While reading the latest issue of Decanter (March 2008), I found an article on wine growing in some rather unusual places. And one story in particular stood out, especially for my Women & Wine month in March.
Samia Ben Ali is a female wine maker in Tunisia, an Islamic country. Besides the largely desert terrain, there are political issues at hand as well. The name of the estate is Domaine Neferis, located between Tunis and Hammamet. The estate has about 200 hectares of vineyards and they grow Carignan, Grenache Noir, Cinsaut, Syrah and Chardonnay. The estate also possesses a cellar and bottling plant.
Interestingly enough, fermentation of the grapes does not take place in Tunisia because it is illegal to produce alcohol in the country. Thus the grapes are shipped to the Calatrasi Winery in Sicily for fermentation. One of the wines they produce is Selian Carignan, Selian being an ancient North African word for the Sahara desert.
Kudos to Samia Ben Ali who obviously must have overcome much to be a women in an Islamic country producing wine.
CORRECTION (3/26/08): Samia Ben Ali, the wine maker, emailed me to tell me that in fact it is not illegal in Tunisia to produce wine. The Selian Carignan is fermented and produced in Tunisia. They are also able to sell it in Tunisia at restaurants, supermakets and hotels. Thanks to her for the correction.