THE LAND OF BACCHUS

Lebanon 2012 | AGRICULTURE | FOCUS: WINE

An increasingly common sight on wine lists around the world, viticulture is on the up in Lebanon, and production and exports are at an all-time high.


The Lebanese wine industry is currently undergoing a revival, and grapes from Lebanese terraces are more than ever on the tongues of critics around the world. Among one of the oldest sites of wine production in the world, the Phoenicians are said to have been instrumental in the spreading of viticulture around the Mediterranean, and production has been ramped up over the last decade. Wine production soared from 5 million bottles in 2000 to 8 million in 2011, and the total number of producers has increased five fold since 1998. This growth can be attributable to Lebanese wine finding its voice. The Union Vinicole du Liban (UVL) was established in 1996 by Lebanese producers, later successfully lobbying for laws governing the sector and helping to build Lebanon's image as a wine producing country.

Today, efforts are paying off. Lebanon exports almost twice as much wine as it imports, with Lebanese wine finding its way into sophisticated markets. “We initially began targeting France, and that country remains the number one market for us," Michel de Bustros, General Manager of Château Kefraya, told TBY, adding “[but] little by little our export destinations have developed to include countries such as Australia, Brazil, and Japan." Kefraya now exports to a total of 40 countries on five continents. For Château Ksara, production is focused on red wine—60% of its grape production is red—and its most popular export product is its Reserve du Couvent, a superior red wine.

Focused on the southern Bekaa Valley, where vertiginous vine terraces are a common site, wine production in Lebanon is dominated by its two biggest players: Château Ksara and Château Kefraya. The wine houses remain self sufficient, with Bustros boasting, “We are proud to say that our wine is produced using only Kefraya grapes, and we do not bring in any external produce." Château Ksara is the largest producer in the country, producing 2.7 million bottles a year and exporting 40%.

“We export to just over 30 countries. Our main export target is the region, including countries such as Syria. We also export to European countries such as France and the UK. We also have three distributors in the US," Zafer E. Chaoui, Chairman and CEO of Château Ksara, told TBY. Other producers include Château Musar, which has achieved international recognition, especially in the West, Massaya, Château Marsyas, Karam Winery, and Domaine des Tourelles, which was founded in 1868 by a French engineer.

Alongside an increasing awareness of Lebanese wines internationally, domestic awareness is also on the up. “When we started in 1979 people were more eager to drink arak than wine, but over the years the market has grown and there is high demand for wine," Chaoui told TBY. In addition, foreign wines are beginning to enter the country at a faster rate thanks to new rules regarding customs. “However, we shall be reciprocally advantaged in the export trade, as the new rules apply in both directions," Chaoui added.