BL16 - Page 33



WINE
between the Lebanese Ghosn brothers
and heavyweight French partners who
included Daniel and Frédéric Brunier of
Domaine Le Vieux Télégraphe, one of
the most renowned estates in
Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and Dominique
Hébrard, who at the time owned
Château Cheval Blanc in Saint-Émilion.
L
after the Pope “encouraged” the Catholic
Church to divest itself of its commercial
assets. The new owners understandably
struggled. They had hired a French
winemaker, Noël Rabot, who eventually
had enough of the fighting and fled. It
was left to a heroic accountant to take
over winemaking duties. Pierre Brun,
Michel De Bustros and the Nakads had
all been hit hard by the fighting. Only
Château Musar, which had started
making sales in the UK – and where
Serge Hochar, who had taken over from
his father, became fêted for producing
wine in war – continued to fly the flag.
But with peace came opportunities,
and the Lebanese set about rebuilding
their industry. The Nineties saw the
emergence of a new generation of
producers and once again France
played its part. For if there was one
winery that captured spirit of that
decade it was Massaya, founded in
1997 as a Franco-Lebanese alliance
ebanon, France and wine still
enjoy a vigorous ménage-a-trois.
At Château Ksara, the legacy of
the Jesuits lives on. Their
presence is felt in every corner of the
old winery and the Brothers, who still
run a monastery at Tanail, sell grapes
to the winery. Château Ksara is
Lebanon’s biggest producer, making
three million bottles a year under the
watchful eye of its French winemaker
James Palgé, who has been with the
winery for over 20 years.
Pierre Brun died in Chtaura in 1999,
ending three generations of French
influence in Lebanese wine. Brun was
heirless, and the elegantly distressed
winery might have disappeared from
sight, or even worse, bought by an
Lebanon was a
cosmopolitan
entrepôt; a hub
for spies, émigrés,
businessmen
and bankers
arch-vulgarian. A few distant French
cousins did come to Lebanon to check
out the property, but were apparently
put off by the sinister Syrian army
presence in the Bekaa Valley. The
property was then acquired by the Issa
and Issa el-Khoury families, friends of
Pierre Brun, who have restored it to its
former glory. Winemaker Faouzi Issa
trained in Montpelier and interned at
Château Margaux and Domaine René
Rostaing in Côte Rôtie. Indeed, most
of Lebanon’s new generation of
winemakers are French trained and
the wines tend to be blends rather than
varietals in keeping with the Old rather
than New World.
Finally, a word on neighbouring
Syria, where, two Lebanese-Syrian
brothers, Karim and Sandro Saadé,
founded Domaine de Bargylus in 2003
on the slopes of Jabal Ansarieh, above
the port city of Latakia. In 2011, as in
Lebanon 36 years before, the horrifying
spectre of civil war and the added
savagery of Islamic fundamentalism
came calling, but the brothers, working
closely with French consultant
Stéphane Derenoncourt, persevered and
in the most trying circumstances, went
on to make what Jancis Robinson,
arguably the world’s most respected
wine critic, called “the finest red wine
produced in the Eastern Mediterranean”.
Plus ça change!
Michael Karam is the editor of Tears
of Bacchus: A History of Wine in the
Arab World, recently released by
Gilgamesh Publishing.
Clockwise from above:
The late Serge Hochar
of Château Musar; a
Bedouin grape picker; the
legendary Yves Morard,
Château Kefraya’s first
winemaker





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