rwanda is. He is investing £30 million of his country’s money over three years in having the message “Visit Rwanda” emblazoned on the team shirts. His hope is that he will recoup this money tenfold in tourist revenues. I have just done my bit to help him in his mission.

Rwanda is a wonderful country: I would recommend anyone to go there. It has, however, little or no wine culture. While a large bottle of the local beer can be had for about a £1, a bottle of even the cheapest wine is about £30 in a restaurant.

On our first evening, we visited one recom­mended in the guide books. Its wine list featured just three red wines, but, on the day, just the most expensive one, at £35, was available, but no description of it. It turned out to be a blended European wine, bottled in Bordeaux, and called, I think, Baron de Blagnac. Again, in a hotel reputed to be the best outside the capital, Kigali, an ambitious wine list offered Marqués Rioja, without specifying whether it was the Marqués de Murrieta, Riscal, Cáceres, or any other of the host of Spanish nobility which seem to populate that wine region.

For many, wine is now an everyday expectation, and any country seeking to rely on tourism must be able to satisfy such need. Yes, in Rwanda, wine is available, most of it basic wine from either South Africa or Chile, or very expensive (Dom Pérignon Champagne was available for £500 the bottle in one safari lodge that I visited.) It is not the availability of wine that is needed, however: it is also the knowledge of what you are offering and how to store it and serve it which are important.

Banana wine and banana beer are made in every village. I did sample the latter, not the former, but they are hardly adapted to the broader taste. It is strange that no attempt has been made to plant vineyards, as, at higher altitudes, the climate is similar to parts of Europe, and wine is produced in many less likely places in Africa.

The people are very friendly, and most speak English. The climate is bearable: during our visit, it was cooler in Kigali than in London; eating is cheap; and the horrors of the genocide, though not forgotten, are now well in the past.

On my return, I did two things, however. The first was to contact the Wine and Spirit Education Trust, a London-based body established 50 years ago to give wine education in this country, but which now operates worldwide. I suggested that here was fertile ground. It seems that they recently established their first contacts in Rwanda, and wine courses will be starting in a matter of weeks.

What was I doing in Rwanda? The answer is that it was missionary work of a kind. Cricket is being used to bring the country together, and empower women and young people particularly. The slogan is “Cricket builds hope.” Ah, yes, the second thing I did on my return home was to open a bottle of good Burgundy.

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