Lebanese wines have been produced in the Bekaa Valley for 6,000 years and Lebanon has evolved into a significant wine-making region in modern days! Despite ongoing conflicts in the region, Lebanon produces of about 600,000 cases of wine annually.
Wines of ancient and modern times
Evidence from Rome shows that 2,000 years before Alexander the Great, the Phoenicians, the ancestors of the Lebanese, cultivated and domesticated the vine and produced wine. Wines from Lebanon were exported to Egypt around 2,500 BC and also introduced to Greece and Italy.
From intact cargoes of wine discovered on sunken Phoenician ships, the wines appears to have been protected from oxidation by a layer of olive oil, followed by a seal of pinewood and resin.Wine played an important part in many of the religions of the day, including the Phoenician, Greek, Roman, Jewish and Christian religions.
The Christian Bible makes mention of wines from the region, and Cana, where Christ attended a wedding and turned water into wine, is near the southern Lebanese port of Tyre. Baalbek was originally devoted to the Phoenician fertility god Baal but is also home to the remains of a temple dedicated to the Roman god of wine, Bacchus.
Lebanese wine production declined in modern times after Lebanon became part of the Caliphate, however due to community laws it was allowed among Christians for religious reasons. The Christians also developed an aniseed flavoured spirit reminiscent of Ouzo, called Arack.
In 1847, Chateau Joseph Spath (Chateau Chbat) became the first modern day Lebanese wine-maker. Following in 1857 was Chateau Ksara in 1857 where Jesuits planted Cinsaut vines from Algeria in the Bekaa Valley, and in 1868, Eugène François Brun set up Domaine des Tourelles.
Some interesting Lebanese wine facts
Between World War I and World War II, the French influence in Lebanon promoted a culture of wine drinking.
Chateau Musar's mountainside cellars are so secure that during Lebanon's Civil War, they were used as air raid shelters.
Yves Morard, a Frenchman, of Chateau Kefraya was arrested as a spy during the Israeli invasion. He was released when he proved to the Israelis that he could make wine.
The Lebanese wine renaissance
The end of the conflict in the 1990s saw a renaissance in the Lebanese wine industry. Since 1997, the number of wineries in the Bekaa Valley has increased from 5 to a total of 35 today.
The 2006 conflict did not dent this trend despite the difficulties the wineries endured, such as almost missing the harvest and enduring collateral damage. Instead of breaking the industry, the coverage in the media created a demand, particularly amongst British consumer who bought Lebanese wine in solidarity.
Overall, the Lebanese wine industry is an interesting and enduring one that deserves more attention. It may not be the first region you think of when purchasing wine, but I encourage you to try it. You will be delighted with these historic and tenacious wines.
Visit our Lebanese vineyards page on our website to make your selection of great Lebanese wines.