Growing wine in Southern Tanzania.

Asked September 16, 2015, 8:26 AM EDT

To whom it may concern, My name is Tyler Brenton, I was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and now I am a peace corps volunteer southern highlands in the southern highlands of Tanzania. I come to you with what may sound like a crazy idea: to grow wine in the southern highlands of Tanzania. I am far from a wine expert but I did spend about two years working in a restaurant that is renowned for its wine program, and as such I learned a good bit of the theory behind wine production. I think that the region of Tanzania where I live, up in the Livingstone mountains would make tremendous wine. I'm not interested in this as a philanthropic idea, more as a genuine interest in the potential of the region to participate in one of the world's largest commodities. Here is why I think it would work: -the region is between 5,000-8,000 feet above sea level. -the soil is an interesting mix, mostly clay (but relatively well drained) with a mixture of volcanic elements: granite and Quartz are abundant. Limestone can be found in certain areas as well. -additionally soils are extremely acidic. -temperatures are temperate, perhaps too much so, but the highs in the hottest part of the year are around the high seventies and the lows in the coldest time of the year are around 40. The climate is very similar to Marlborough in New Zealand. -there is a long warm mild dry season before the harvest -winters are cooler, less sunny and provide ample rain. Essentially, the soils and climate are advantageous without being excellent, thus hypothetically forcing the grapes to struggle and produce a more interesting product. I am emailing you, because I am curious what steps I could be taking to gather the appropriate information before communicating with vintners and seeing if anyone would be interested in doing some form of pilot program. Any help that you could lend me would be tremendous. Thank you

Outside United States

1 Response

Dear Tyler,

To be honest, I may not be the exact person that should be answering this question, as you need someone with profound viticulture input to really answer the nuances of what you are asking. (My focus in on the wine production end of things.) If you email me directly (dxg241@psu.edu) I can forward you to some experts that may be able to provide more guidance than I can here.

I would caution that there is a lot more to grape growing beyond recognizing a climate as suitable for growing grapes. Site selection is the single most important factor in grape growing, and what varieties/rootstocks will be selected are dependent on that site. How vines are trained and managed will be dependent on that site. The soil, while suitable, will require specific nutrient management and farming techniques to manage vigor and enhance ripeness of the chosen varieties. Whether you can use mechanization or hand labor will depend on the site. Each terrain comes with its own challenges, but also its own rewards.

There is a small Extension bulletin written on the "overall" thought process of starting a vineyard, which you can access here: http://www.pawinegrape.com/uploads/PDF%20files/New%20Grower%20Information/Draft%20Copy%20of%20A%20Pr...

It really points out the realities of having a vineyard vs. the mystique and romance of wine production.

A few things to consider:

  • Variety selection and rootstock selection will be a key component of success
  • It takes 3 years for the vine to "establish itself" before it can be harvested for wine production
  • When grapes are grown for wine production, the overall objective is to maximize ripeness. This goes against conventional agriculture with the thought process of getting yields as high as possible. Depending on the variety, some vineyards are cropped thinned with a reduction of 40% of the crop or more. This type of farming takes an unique perspective for the growers, as most people correlate more yield = more money.
  • Establishment and care for a vineyard takes a lot of education. Vines require specific training techniques and need to be managed every year, all year. There is a large cost (time and money) associated with educating vineyard employees.

These are just a few things I can think of off the bat that I would highly suggest you consider and read about. There are a lot of great resources out there (if you can gain access to them) about vineyard start-ups and management. I'd be happy to share those with you if you like. Otherwise, here are some additional online resources:

https://winegrapes.tamu.edu/grow/startingavineyard.html

http://www.pawinegrape.com/uploads/PDF%20files/E-Newsletters/122311/Stamp.pdf

http://www.pawinegrape.com/uploads/PDF%20files/New%20Grower%20Information/Guides/Midwest%20Grape%20P...

http://www.pawinegrape.com/uploads/PDF%20files/New%20Grower%20Information/Guides/Growing%20Quality%2...

Hope this gets you started!

Best, Denise