NATURE’S HARVEST

Lebanon 2013 | AGRICULTURE | B2B: WINEMAKERS

The Lebanese wine sector is starting to carve out a name for itself abroad as it is beginning to produce higher quality wines and raise awareness of its vineyards.

Hady Kahale
HADY KAHALE
General Manager
Ixsir
Serge G. Hochar
SERGE G. HOCHAR
Chairman
Château Musar

What is the perception of Lebanese wine abroad in relation to French or Italian wines?

HADY KAHALE A decade ago, there was no perception of Lebanese wine at all. Lebanese society and politics were also in a bad state, and the country was just associated with war. However, now the perception is changing, and the word is out about Lebanese wine. And while it started off as a novelty, people are now buying Lebanese wine for its quality. It will never be comparable to a French, Italian, or Spanish wine, but could be compared to what Chile or Argentina is producing. Today, you can find Lebanese wines in the better restaurants of London or Paris. The wine sector is on the up, with over 40 winemakers in Lebanon.

SERGE G. HOCHAR When we talk wine, we generally talk about French products. Indeed, France produces 1,000 times more wine than Lebanon and boasts numerous wineries, in contrast to our very small ones. The knowledge of Lebanese wines in the world is very limited. Yet, it is growing, and impressively so, and I think that Lebanese wines have great growth potential throughout the world. This is why we have to be sure that our wines are of excellent quality, and strictly controlled to avoid any scenario that could affect our reputation. To this end, we created an institute in Lebanon in 2013 specifically dedicated to wine and wineries, which will take up the gauntlet for this sector and assist it from the land and vine, to the grapes and the wine itself, and from there the market as a whole. This is an institute that took us 13 years to create, of which I am also the president.

What is your role in the development of wine culture in Lebanon?

HK We are not one of the giants, but neither are we small. We enjoy certain recognition. CNN recognized Ixsir as having one of the greenest buildings in the world. This attracted a lot of interest from the international press, but we had to remind them that our main business is wine, not architecture. CNN's recognition helped put Lebanese wines on the map, giving them new momentum, and we are also trying to increase people's education and understanding of wine. We want to spread the consumption of wine, which will help the market grow. I think all winemakers should combine efforts toward this, and not consider each other as competitors fighting over market share. Joining together to grow the market would allow us all to share a bigger piece of the cake.

Could you tell me a little about arak?

SGH I was introduced to arak in 1975, for the simple reason that once the wine market dropped I had to distill my surplus wine. This led to arak production. Frankly speaking, when I make something, I do it well, or else I don't do it at all. Arak, according to a law dating back to the 1930s, is the result of the distillation of grape alcohol with anise seeds. Unfortunately, a few years ago, the law changed and arak was no longer exclusively produced from grapes, which is a touchy subject. Returning to the topic of wine itself, my understanding is that if you want to taste a wine, you should familiarize yourself with it slowly. If you do this too quickly, there is too much information to process. It should be a process that improves with increased knowledge, pleasure, and a sense of the wine itself. Lebanon is such a small country that we must do all in our power to excel at what we do in order to distinguish ourselves worldwide.