Writer, wine expert and Haslemere resident Francis Gimblett started his career, aged 19, when he joined the staff of the Grand in Brighton, becoming the country's youngest sommelier of a five-star hotel in the process.
Years later, as a wine expert on the Graham Norton Show, Francis was invited to sample wine produced by French actor Gerard Depardieu. Surprised by how good it was, Francis tried to find out more after the show.
However, having made a quip about the actor's famous proboscis on television, Francis found Depardieu to be less than enthusiastic to tell him more and so left the studio determined to track down the actor's vineyard in Morocco for himself.
And so the idea for a journey and accompanying book "In and out of Africa... in search of Gerard Depardieu" was born. Research showed that the route to Morocco could take in other equally elusive vineyards on the way.
The journey was six months in planning. It took Francis and his small but intrepid band of travel companions across France, through Tunisia and Morocco. More dangerously it took them into Algeria, a country the Foreign Office advise against travelling to.
While most people would be content to pop down to their local off licence in search of a good bottle of plonk, Francis felt the Islamic countries had great potential as wine growers and made it his job to track down the best they had to offer.
Algeria is still struggling with the presence of Al-Qaeda, and apparently people in the wine business there have been the target of terrorist threats. Despite this, Francis found thriving vineyards and a state owned wine producer, the ONCV.
According to The Wine Adventurer "over a hundred wine producers were researched for a potential visit on the trip and the ten best were contacted and visits arranged. All of the countries’ best wines were tasted and rated."
Wine producing in these countries is not without its problems. For a start, all are governed under strong Islamic rule and there is almost no promotion or advertisement of alcohol of any kind. This made even tracking down the vineyards tricky.
Most of these local wine growers have not had foreign visitors, especially from the UK, for years, if ever, and Francis was the first British writer to visit the Algerian vineyards since before the civil war (1994 - 2002).
Offended French thespians aside, the Wine Adventurer faced altogether more formidable obstacles en route, including uncommunicative government officials, undercover police surveillance and escorts armed with automatic assault rifles!
Having spent 25 years in the wine business and with a love of travel, Francis was ideally suited to the task of sampling the many North African wines, making copious notes along the way.
According to The Wine Adventurer "the majority of the best vineyards in Morocco are situated on a plateau between the low Atlas Mountains and the Zerhoun range, at elevations of 600m to 1,000m, around Meknes and Fes"
In the 1950's North African countries produced a whopping third of the world's wine, exporting mainly to France. The Muslim background of these areas still means that most wine produced now is for foreign export rather than local consumption.
Although a seasoned columnist and writer, "In and out of Africa... in search of Gerard Depardieu" is Francis Gimblett's first book and promises to be one of many. He is already planning a second trip and a series of travelogues.
But after the hundreds of miles travelled did he actually track down Gerard and his Moroccan vineyard? Find out by reading In and out of Africa...in search of Gerard Depardieu. Available from bookshops or your local library. ISBN: 9780956182104