The founders of Vin du Sahel Winery, Joe Sambou (along with his wife Kim) have multicultural backgrounds. Joe was born and raised in The Gambia but spent over 20 years living in Chicago. Kim, raised near Chicago, would enjoy wine with meals – Joseph became attracted to the aromas of wine – and became more intrigued with the wine world. He planted grapes at his home in Chicago and began to learn about wine making. It wasn’t until he moved to Mauritania that he really started to become engrossed in the world of wine. Mauritania is not a country one associates with wine (where Islam is the dominant religion in the country – since the 10th century) but while working in the country, Joseph spent much of his free time researching wine making (and making some home wine on the side).
Originally from The Gambia but now living in Senegal – Joseph started producing wine commercially in October 2016. As part of his research, he often discovered the same wines distributed in Senegal – from places such as France and Spain. He found no commercially produced wines from fruits grown in the area.During his research he discovered the Qvevri, clay vessels used to age wine in the country of Georgia. He was not able to find any of these in Senegal – but he did come across artists making some very small clay pots. He approached them about building something much bigger – they weren’t sure they could do so, their first experiments with the larger vessels ended up with a number of them cracking during the drying process. Ultimately they were able to perfect making larger vessels and Joseph purchased a number of them for his winery.
He makes the wine in a residential area – but without access to the ground he cleverly devised some alternative methods for ‘burying’ the clay vessels. He created external holders which contain sand that he places over the tops of the vessels.
Eventually he would like to move the winery to it’s own property with some land.
He makes a number of unusual wines – all in the 11 to 13% alcohol range. Baobab, Ditakh, Hibiscus and Mango, among others.And after wine tasting – we migrated up to Joe’s rooftop for views across the city and then headed to dinner at the nearby Chez Rosa Restaurant. This little hole in the wall felt like the quintessential African dining experience. Rosa was feeding wood into her open stove/pit while cooking a variety of meats (seemed to be the only dishes this restaurants served – along with alcohol). Over local beers and wild boar – we enjoyed a delicious dinner with good conversation – that drifted towards politics as it invariably does when locals meet tourists.