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Lebanon is among the oldest sites of wine production in the world.The Israelite prophet Hosea (780–725 B.C.)
is said to have urged his followers to return to Yahweh so that "they will blossom as the vine, [and] their fragrance will be like the wine of Lebanon". The Phoenicians of its coastal strip were instrumental in spreading wine and viticulture throughout the Mediterranean in ancient times. Despite the many conflicts of the region, the country has an annual production of about 9 million bottles of wine. Recently the sector has been witnessing an unprecedented growth. The number of wineries went from 5 in 1998 to over 40 nowadays.


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History (click to preview)

Vitis vinifera evidence from ancient Rome shows wine was cultivated and then domesticated in Lebanon, at least two thousand years before Alexander the Great. While some people believe it arrived from the South Caucasus (Georgia) via Mesopotamia or the Black Sea trade routes there is no record to support such a claim. Vines grew readily in the land of Canaan, the coastal strip of today's Lebanon, and the wines of Byblos (Gubla, Gebal, Jubail, Jbeil) were exported to Egypt during the Old Kingdom (2686 BC–2134 BC). The wines of Tyre and Sidon were famous throughout the ancient Mediterranean, although not all the cargoes reached their destination; Robert Ballard of Titanic fame found the wrecks of two Phoenician ships from 750 BC, whose cargo of wine was still intact.[3] As the first great traders of wine ('Cherem'), the Phoenicians seem to have protected it from oxidation with a layer of olive oil, followed by a seal of pinewood and resin - this may well be the origin of the Greek taste for retsina.


Bekaa Valley Vineyard
Wine played an important part in Phoenician religion, and the Greek/Roman god Dionysus/Bacchus may have originated in the wine rituals of Canaan. Certainly the great temple at Heliopolis (Baalbek) has many depictions of vines and wine drinking, most famously captured by David Roberts in pictures such as 'Baalbec - Ruins of the Temple of Bacchus'. The Bacchus temple in Baalbek outlines the instrumental role that the Phoenician played in the development of the Ancient World around the Mediterranean sea.
Once Lebanon became part of the Caliphate, wine production declined, although under the millet system it was tolerated among the Christian population for religious purposes. The Christians also developed Arak, an ouzo-like spirit flavored with aniseed.
Winemaking was revived in 1857, when Jesuit monks planted Cinsaut vines from Algeria at Chateau Ksara near Zahlé in the central Beqaa Valley. In 1868 a French engineer, Eugène François Brun, set up Domaine des Tourelles, and others followed, notably Nakad family in 1923 and Gaston Hochar founder of Chateau Musar in 1930.
The French influence between the World Wars promoted a culture of wine drinking, as did the sophisticated Mediterranean culture of Beirut at that time.
The end of the conflict in the 90's brought a new momentum to the viticulture and we could track the renaissance of the Lebanese wines to the set up of Domaine Wardy in 1997 and Massaya in 1998 that marked the active involvement of French wine dynasties in the Bekaa Valley.
The 2006 conflict, did not really change the trend even if some wineries were on the edge of missing the harvest (Ksara) and got collateral damages (Massaya). However, the media coverage translated into surge in demand during the fighting as British buyers in particular bought Lebanese wine as a mark of solidarity.

Grape varieties (click to preview)

Lebanese winemakers have favoured French grapes, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Rhone varietals such as Cinsaut, Carignan and Grenache. However Lebanon has a rich heritage of indigenous grapes which are attracting more attention, for instance Chateau Musar White is made from local grapes called Obaideh and Merwah as well as Clos de Cana red is made from a local red grape called sobaghiyeh.

Wineries (click to preview)

All the major wineries have their vineyards in the southern Beqaa Valley. Chateau Ksara remains much the biggest, with 70% of all the country's production. It is no longer connected with the Jesuit monastery of Tanail, it was sold in 1972 and suffered considerably during the civil war, but has now bounced back with reds and rosés made from Rhone varietals such as Carignan and Cinsault.
Next biggest is Château Kefraya, whose majority of shares were bought by Druze politician Walid Jumblat from Michel De Bustros in the late 1980s. The former winemaker, Yves Morard and his son, have now set up Cave Kouroum nearby.
Chateau Musar is perhaps the best known in the West, it was a particular favourite of Auberon Waugh. Musar achieved international recognition at the Bristol Wine Fair of 1979  and for a long time was the only Lebanese wine widely available in the United Kingdom. The second wine, 'Hochar', is made in a lighter style for earlier drinking. Chateau Musar is known for transporting the grapes across the Front line during the civil war.


Bekaa Valley vineyard next to Baalbeck
Run by Sebastien Khoury, Domaine de Baal is a boutique winery producing organic wine certified by IMC that marked a turning point because of the financial involvement of French wine dynasties and quick international market success.
Among the wineries, one can mention Chateau Marsyas, the Johnny Saade's family-owned estate, who is being advised by international consultant Stephane Derenoncourt.
There are several other significant wineries, including Karam Winery [12] the first wine to be produced in Lebanon's southern region, specifically in Jezzine. Domaine Wardy, Massaya, Héritage, Château Faqra, Château Nakad in Jdita, Domaine des Tourelles (who make Brun arak), Clos Saint Thomas, Cave Kouroum, Clos de Cana, Nabise Mont Liban, Château Qanafar, Chateau Barka, Le Noble, Coteaux du Liban, Cave Monastere Saint Jean, Ixir, Clos de l’Ermite, Château Khoury, Chateau Sanctus, Coteaux de Botrys, Domaine Najm,  Couvent St. Sauveur and the newest Chateau Saint André.
Currently the sector exports over 50% of the production mainly to the United Kingdom, France and the United States.
Harvest Reports


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2010 was a difficult year; the hot summer burned the grapes which make it hard to ripen.

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2005 was a tough year, the most humid in nearly half a century. The winter was long and wet and this impacted negatively on the lower lying areas of the Bekaa, where the grapes took longer to ripen. In other areas, the grapes raced to maturity - the first picking took place on August 18 and the last on October 24. The time span was phenomenal and reflected the various terroir of the Bekaa. However, any interesting results of this abnormal summer were wiped out by excessive mildew that especially affected the red grapes. It was a good year for the whites, which showed good acidity and nice floral aromas. The reds had a mixed year. The traditional early ripeners - Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah - all ripened nicely but were hit by the mildew, while the Cinsault and Grenache were helped by a cooler September that allowed them to compensate for the humidity.

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2004 was a mixed year - high and low sugar content, slow and fast fermentation but always with medium acidity. It was a pattern which is witnessed once every ten years in Lebanon: a winter with snow on the mountains until March, a spring that runs into June and a very mild, gentle summer, conditions that allow the grapes ample time to mature. At the beginning of the harvest, the grapes had low sugar content and medium acidity levels, but a sudden heatwave two weeks later, changed everything, producing grapes with higher sugar but still maintaining medium acidity. It was as if there were two harvests in the same year and the fermentation was affected accordingly. Generally, grapes picked in the first two weeks of the harvest were fruity, round and mellow, with floral aromas, grapes, although Cabernet Sauvignon was different: it was powerful, intense and concentrated, leathery, with red fruits. "Second phase" grapes, especially Carignan and Cinsault, developed more of a red fruit character in smell and taste.

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2003 saw rainiest winter in 15 years which was followed by a 10-day heatwave in May, which contributed, to a good equilibrium between acidity and sugar content. There was an exceptional concentration of phenol compounds due to dry weather in September. The whites were aromatic with high acidity producing vivid gunflint notes, while the reds produced intense color and were more tannic than former vintages but more balanced mellow tannins, supple and not astringent. All the different varietals were exceptionally fragrant and first indications are that the wine will be full-bodied and powerful with great length.

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2002 was full of surprises. After four successive years of drought, there was a long, rainy and cold winter lasting until June. A mild July and a hot August followed. The vines took longer to reach maturity than average and the harvest started one week later compared to previous years. The grapes were characterized by having high levels of sugar, acidity and tannin. The maturity level varied from vineyard to vineyard forcing wine growers to be selective in their picking.

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2001 started rainy cold days but things changed very quickly to warmer weather with almost no more rain at all. Therefore average annual rainfall was less than normal. As global warming continues to become more obvious and serious, after a normal flowering in the spring, July and August were far hotter than usual forcing an early harvest. The crop was good with ripe fruits but without not too much tannin or acidity.

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2000 saw a winter with average rainfall with some cold days, followed by clement weather, allowing flowering to develop quite well in spring. However, July was unusually hot with some very dry days - the temperature even above 35 degrees centigrade, followed by a hotter than average August but which was still cooler than July. September temperatures were normal. The crop was healthy and in good shape but down by 15%. The grapes were sweet but tannic with good acidity and the wines were balanced, tannic, concentrated and powerful.

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1999 was an exceptional year; one of the best. A mild winter with very little rainfall was followed by a normal spring, which allowed a good flowering. The summer was mild and although July and August were cloudy, September was hot and sunny. This enabled the grapes to reach maximum maturity with great all round concentration - good acidity and a high sugar level. However, the lack of water led to a lower yield. Wines were defined by high alcohol, high acidity and a lot of extract.

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1998 experienced a cold, rainy and snow winter interspersed with sunshine and followed by a cold and rainy spring that lasted till June. July, August, September and October had no rain at all. The crop was typical, both in quality and quantity; grapes were in good shape with no problems or disease and good to eat. Fermentation went smoothly but quicker than usual. Results were good, 1998 was very aromatic and fragrant year.

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1997 saw an uneventful winter followed by a fresh spring with no hail or frost. The summer was mild with a very cloudy and brisk August was followed by a sunny September. These perfect conditions allowed grapes to mature slowly but surely at a volume rarely achieved although the harvest was stopped four days in late September/early October due to rain.


ADYAR, or Monasteries in Arabic, is a line of wines, made with grapes organically cultivated and grown on a non-contaminated soil of the Lebanese Maronite Order monasteries. 
Unlike others, Adyar is not simply a Lebanese Wine, Adyar is a great ‘’Vin de terroir’’. Vineyards and wineries are located in different regions of the Lebanese territory: Batroun, Jbeil, Metn and Chouf. In each region the grapes reach optimum physiological maturity and naturally produce consistent wines. 
Wine tasting at Kfifane.

 

Chateau Sanctus is a wine produced in the Batroun area. ggrapes are grown organically over an area of five hectares at an altitude of 900 meters. The grape varieties used are: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Merlot and Grenache.

 

Domaine Najm: This small family-owned and operated winery is located the heart of the district of Batroun at 600 meters. Winemaker, Hiba Najm, says the winery’s philosophy is to produce small quantities of high quality wine that “reflects the uniqueness of our soil and characteristics of our grapes”.

 

Aurora is named after the village, Aoura, in which the winery’s grapes are grown on a hill overlooking the Nahr el Jawz in the Batroun mountains. The winery is run by the Geara family from Rachkedde and has three vineyards. Aurora wine can only be bought at the winery premises or by order.

 

Coteaux De Botrys: In 1998, Joseph G. Bitar decided to realize his dream of making wine in his beloved Batroun, whose name can be traced back to the Phoenicians and the Greeks. Coteaux de Botrys was born and the fruits of his labors can be tasted in its range of wins whose philosophy is “one vine for one bottle”. The soil and the climate of the region make terrific terroir for red, rosé and white wines, made from perfectly matured, hand-picked grapes that are vinified with loving care.

 

Arguably Lebanon’s oldest commecial producer Domaine des Tourelles was founded by the enigmatic Frenchman Francois-Eugene Brun, but it was his grandson, Pierre Brun, who made the winery famous, not least because of his famous Le Brun arak and a popular rosé wine. The arak is still riding high but a new generation of owners have revived life into the winery side of the business.

 

The Wardy family has been making arak since 1893. The winery was established in 1996 and has become one of the most dynamic and innovative in Lebanon. Arak Wardy, is a superior arak distilled from the best quality grapes such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and the typical Obeidi of the Bekaa. With the best aniseeds, and matured for two years before bottling. It offers a smooth taste, rich but subtle.

 

Clos St. Thomas established in 1990 by Saïd Touma and his family, is located at the far end of Qab Elias in the West Bekaa. The Touma family made their name in Arak. In the mid '90s they moved into wine production proper and the result was Clos St Thomas (Touma is Arabic for Thomas).

 

The key to Château Qanafar's ability to produce one of Lebanon's finest wines is that all of their grapes come from vineyards owned or managed by the winery. Most of their grapes are grown at an average of 1100 meters on gently sloping hilltop vineyards, with soil humidity and fertility at just the right levels to promote the growth of deep roots and ultimately, delivery of nutrients at the right amounts for berries of exceptional color and flavor.

 

Château Kefraya, the second biggest winery in the Beqaa Valley with vineyards area up to 430 hectares of the domain, at an altitude between 900m and 1000m above the sea level amongst the foothills of Mount Barouk. Michel de Bustros, founder and chairman of Château Kefraya, undertook the construction of the castle in 1946, on a top of man-made hill built by the Romans. In 2009, the cellar was entirely renovated and its equipment renewed to improve wines’ quality.

 

Château Ksara has preserved Lebanon's rich wine making heritage for over 150 years, laying down the foundation for Lebanon's modern wine making industry. Founded in 1857 by Jesuit Priests who produced the country's first dry red wine. Château Ksara is Lebanon's oldest, largest and most visited winery, attracting some 70,000 visitors per year. Today, the wines of Ksara have a specific character, described as a “rare balance of dry fruitiness, of delicacy and coarseness, and of freshness and vigour.”

Domaine de Baal, is a small boutique winery producing premium organic wine. About 7000 red wine & 3000 white wine are produced from organic grapes planted in dhour zahlé (1200 m altitude) right next to a minimalistic winery design.

Chateau Khoury not far from Domaine de Baal, the cousin of Sebastien Khoury ( wine maker of domaine de baal) Jean-Paul Khoury is making wine from Alsacian grapes like Riesling & Guewurztraminer. Producing around 50000 bottle of wine yearly, Chateau Khoury is a successful franco-lebanese family business.