The wine culture

of Lebanon

Traders of Phoenicia
Lebanon is one of the oldest wine-growing regions in the world. During excavations in ancient Byblos, archaeologists found vines determined to be around 5,000 years old. However, lebanons wine culture is probably even older. Furthermore, the oldest well-reserved wine relic of the world, a grape press fated back to 8.000 B.C., has been discovered in Syria 60 km from the current Lebanese borders
The modern Lebanese winegrowers are proud of their pioneering ancestors: According to ancient deliverances, the Phoenicians, who enjoyed traveling and trading, brought the first vines from the southern Caucasus and Anatolia into the country. These were mostlikely the Vitis vinifera pontica, a vine, which is daid to be the origine of our modern Chardonnay.
Phoenician Empire
The agriculturally talented Levantines obviously understood the procedured of successful winemaking, because the grape juice was praised in many old writings in the old Babylonian Gilgamesh epoch. Later on prophet Hosea sang a song about the glory of lebanese wine in the 8th century BC. Another eight centuries later, Jesus was said to have attended a large wedding party while turning water into wine, thus performing his first miracle. This wedding took place in a historiy territory of Canaan, which is now Lebanon.
Wine also had an important role in the religion of the ancient Romans. In the 2nd century A.D they even built an impressive temple on the gigantic site of Baalbek in honour of Bacchus, the god of wine. The so called ancient Heliopolis is in northern Lebanon and the largest building, which has been dedicate to the god of wine, joy and fertility. It fortunately survived various earthquakes and other historical shocks. Many pictorial depictions of the cultivation and consumption of wine as well as other sensual portayals of human interactions decorate the temple in order to reflect the significance and responisibilties of Bacchus.
Bacchus Temple in Baalbek
Map of Lebanon
When the Arabs spread in this region throughout the 7th century, viticulture rapidly declined and was only allowed to be practised by Jews and especially by Christians. The Lebanese sweet wines from the southern cities such as Tyros, today's Sur or Sidon (Saida), however, stayed were very popular until the Middle Ages. Venetian merchants imported these wines to all European countries and distributed these as noble wines only the wealthy upper class could afford. And after Lebanon was conquered by the Ottomans in the 13th century, wine production was reserved for Christian monasteries - the monks cultivated the vines in order to produce the mass wine they needed for the communion. However, traditional wine was only produced in small quantities until the middle of the 19th century.
Modern Lebanese viticulture evolved in 1857. The Jesuit mission near Zahlé inherited 25 hectares of land. The Fathers began to grow vines and named their vineyard "Ksara". In 1868, a French engineer founded the winery Domaine des Tourelles. During the French mandate from 1919 to 1943, French soldiers and officials fortunately increased the demand for Lebanese wine significantly. And in 1923 Youssef Nakad, a known shoemaker, founded his winery after produced Arak for private use and his clients, which delighted the occupying forces excessively. And last but not least, Gaston Hochar founded the famous winery Château Musar in 1930. The Lebanese wine consumption was very high until 1975. Especially among the Western-oriented Christian citizens, who made up half of the total population.
With the beginning of the civil war, production and consumption declined abruptly. Michel de Boustros of Château Kefraya, however, did not bow to this impact and started producing wine in 1979 resulting in the reception of he first international medal in 1982. He then somehow managed to export the wines to France shortly afterwards - as did Serge Hochar from Château Musar. In the course of 15 years political unrest, most of the vineyards were destroyed. But the courage and success of Michel de Boustros and Serge Hochar was an incentive for many winegrowers to start over. In the 1990s, a lot of money and commitment was invested in the modernisation and construction of wineries. In addition, there also were foreign investors who recognised the immense potential of the ancient wine region and soil. The amount of wineries grow massively in comparison the the year 2003, where there were only eight official wineries. Today there are around 50.
The total area of vines is about 2,500 ha - quite respectable considering the small size of the country, which has a total area of only 10,452 km². Vines are usually cultivated at altitudes from 900m to over 1,700m. The vinification is very challenging with these climatic conditions such as the heat and small harvest windows during fall. Furthermore, summer is often dry and left entirely without rain resulting in an early water-shortage in June. Deep-rooted vines, however, defy these conditions with around 280 sunny days per year. And the snow in winter is in average one meter high, provides the vines and the soil with the urgently needed water. On the other hand, fortunately plant diseases hardly occur, which allows each winery a natural cultivation throughout the country.
Lebanese  vineyards
Harvest in Lebanon
The harvesting is usually done manual, starting at five o'clock in the morning in order to take advantage of the freshness in the morning. The yearly harvest starts around mid-August and lasts (depending on the altitude) until November. The average yield is only 30 hectolitres per hectare. The amount of yield use for top wines is even significantly lower. White wines made from Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc or Viognier are rather underrepresented due to the climate. Rosé is a popular drink in the country itself. However, the focus is clearly on the excellent strong and full-bodied red wines with well-integrated acidity - the leading wineries cultivate mainly Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Cinsault. Some of them have, however also Italian varieties such as Montepulciano or the autochthonous Portuguese vine Touriga Nacional. Unfortunately there are not many active autochthone Lebanese grape verities.
Notable indigenous vines here are for example Meroué, the Merweh related to Sauvignon Blanc or the low acid Obaideh with its fine herbal notes, a Chardonnay variation. Lebanese wines have been honoured with the highest awards on all international stages for years. However another delicacy of the country should definitely be mentioned: the Arak, an aniseed schnapps (not to be confused with Arrak, a sweet rice brandy). The secret of a good Arak, which also is the Lebanese national drink, lies in the slow double or tripple distillation. Arak traditionally matures in clay jars in order to make it particularly pure, smooth and aromatic.
Arak of Lebanon
This text was researched and written by Charlotte Münch © Copyright & and all other right of all texts on weinstore24 belongs to In addition, visit our Infopage for more information about the wines of Lebanon.