Fun fact: Lebanon is actually the smallest sovereign state in the entire continent of Asia, amassing only 4,036 square miles.
At the heart of Lebanese viticulture is the Bekaa Valley, home to one of the most magnificent Greek temples that was once dedicated to Bacchus, the god of wine. There is actually viticultural evidence showing that wine was cultivated in Lebanon about 2000 before Alexander the great, making it an ancient ancestor of the entire wine industry.
The Bekaa Valley is a narrow portion of land between the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon Mountains running about 65 kilometers right down the middle of the country. The lush mountainous altitude and topography create a sheltered home for vineyards, providing healthy soils and protection from the harsh elements of the rest of the country. This region is responsible for 90% of Lebanon’s total wine production, although it’s really only come into the commercial spotlight in the last few decades. In recent years, the number of vineyards in all of Lebanon went from 8 to 42, producing over 8 million bottles a year, much of which is exported to Canada, Europe, and the United States.
Back in the mid-19th century, Jesuits brought back the Cinsault vine and planted it in Lebanon, so French wines have a huge influence in this region. Since then, Cinsault has been replaced with more popular grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot but it is still produced throughout the Bekaa Valley. Lebanon does have a couple of indigenous grapes, Obeideh and Merwah, which stories say were transplanted to Europe and became the originators for Chardonnay and Semillon.
The large wineries in the area are all called Chateaus, but the one with the most rooted history in the Lebanese wine industry is Chateau Musar. It was started in 1930 by Gaston Huchar in the cellars of an old castle and is still run by his son Serge today. Although there are only a handful of wines produced at Musar, they are widely known and not always for the best of reasons. Many critics find their aggressively traditional methods and taste to be at fault.
One of the most amazing things about Lebanon’s wine industry is the unbelievable history you can find at each vineyard. Every Chateau tells a different story about ancient cultures and the story of our modern world, and because Lebanon is such a small country, you can get to many within a short amount of time!
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