Elias Mekonnen, Vinifera EuroMasters student (2016)
■ You're an Ethiopian national, can you tell us about the activities in your country in the field of vine and wine science and the consumption habits of the population.
I am Elias Mekonnen, Vinifera EuroMasters student in Montpellier SupAgro. Regarding grape production and wine making in Ethiopia, it is a new agricultural sector that has been started recently, however there is a great potential in the future.There is plenty of marginal land suitable for grape production, apart from fertile soils in the country.
Wine consumption in the country is increasing, wines are consumed on special occasions by families and couples. Also, raisins (dry grapes) are used in all the orthodox churches in Ethiopia. In the country there are a few local and foreign producers; however, South African wines are getting great acceptance in the wine market.
Castel Group is one of the largest wine producers in the world including in Africa. Nowadays, vineyards are bursting with merlot, syrah and chardonnay grapes ripening in the Ethiopian sun. The sandy soil, short rainy season, cheap land and abundant labor were what drew the company’s billionaire president Pierre Castel.
The vines were brought from Bordeaux which should produce more than a million bottles per year. They are all French varieties: merlot, syrah and cabernet sauvignon for the red wine, which will account for 90% of production, and chardonnay for the remaining 10% of white.
■ What is your educational background before you came to France for the Vinfera EuroMaster?
I studied horticulture for my B.Sc and M.Sc. Degree. Vinifera is my second Master’s Degree.
■ How did you become aware of the existence of the Vinfera EuroMaster, and why did you want to enroll in this training course?
I knew about Vinifera from a previous Vinifera student and internet while searching for scholarships I saw that Vinifera EuroMaster program is the best international program and I so was eager to join, fortunately I got the chance to come here and experience this new adventure in my life. It is very satisfying.
■ Have you received a scholarship to study?
Yes, I have an Erasmus Mundus scholarship, monthly allowance and transport costs.
■ Have you finished your M2 course? Can you briefly summarize your career during these two years, and what do you think is the added value of this training course?
Yes I finished my M2 in Geisenheim, Germany.
Last summer, I worked as an assistant wine maker in Domaine Des Jougla, in Languedoc-Roussillon, France. I was, the only intern in the estate. During my stay, I got involved in all aspects of wine making activities. Initially, determining the maturity for the grapes to decide harvest time. Following that I performed hand harvesting, sorting, pump over and all the subsequent vinification activities until bleeding of the wines. In the estate, red and white varieties grown in organic viticulture; Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet sauvignon, Grenache, Carignan, Mourvedre, Viognier and Muscat are grown to make different red, white and rose wines. Moreover, the culture, custom and work ethics of French people are very friendly.
I do also have diverse experience in lecturing, horticultural crops production, greenhouse production, as well as vineyard and cellar work. However, I realized that wine making has become my centre of interest and I am enthusiastic to make this my top skill for my future career. It is also very international and interesting; although winemaking and other production jobs sound appealing, it requires intensive schooling, a serious passion and dedication for wine, a meticulous eye and years of experience. One does not become a winemaker on a whim, but it can be a fulfilling and exciting career for the right individual. Thus, I always dream of getting experiences and exposures in wine making, which would lead me to being capable of understanding the complexity of the profession. I adore my profession.
During the Enology and Viticulture courses, I attended different modules, which enhanced my impressions to get ahead towards wine making. Now, I want to explore more in wine making in various parts of the world from vineyard to cellar. Therefore, my first priority would be to continue with a PhD in order to further upgrade my education and my academic career.
In the future, I would like to obtain harvest experience in different parts of the world like California, New Zealand or Australia. Ultimately, I will end up with a good education and the experience to be able to be one of the best wine makers or a consultant on grape production and wine making and research in Ethiopia.
■ What is the subject of your final dissertation? Is it related to your future career?
Currently, I am performing my final thesis research on colloidal stability of protein in white and rose wines, in collaboration with Lallemand SAS and the UMR Sciences pour l’œnologie (INRA - Montpellier SupAgro). If I continue my PhD in this subject, I will be thrilled.
Yes it gives me great experience in relation to yeast and yeast derived products, in particular clarification and stabilization of white wine.
■ When you graduate, do you want to work in Ethiopia or in another country?
As I said before I want to work in various parts of the world to learn different styles of wine making and I will go back home to become best wine maker in Ethiopia.
■ What about your life in France and Germany? what advice would you give to a future student?
France and Germany are two of the best countries in Europe for studying. The weather conditions may vary but anyone who comes here can expect to get the best experience and learn about the culture and experience the food and the work ethics of the people in these countries. When you come to Europe and start your adventure, you are going to love it!