Natasha Rastegar reports back from a trip to the Middle East, where a new wine tourism experience is showing just how broad the wine world is becoming
It started with a tasting in a wine shop. The Winemaker is becoming a social hub for the young international crowd in Amman, capital of Jordan, and I quickly understood why. Warmly welcomed by the winemaker himself, Omar Zumot, we were treated to an evening flowing with excellent and unique wines accompanied with delicious baguette, cheese and charcuterie platters. The evening is all about enjoying wine, good food and good company in a relaxed, fun environment.
Zumot has become a bit of a legend on the Middle Eastern wine scene thanks to his innovative approach and passion for winemaking. Fourteen years ago he introduced over 30 noble varieties to his vineyard in Northern Jordan. This experimentation produced some of the highlights we enjoyed that evening such as Carmenère (grapes originally introduced from Chile) and Tokai (grapes originally introduced from Northern Italy). His wines, St. George, named after the church near their first vineyard in Madaba, have won a string of international awards and are certified organic.
As a result of our evening in the shop, we were delighted to accept an invitation from Omar to visit his Sama vineyard. A one-hour drive north from Amman takes you unnervingly close to the Syrian border, before a pink house appears at the end of a cypress tree-lined drive cutting through the vineyard.
“Nature is the best engineer,” explains our host Fawzat, the vineyard manager, quoting the Zumot family motto to help emphasise the importance of being biodynamic. Awassi sheep – a species native to Jordan – eat dry leaves off the vines without hurting the trunk or grapes, their saliva serving as an anti-bacterial; fish populate the water reserves to produce fertilising nitrates; owls and falcons are kept to scare off the birds that are particularly partial to a ripe Muscat grape.
Spring water from 450 metres underground is used to both irrigate the vineyard, and fill up the beautiful swimming pool – providing invitingly warm water, perfect for relaxing in with a glass of Shiraz Rosé in hand.
After a tour of the vineyard, the barbecue was ready and we were spoiled with a superb lunch of grilled meats and salads. Wine tasting was a relaxed affair – a selection of wines was available and constantly poured throughout the day, from the St. George classic range to some treats from the Winemakers Selection such as the intensely fruity Chenin Blanc. Information about the wine was on hand, but the emphasis here was on making everyone feel relaxed, and enjoying the overall experience.
Zumot is currently producing just 300,000 bottles a year, most consumed locally, exporting less than 1 per cent to neighbours. But the potential is there, in a part of the world that few of us associate with winemaking, to add an unfamiliar and exciting new dimension to the wine landscape. As Omar’s young wines develop, perhaps he’ll take his inspiration from Chateau Musar in Lebanon – and more people will discover another treasure from Jordan.
St. George Wines tasted at the Winemaker, 9th May 2013