BL16 - Page 32

eanwhile, in Paris, Gaston
Hochar had been, or rather
should have been, studying
medicine. Instead, he hung
out with the city’s bohemian crowd and
acquired a taste for wine. In 1929, on
his return to Lebanon, he told his
startled family that he had no interest
in becoming a doctor and wished
instead to become a winemaker. “He
might as well have said he was opening
a bordello,” recalls his son, Ronald. But
three years later, Hochar’s first vintage
of 8,000 cases was bought by the army
and for the next 13 years Château Musar
rode a wave of loyal French patronage.
On 22 November, 1943, Lebanon
won independence. Hurrah for
Lebanon! But with France out of the
Clockwise from right:
Vineyards in the Bekaa
Valley; a souvenir of
Lebanon’s golden age;
Gaston Hochar, founder
of Château Musar
picture, who was going to drink all
the wine? Things would turn out okay.
Lebanon was now a cosmopolitan
entrepôt; a hub for spies, émigrés,
bankers, businessmen and journalists.
She was entering a golden age that
would sustain more than enough
demand. It was good news for the
Jesuits at Ksara, the Hochars, Pierre
Brun and of course the Nakads, with
or without the chocolate.
In 1975, the party ended once again
as Lebanon descended into a civil war
that would last for 15 years and cost
150,000 lives and an exodus of almost
one million people. But that did not
stop Michel de Bustros, a Bekaa
landowner with 300 hectares of vines,
from establishing Château Kefraya in
1978. His first winemaker was a young,
shaggy-haired Frenchman called Yves
Morard, who, on his arrival, was
suitably stunned by the quality of the
terroir in the West Bekaa.
In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon to
chase out the Palestinian Liberation
Organisation and Morard found himself
in the thick of the fighting as the Israeli
army advanced into the Bekaa Valley
from the south. “They shelled the
winery and the vineyards,” Morard
recalls, speaking from his home in
Ventoux in southern France. “I was
captured, suspected of being a PLO
fighter and taken to Tel Aviv, where I
spent several months in jail before I was
put on a plane back to Paris.” Had he
had enough of Lebanon? “Not at all.
I got on the first plane to Beirut.”
Morard stayed in Lebanon until 2005.
The war years were not kind to the
Lebanese wine industry. In 1973, the
Jesuits had sold the winery to a group
of Lebanese and Syrian businessmen
master. This new post-Ottoman era saw
the arrival of tens of thousands of very
thirsty French civil servants and
soldiers, all of whom needed a regular
supply of wine. It was the start of a
beautiful friendship; one that would
ensure that the idea of wine, planted
decades earlier by the Jesuits and
François-Eugène Brun, would take root
with more vigour in Lebanon than
in any other country in the Levant.
The word went out. The French
would buy wine from anyone who
made it, and soon, across the country,
but especially in the Bekaa Valley, grape
growers set about either harvesting or
selling grapes. “There was this army
officer who used to come to my father’s
winery to buy wine for his unit,” recalls
Selim Nakad, whose family owns
Château Nakad, the winery in the Bekaa
village of Jdeita, founded in 1923 by his
father, Joseph. “We had a ritual. He
would offer me a piece of chocolate on
the condition that I could recite a
proverb he had taught me on his first
visit. ‘The French may lose a battle, but
they never lose a war.’ I didn’t really
know or care what he meant. To us,
chocolate was like gold dust.”
As, it would seem, was wine to the
French. “The whole area was at it. My
father sold all his wine to the French
until they left in the Forties”. They told
him that it could survive the rigours of
the Syrian Desert,” boasts Selim. “He
used to make 70,000 litres, but the
French warned him that if he tried to
sell to anyone else, they would
confiscate all his stock.”

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