A true family business
The story of Chateau Musar begins in 1930 when 20-year-old Gaston Hochar founded this Lebanese winery. His inspiration was the 6,000 years of winemaking tradition in Lebanon, enhanced by his travels in Bordeaux. Strong links with Bordeaux remain to this day through Gaston's relationship with French senior officers stationed in Lebanon during World War II.
Gaston had two sons, Serge and Ronald.
After studying civil engineering, Serge Hochar, Gaston’s eldest son decided to study oenology and he became a student of Emile Peynaud at the University of Oenology in Bordeaux.
Gaston stepped aside in 1959 and Serge took the reigns as winemaker at Chateau Musar. Serge was chosen as Decanter Magazine’s first ‘Man of the Year’ in 1984. His dedication to producing exceptional quality wines during Lebanon’s Civil War gained him this accolade. In 2010, Serge received the “lifetime achievement award” from German magazine Der FeinSchmeker.
Serge has two sons, Gaston and Marc. Gaston now manages the day-to-day running of the winery and Marc looks after the winery's commercial details.
Unlike many other Lebanese wineries that closed due to the war, Chateau Musar continued to operate, often driving lorry loads of grapes through complex detours over the mountains to avoid battles. In only two years, 1976 and 1984 was Chateau Musar unable to produce any wine. This persistent continuity of operation was thanks to Gaston's son, Ronald.
Both Serge and Ronald were involved in Chateau Musar from young, washing bottles and working at the winery. Ronald recalls working from 7am to 5pm at the winery in Ghazir and then working evenings at the Chateau Musar shop in Beirut.
Ronald’s son Ralph is also involved in the family business. Based in the UK office, he focusses on the South East Asian market. Elsa, Ronald's daughter, has produced a documentary on Chateau Musar.
All in all, it is quite clear that Chateau Musar is a family business through and through!
Chateau Musar's red varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Carignan are grown towards the southern end of the Bekaa valley, about 30 km south-east of Beirut. Their white grapes, the indigenous Lebanese Obaideh and Merwah (likened to Chardonnay and Semillon respectively) are grown at higher altitudes, around 1,500 meters above sea level.
Between August and October each year, the grapes are hand-harvested by locals and are then shipped by lorry to the winery located at Ghazir, an hour away from the vineyards.
Whilst the vineyards are situated in the Bekaa Valley, Chateau Musar's winery is an hour away in Ghazir, about 20 km from Beirut. In the 1930s, when Gaston Hochar began making wine, the borders of Lebanon had not been settled yet. He wanted to ensure that his winery remained within the boundaries of the country, so chose the family's 18th century castle, called M'zar (from where Chateau Musar derives its name). This Arabic name means "place of extraordinary beauty" or "shrine to be visited", and true to its name, overlooks the Mediterranean.
Over time, cellars were built into the nearby mountain for long term wine storage. These were so secure that they were used by locals during the Lebanese Civil War as air raid shelters.
Chateau Musar achieved organic certification in 2006. However, given the remoteness of the vineyards, it could be argued that Chateau Musar was informally organic before the term "organic" was devised!
The wine making process remains as natural and non-interventionist as possible in the winery. Wild yeasts create fermentation, rather than cultured yeasts being introduced to the wines. Only a very small amount of sulphur is used and the wines are not fined or filtered.
Chateau Musar produces three ranges of wines: Chateau Musar in Red, White and Rose, Hochar Père et Fils Red and Musar Jeune in Red White and Rose.
Chateau Musar also produces L’Arack de Musar, a Lebanese aniseed flavoured spirit.
Keep an eye out for a follow-up blog post this month that will feature Chateau Musar's wines in more detail. In the meantime, if you want to purchase any of their exquisite wines, you can do so through our website.
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Thank you to Chateau Musar for the photographs used in this blog post.