Braving Hyenas in Harar

During the weekend of September 3, Tom traveled to Harar to evaluate the land that a private investor is considering for a vineyard.  Mr. Tsegaye is the father of one of my good friends and he has been very supportive of SPARC and our efforts. Here are Tom’s reactions to a potential vineyard in Harar…

Mulugeta Tsegaye sees the potential for producing quality wines in Ethiopia.  I flew to Harar, the ancient walled city in the eastern highlands, to meet with him.  Before we could check out the viticultural potential of the surrounding land, we had to pay our respects to Harar’s most famous inhabitant.  The locals call him Delman Sheikh, which is Amharic for Young Sheikh, but the rest of the world knows him as the hyena.

Harar is the only place in Ethiopia where hyenas aren’t dreaded, but rather they walk among men in the city at night.  Mulugeta, his friend, and his friend’s 6 year old daughter drove to the gate of the old city walls, a preferred haunt of the hyenas.  From under the shadows of immense Ficus tree, out came Delman Sheikh.  Hyenas are large animals – the size of a small bear.  The little girl and I both leapt in fright for refuge behind Mulugeta!

We drove out to the Erer Valley to the south of the city.  In much of Ethiopia, small changes in elevation make significant differences in the warmth of the climate and the amount of rainfall.  The Erer Valley sits lower than most of the other sites we have visited in Ethiopia, so it is relatively warm and dry.  We decided it would be better to find more suitable vineyard land in cooler climates at higher elevations outside the Erer Valley.

As a business man interested in expanding the Ethiopian wine industry, Mulugeta is not alone.  The land is available, the water is plentiful, and the beautiful highlands make the perfect setting for wine country.

– Tom

Note from Sandhya:  In 2009, the latent demand for quality wine in Harar and nearby Dire Dawa was valued at $4.19 million (US Dollars).  Some of the country’s best coffee is known for being grown in Harar, however, many farmers are favoring the more profitable chat (a leaf that is chewed as a stimulant).  Thus, while the growing conditions may be appropriate for grape-growing, farmers may be a bit harder to convince.  Harar/Dire Dawa seems to be better suited for private investors to establish small-scale vineyards and wineries to serve the local market and  regular flow of tourists.

Dire Dawa was also the first choice for Castel’s vineyard site, but they ultimately decided to take root in Ziway.


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