Tunisia Wine & Travel Documentary: Around the World in 80 Harvests

I want to see the Berber, I want to see the
Berber puppet. So this, here. It’s a Berber marionette. Wow. And this Berber is a shepherd? No problem. Sorry! No, no problem. It wasn’t me. I’m Amanda Barnes, and I’m a wine writer
on a mission… I’m travelling to 80 different wine regions
around the world, to discover what makes each region, and their wines, unique. We’ll leave no stone unturned, no grape
unsqueezed, and no wine undrunk. This is Around the World in 80 Harvests. So how did I end up in Tunisia? It’s all down to a lawyer from the US called
Kathy, who like many foreigners had become fascinated by Tunisia’s progress since its
revolution in 2010. This is a brand new democracy, and for someone
like me from the United States watching the creation of a brand country and a brand new
democracy, seeing them write their constitution, it’s just been an amazing experience. When I planned my 80 wine regions around the
world, Tunisia wasn’t one of them. As a muslim country, wine is normally off
the menu. But Kathy wanted to convince me otherwise,
so here I was during the harvest season in peak summer with temperatures averaging around
40C each day. Before getting into the harvest though, I
wanted to start at the beginning. Home to one of the great ancient civilisations,
naturally I had to start at Carthage. We are just looking for our guide here in
the Roman baths of Carthage. The Ministry of Tourism have sent us a guide. This must be him! It’s 10am and it’s already about 45 degrees,
so let’s do this quick; Hello! We welcome you to Carthage, we welcome you
to the symbol of the Tunisian history and it’s also the symbol of our Tunisian agriculture. Mago was the first agronomist, the first viticulturist
in the world, and he was here from Carthage? Yes, he was from Carthage and as I said, part
of that, he was considered a great traveller. He travelled a lot. The Carthaginians and then after that the
Romans knew and cultivated the grapes. They did have the three kinds of wines – red,
white and rose wine. So these are the Roman baths, and people would
come here they would have a cool dip over there, a hot bath there, end up in the sea,
would they ever bring a glass of wine? Yes, they did. They brought their meal, their food with them,
and their wine. They really enjoyed spending all the day in
the thermal baths. Well, it looks, for me it looks like a nice
place to have a picnic. Yes! Fortunately, I had my own liquid picnic ready,
well, sort of ready… Finally done! Sante! à votre santé! We are going to have a lot of health! Yeah. Prost! Na Zdorovie! Salud! Salute! Cheers! Tunis has been a trading capital since 300BC
and trade is still roaring in downtown Tunis. We headed to the food market and through to
the ancient Medina, the market place which is a UNESCO heritage site, founded some 1400
years ago. The Medina is spread over 270 hectares, and
can hard to penetrate alone – so I had an idea. When we were in the market the other day,
we met this young photographer Hamza who took some pictures of me at his lemon stall and
then when I checked out his Instagram I saw all these crazy lemon portraits and I thought
– I’ve got to hang out with this guy! Hamza! Hey, hello! How are you doing? Sorry, I’m very Mediterranean! We are talking about his life story, through
google because he is recording in Arabic, I’m reading in English and then I’m responding
in English. This is the quickest way for us to talk… We are both 31, Hamza, Amanda. Everyone knows me in Tunisia that I love photography. And lemons! et citrons! This is the medina historique… I love this, this is just so beautiful. I mean this is solid… It’s just gorgeous. And you have to get off the tourist route
to find this, so I’m glad that Hamza has taken us here. I got quite over-enthusiastic about the beautiful
doors and architecture which seemed to get better around every corner. As Hamza took me further into the medina he
introduced me to some of his friends, not all of whom I managed to impress. I’m a terrible football player! Football career in ruins, we moved on quickly,
and Hamza took me to see some of the street art, which he explained is a rather new phenomenon. So Hamza was saying that this was all painted
by foreigners from Italy, Spain, …. and they all came here for a big music and
painted this in 2012 and 2013, so after the revolution? An end to censorship following the revolution
meant that the new generation could now freely express themselves. Which for Hamza meant buying a camera, and
taking up photography to capture the everyday happenings in the Medina. Today, though, I seemed to be the unwitting
muse – myself, doors, and, of course, lemons. To my new career in lemonade! But I wasn’t here for lemonade… An hour south of Tunis is Cap Bon, where the
majority of Tunisia’s wine production comes from and has done for a very long time… We have made wine for more than 2000 years,
so Punic, Carthaginian, and Romans made wine and did the harvest in this region. And in this region the soil is clay and limestone,
it’s good for vineyards. For example when you taste our Chardonnay
it’s different to a Chardonnay of another country, we have a sea at 20 kilometres, and
with the wind the minerality of the sea comes in the vineyard, so we have very mineral Chardonnay. It’s typical in this region. What was atypical that day was the heat. Tunisia isn’t alone in having a hot 2017
vintage, but the heat spikes were particularly high because of the Sirocco – a hot wind blowing
in from the Sahara desert – that had pushed the temperatures up over 50C. Fortunately, the vineyards are trained to
deal with the heat. You see the vegetation of the plant? It’s not like in France. Why? Because it is very hot and we have to protect
our grapes from the sun and from the Sirocco wind, the hot wind, and for that we need big
vegetation. As the heat continued to pick up, the morning’s
harvest was coming to an end and lucky for us lunch and wine tasting awaited at Domaine
Neferis… So we are having a typical Tunisian lunch,
which started with appetisers on the sofa about two hours ago and five wines, and now
we’ve moved over to the table and we’ve got another series of kind of appetizers or starters
here, first I have to start with the harissa, the chili harissa, then the salad, then the
shrimps, then the stew, then the fish, and then the pasta. So we’ll be here another two hours… Four hours later, we finished lunch. And headed over to nearby Ceptunes winery
to taste their wines, which meant indulging in even more food and Tunisian hospitality. Although Tunisia has been making wine for
thousands of years, the quality revolution only really started in the 19th and 20th centuries
during the French occupation when modern winemaking techniques were introduced. Tunisia’s warm, sunny climate means that
grapes have no trouble ripening which gives the red wines lots of colour, fruity aromas
and higher sugar levels which means they can be rather generous in alcohol. The red wines can pack such a punch that rumour
has it the French used to blend Tunisian Syrah into their own. What is for certain though, is that Tunisia’s
Syrah, Carignan and Touriga Nacional perform particularly well making voluptous, aromatic
wines, that pair nicely with flavourful Tunisian dishes like roasted lamb and couscous. On the lighter spectrum, over 65% of Tunisia’s
wine production is rosé which range from fuller bodied wines to light and delicate. They also make a small amount of aromatic
white wines which benefit from being in regions closer to the ocean breeze. Despite its long history, Tunisia’s wine industry
still feels in its infancy which much potential as of yet unexplored. This is because during centuries of Arabic
rule Tunisia went almost completely dry. So we are here in Kairouan at the mosque,
which is one of the most sacred sites of Tunisia. So tell me about the Great Mosque. It’s the principal mosque in Africa, from
about 670. About 1400 years old. There are the four holy cities: Mecca, Medina,
Jerusalem and Kairouan. And why is it important for men to pray more
than women? It’s the tradition before. Only men went inside the mosque, women go
outside of the house. Now the mentality changed for women, and men. The changing attitudes in Tunisia have also
affected wine consumption, and we went to the first wine club in Tunis to learn more. So tell me your experience as a Tunisian,
drinking wine. 20 years ago it isn’t casual to see women
drinking in Tunisia, you know? We started with whisky in nightclubs, like
that, but after, I’ve seen now since 10 years ago, because there are alot of wineries now
in Tunisia so many women drink wine. They started with wine, not other alcohol. Now it isn’t strange to drink, but 20 years
ago yes! Did the revolution change any kind of attitude? Not really, but we saw in the new generation
more people drinking more. And especially wines. And rosé! After the revolution, what I know from winemakers,
that the level of consumption of wines is growing more – like 30% in the beginning,
just after the revolution. Wine is losing its taboo in modern-day Tunisia
and finding its place back on the table, which is already crowded with lots of delicious
flavours that embrace its Mediterranean, African and Berber heritage as one of Tunisia’s
top chefs explained to me. Since we have been invaded by many civilisations,
we have a very big historical culture of food and that’s why you can see on the table of
Tunisia we have small dishes, and because we want to remember that this is from the
Spanish, and this is from Malta, and this is from Italy, and this is from the Ottomans,
and this is from Phoenicia, we want to have all this history on our table. For the Tunisians we are really proud to have
all this background of a historical way of living, because the table is one of the main
things that we live for – to have good food. We want to have a good life, we have beautiful
land, we have a beautiful country, we have beautiful products, we have beautiful tourism,
we are a land of peace, so we afford to our neighbour the best we have. So if my friends or my neighbour wants to
have red wine, and the other one wants to have rosé, we just have fun and say ‘SaHa’
[cheers]. We just appreciate sharing all these good
things together, it’s just the life and history of Tunisia. And that’s how I felt – in Tunisia, it’s
all on the same table. The good, the bad, the rosé. The contrast is stark in Tunisia, but that
is what makes it all the more colourful. As I got ready to move onto my next wine harvest
destination, I felt that a week here had only just whet my appetite for this unique country
on the crossroads.

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