Wide World of Wine #2: South Sudan

Posted by | Posted in Wine Where? | Posted on 02-03-2012

A flag-raising ceremony at the new Embassy of South Sudan. Uploaded to flickr by ENOUGH Project.

Welcome back to the Wide World of Wine!  This installation will explore the terroir of the newest country on the planet, South Sudan. First, some relevant background information, then we’ll get to the wine.

From the introduction of Sharia law in 1983 until the peace accords of 2005, possession of alcohol was a crime punishable by law in Sudan. According to the BBC, perpetrators were usually whipped.

The approval of a 2011 referendum separated Sudan into two countries, with a largely Muslim population in the north and a heterogeneous non-Muslim population in the south.

Severed from the richer North, South Sudan is extremely poor and underdeveloped. Now drinking is legal, but little alcohol is commercially produced in the country.

In an article from Le Monde, David Grassly, the head of the UN representation in Juba, says that in 2005 “beer used to be brought here from Yei by bike, 90 miles south of here, near the Democratic Republic of Congo and former Republic of Zaire.”

The reason? Only bikes could zigzag between the mines left during the second civil war in Sudan (1983-2005). Most local beer now comes from a new brewery outside of Juba (the capital), which plans to experiment with beer from local starches like cassava.

Our WWoW interviewee, “M,” landed an awesome job with a United Nations agency in Juba, where she has been living since August. M. lives and works in secured compounds, but she is free to walk around the city and she visits the open air market about once a week.

M. reports that the local beer is around $2 per half-liter bottle, and wine — when she can find it — costs almost $12 a bottle. M. notes that homemade moonshine is also common. The South Sudanese traditionally have made a beer called “kwete” out of maize and sorghum, which is often available as well.

Sadly, wine is not a big part of M.’s life in South Sudan. The only place to buy wine is at the PX (Post Exchange) on the peacekeeping base. Cabernet, Syrah, and “plain red wine” are the main varieties available, mostly from South Africa and Australia. However, with temperatures routinely over 100 degrees Fahrenheit and minimal refrigeration capacity, the wine is usually stored improperly and bottles are often cooked.

“I don’t drink anywhere as often as I did in grad school,” M. says, “because 1) there’s a curfew; 2) god knows what all the anti-malarial are doing to my liver so I figured I should try and save it; and 3) at 100+ degree heat and no Gatorade, hangovers suck.”

No fun!  But although her environs are stressful, M. seems to have plenty of good work to do. And she’s even had a Smirnoff Ice sighting — now there’s a party.

M., thank you for your insights. Way to make lemons into lemonade! (Or cassava into beer?)

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