209 x Lebanese Wineries
On one of the many hillsides of the Metn region of Lebanon, lies the historical Cave du Monastere St Jean, in the beautiful village of Khenchara.
Today the winery is over 300 years old! Yes, you read that right, the winery is the oldest winery in Lebanon.
The monastery was established in 1696, and at the time, you couldn’t have a monastery if it didn’t produce wine. Because of wine’s liturgical aspect, monasteries were expected to produce the wine they would use in Church services, and then distribute it to the people of their town. So, when the monastery saw the light, the winery followed soon after, and was officially established in 1720!
Father Charbel Najjar spoke to us about their rich history, he told us about the agriculture revolution in the 18th century, pioneered by the priests of St. Jean’s Monastery who started producing silk and wine as a way to take care of their home and their people. He also told us about how the priests preserved their traditional winemaking techniques and skills, to maintain the identity and quality of their wines.
In 2006 however, the winery shifted their whole approach to winemaking and transitioned into an officially modern winery, following the same sets of rules and regulations as the biggest wineries in the world.
As a result, Cave du Monastere St.Jean produces all kinds of wines from red and white, to rose and sweet. They have it all!
What makes their wines so special?
“There are 4 main things that make a wine what it is” Father Charbel answers.
“The first is the terroir, the second is the climate, the third is the quality of the vines, and finally the techniques and vinification methods.”
As a matter of fact, Cave du Monastere St.Jean is one the very few wineries located in the Metn region of Lebanon, and for Father Charbel, that is what makes their wines so unique: their unique environment and unique terroir make for very unique wines that perfectly represent the identity of the Metn.
We had a taste of their incredible Cuvée Zakher, and were transported in time once again!
This bottle is an homage to Abdallah Zakher, who founded the first Arabic printing press during the Ottoman Empire. At that time, the Ottomans were trying to suppress Arabic culture and language, so the priests of the Monastery established the Arabic printing press as a sign of resistance. They printed hundreds of Arabic books, spanning from literature, to philosophy, science and religion.
We love wines like Cuvee Zakher: you get a taste of history as well as a taste of a fantastic blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Syrah.
We also sipped on their unique Panagia, a bottle produced to commemorate the 3rd centennial of the cellar. An ode to the Virgin Mary, Queen of All Saints, it is aged for 2 years in new oak barrels, and is a blend of Cabernet-Sauvignon and Syrah.
A few of these bottles have been made, so if you’d like to get your hands on one of them, do it now!.
They say wine tells a story, and that is true about every bottle of Cave du Monastere St Jean. Every sip tells a story, and you can get a taste too - just click HERE.
Domaine des Tourelles was founded in 1868 by Frenchman François-Eugène Brun whose family owned and ran the winery up until 20 years ago, when the Issa and Issa El Khoury families decided to buy the winery and preserve the family spirit transition from the old generation to the new generation.
Today, Domaine des Tourelles is run by Faouzi Issa and his sisters Johanne and Christiane alongside Emile Issa El Khoury, Faouzi’s “half-brother” as he likes to call him. They are one the youngest teams running one of the oldest wineries in Lebanon, adding a dynamic and energetic touch to the beautiful old winery.
“I came back from France in 2008, at the age of 26, with a mission to restructure the winery and make wines” Faouzi tells us, and in order to do so “You have to work on the ground”, he says, “you have to get your hands dirty”.
He described one of his fondest memories of working at Domaine Rostaing in the Cote-Rotie region of France: he actually saw M.Rostaing, himself, cleaning the soil, the floors, the tanks. Basically, doing all the arduous jobs it takes to make a winery function.
For Faouzi, that was what he wanted to achieve: He wanted to become his own boss one day.
Becoming this “entrepreneur/managing director/winemaker” he aspired to be, meant he needed to start from the ground up.
That is the lesson he took back with him and it’s a lesson that stuck.
In fact, he tells us that his first years at the winery were “very productive and promising” he says. He excitedly split his days between the ground and the office. It became a passion for him to be working hand in hand with the staff, in the soil, the vines, the tanks, discovering every part of the winery as a true winemaker should; then go back to the office, to crunch numbers and figure out ways to stay sustainable as a company.
“It became an addiction” he stated. For him, working in something you own, gives you freedom to experiment and discover with no rules or restrictions. He had strong faith in his abilities, and that’s what drove him to experiment with no rule-book to follow, just curiosity and innovation.
In fact, one of the first things he did when he took over the winery, is get younger people on board, people that could actually introduce new styles of wines, and merge the old history of the winery with modern techniques and ways of producing wines.
A perfect example of blending the old and the new would be their Vieilles Vignes wines, Faouzi’s “new old babies” as he calls them.
The Cinsault is a revolutionary wine, bringing back the 100% Cinsault produced in Lebanon 50 years ago: old vines, concrete vats, dirty winemaking, dusty wine. Straight-forward with aromas of cherry, fruits, grapefruit and spices, it’s perfect for early consumption. A very soft, very elegant, fresh and crisp wine.
We were also delighted to taste the Carignan, a very dynamic wine, bursting with fruity flavors such as strawberries and prunes. A great taste of the Mediterranean.
“They’re a nice addition to our family”.
Passion, drive and insatiable curiosity lead Faouzi to work for more than 16 hours a day.
That is, of course, until he met his wife who introduced balance into his life. That is why today, Faouzi splits his time between the quiet, nature-friendly environment of the Beqaa Valley and the dynamic city life of Beirut. That is how he found balance: waking up between his vines and still experiencing the scene, the food and the people of his beloved city.
In the end, Domaine des Tourelles is recognized worldwide for making dusty earthy wines and a winery that is as close to nature as can be. To truly understand the philosophy and passion, one has to taste the wines, and what better way to do so than to indulge in their newest Merweh & Obeidi Vieilles Vignes that just arrived at 209?
The beautiful blend of these two grapes gives the wine a brilliant golden color. While the nose has natural aromas of ripened grapes, apple skin and a mix of spices and herbs, the palate is mineral and savory with notes of dried figs and fresh almonds on the finish.
Get your hands on it HERE.
Deep in Saghbine, overlooking Lake Qaraoun in the West Beqaa, lies Latourba winery, nestled at the crossroads of the ancient wine trade that travelled from Haifa to Baalbek.
In this place once called the “wine press”, the soil tells stories of civilizations, cultures and wine. Hence the name “Latourba”: The soil.
Elie Chehwane is an engineer and former head of municipality of Saghbine. He had always wanted to create a sustainable project that would support his beloved village and create opportunities for locals to work in the area rather than commute to the city. He wanted to encourage locals to get back to source and get back to the terroir. For him, it was crucial to work with crops that would actually benefit from from the richness of the soil he was living on: “We thought of wine because, since the time of the Romans, the land here, used to be planted with grapes known for their superior quality.”
Today, he runs Latourba with his wife Christine and his family of 4 boys. The winery uses artisanal and traditional methods to produce unique wines following one concept: “Single vineyard, single variety”. Each piece of land has a story to tell and different way of expressing it.
So, every parcel is vinified and evaluated separately, and each variety is vinified and evaluated separately.
As a boutique winery, producing mono-varietal wines helps Elie understand how each grape variety is maturing and responding to the soil every year and every season.
“Every parcel has a different grape variety, and the same parcel makes the same vintage every year, so it’s interesting to compare year after year,” says Chehwane.
If there are any corrections to be made, they are made in agriculture and never during vinification.
Everything comes down to the soil and Latourba wines are a testament to that: Their young White Cival for example, borrows its name from the white storks that fly above the valley. Their Rosé Solac paints a beautiful picture of the valley changing colors as the sun goes down; And their red Simil hints to the ancient civilizations that set foot on this land.
Their exceptional single varietals are all aged in oak and include Petit-Verdot, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Chardonnay. They’ve also produced the very first Lebanese sparkling wine made using traditional methods brought back from Champagne-Ardenne: Unique.
Elie’s passion project does not stop there!
The winery was only the beginning and in 2015, he built an animal farm with cows, goats, sheep, and chickens. He now produces eggs, labneh, and a variety of artisanal cheeses, including goat cheese and terroir products.
It really is all about the “tourba” for the Chehwane family, and you should get a taste HERE.
To truly understand Sept Winery, you have to understand the philosophy behind it.
Maher is a self-taught winemaker, he learns about wine through his travels, his feelings and his gut. He is not preoccupied with the technicalities behind the process, he is more interested in finding the best possible ways to express the identity of his terroir.
How does he do that you ask? Simple, Biodynamics.
Believing in the power of biodynamics is believing in the connection of a winemaker with his land. It is the deep understanding of the influences of the universe’s forces that express themselves through the movement of the earth, the lunar cycles, the sun and the plants. When you understand the harmony of how things work, you understand your vines, you understand your grapes, and you express who they are in the most authentic way possible, through the most authentic wine possible.
This is what you feel when tasting his exceptional Merweh: it is truly a genuine expression of the Lebanese mountains. The vines have been there for centuries, planted by Maher’s ancestors: They survived wars, illnesses, seasons and time; and Maher wouldn’t change them for the world.
He feels very fortunate to have found them, in their own natural environment, growing, living without anything other than the universe’s natural forces. If he intervenes, he’ll change their habits, change who they are, and lose their identity- That’s exactly why he won’t, and his Merweh is unique because of it.
Maher’s higher aim is to always work in harmony with nature, and it’s something that he does delicately well. Sept’s wines are all-natural terroir wines, bold and in-sync with the universe’s ways...
See for yourself HERE.
We love the month of March because it's all about celebrating women! Celebrating their beauty, their strength, their power and their light.
With that mind, we wanted to shed light on the powerful women behind our favorite Lebanese wines by asking them this simple question:
How does your personal touch translate into your wines?
Here is what they had to say:
I believe that every wine has a story and this story is about the people behind the wine. My brother is the wine-maker and I am the wine-seller. I love my brother's wines and when I sell the wine, I sell with passion and love. Wine brings people together and for me, real humanity is all about living life to the fullest and enjoying every sip of it! Our wines reflect this. My personal touch is about sharing our passion, wine, to the people, creating long-term friendship, uniting people and most of all, putting a smile on someone's face. Where would we be if we forget about our humanity?"
CHRISTINE CHEWAN - Latourba
MAYA CHEDID ANID - Clos du Phoenix
CAROL KHOURY - Les Vignes du Marje
ANDREA GEARA - Aurora Winery & Vineyards
RASHA RAHAL - Cave Kouroum
JOANNA GERGES - Chateau Cana
CYNTHIA KHARRAT - Chateau Oumsiyat
JENNIFER MASSOUD - Atibaia
"We are a boutique winery. Everyone does everything!"
KATY HARK - Batroun Mountains
NADIA, NATHALIE, MICHELINE & CLAUDINE TOUMA - Chateau St. Thomas
"Never underestimate the power of Women, we didn't"
HIBA SALLOUM - Umami Wine
Can you separate an art from its artist?"
It all started in 1839 when Roy Riachi’s ancestors passionately built their first “khommara” to produce alcoholic beverages and sell them to the neighboring villages of Khenchara – and the rest, as they say, is history…
In fact, just by looking at the striking diversity and creativity behind the designs and bottles, one would think that it’s a young winery. However, Riachi is one of the oldest wineries and distilleries in Lebanon. Great winemakers, but also groundbreaking visionaries: when Roy’s great grandfather incorporated liquor into their production, he really was a trend-setter at the time.
Roy takes pride in having taken up on his ancestors' promise to put Lebanese wine and spirits on the map. He is today the 8th generation winemaker and master distiller at Riachi Winery & Distillery. He has amazing stories to tell about how Riachi ended up where it is today, overcoming invasions, conflicts and wars.
The key to passing the winery on from generation to generation is simple: you cannot be in it just for the love of business, you need to be in it for the love of the craft.
That’s why he never settles for the comfort of his winemaking history. Instead, he never stops finding ways to innovate: Innovation found in the techniques, in the bottles, in the storytelling, and in the overall experience. For example, Riachi’s Athryr is the first ever Lebanese single malt whiskey. Made of melted barley, harvested from the Beqaa Valley and aged in new Lebanese Oak, Athyr is Lebanese through and through.
Today, Riachi has released Levant Highlands, their 100% Lebanese craft malt whiskey. A tribute to Mount Hermon, home to the palace of Baal, the Canaanite god of seasons and fertility, it gives off toasted notes of chocolate, toffee, roasted coffee and even vanilla, condensed milk, and confitures.
No matter what, Roy stays focused on the everlasting promise of his ancestors, that wine and spirits should only serve the purpose of bringing people together. With this in mind, Riachi Winery & Distillery maintains a steady path towards keeping the legacy untouched.
Click HERE for more.
Sobbaghieh from the word "Sabgha" meaning dye in Arabic, is a rare dark-skinned red wine grape native to Lebanon.
It belongs to the "Tinturier" grape variety, characterized by its red-colored flesh and juice. The presence of anthocyanin pigments within the pulp of the "Tinturier" grapes is what gives them this rich crimson color and higher levels of tannins.
Traditionally, Sobbaghieh grapes were grown in the mountains of Lebanon and used in the dying of red vinegar!
As the years passed, old traditions were forgotten, so was the use of Sobbaghieh.
That is until, Dr. Fadi Gerges, founder and owner of Château Cana, decided to experiment with the grapes and make wine!
For him, everything that Mother Nature has to offer is a gift, a gift that should not be forgotten.
This is how Jardin Secret was born:
A product of pure curiosity, imagination and lots of love for the Lebanese soil.
Jardin Secret is a wonderful gem of a wine, made purely from Sobbaghieh, and aged for 6 months in used oak barrels.
It is dense and deep, offering the distinct taste of "sunny grapes".
The aromas are expressed through a burst of dark berries and a subtle taste of burnt oak and barnyard elements, like forest floor. It also has a delicate after taste of sweet spices.
A dry wine, with medium body, it has a soft finish with gentle, but still present, tannins.
Make sure you decant it for at least an hour or two!
In perhaps one of the most photogenic enclaves of the Mtein region of Lebanon, the Bou Sleiman Family has been making wine since the 1950’s. Joseph and Cynthia Bou Sleiman are today the 4th generation winemakers and founders of Château Oumsiyat.
More than just a winery, Chateau Oumsiyat is their home. Winemaking binds their family together and keeps them in touch with their history and traditions.
Oumsiyat means beautiful and happy nights spent around music, wine and stories.
Cynthia, the keeper of the stories, was keen on starting our conversation at the ancient premise of their winery: the old “cave”.
The “cave” is an homage to their history. It has endured wars, fires and conflicts, just like the Bou Sleiman family, but it’s still here, just like them.
Cynthia proudly tells us that their story is one of resilience, just like all Lebanese stories: a story of getting back up however big the fall.Cynthia is proud of Chateau Oumsiyat: proud of its history, of its traditions, and she is proud to be passing the legacy on to her children one day…
Visiting Château Oumsiyat is just like visiting their family home: Everyone works in harmony. It’s not unusual for the workers and employees to work alongside the Bou Sleiman kids, who like to help and play around the winery.
Today, Chateau Oumsiyat makes wine in great varieties ranging from Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Cinsault, Grenache and Carignan, to Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Clairette, Uni Blanc and Obeideh.
Cynthia tells us that variety is a way for the Lebanese people to explore and discover all that their land has to offer. For her, Lebanese wine doesn’t need to be pushed or marketed in any other way than what it really is: a high-quality wine, good enough to speak for itself. Discover what she means HERE.
Throughout their early working years, Assaad and Katy Hark would wake up, day after day, with their lifelong dream always in mind: to go back to their homeland and make wine.
So, one day, they did just that. They moved back to Lebanon and created Batroun Mountains.
This was the way, Assaad Hark, grape grower and winemaker, would express his love for Lebanon: by choosing to respect the land and making a genuine Lebanese wine.
That is why Batroun Mountains’s grapes are certified 100% organic by the CCPB. Organic means gentle, it means caring and respecting nature, the soil, the seasons and the environment. And what better way to express your love for your homeland than actually growing what organically comes out of it?
Many people work hard for many years to sit back afterwards and enjoy the fruits of their labor. The Harks do enjoy the fruits of their hard work, but they hardly have the time to sit back. They wake up at 4 in the morning to get to work: from managing the winery, to growing the vines, to harvesting the grapes with their own hands.
When your craft is your passion and your business is your family, no time is too early to wake up!
In fact, it’s the family itself that sees through all of the winemaking process: growing, producing, bottling and marketing. All is carefully handled by each member of the Hark family, from vineyard, to bottle, to your table.
Katy, the warm and driving force of the family, tells us of all the memories she has of her children in the vineyards, she remembers when each of her kids had their own pair of vine clippers, proudly illustrating how almost all of their family memories were created around the vineyards, how Batroun Mountain’s history, is in fact, the Hark family’s history.
We sipped on their famous Frizzante Sparkling White Wine: a fun and genuine surprise made from a blend of seven grapes, delivering a superb complexity and wide range of floral aromas and fruits, fresh and crisp acidity, with a pleasant roundness! (Get a taste HERE).
Every bottle, from their red Prestige to their Chardonnay, is infused with passion and love. Love for the family, love for the grape, love for the soil, love for Batroun and love for Lebanon; and this kind of passion translates into every sip of a Batroun Mountains organic wine. See what we mean HERE.
Have you ever wondered what makes us who we are? What is it that makes us different from the rest? Is it our land? The way we talk? What about the way we dress, the shoes we wear, or the way we like our coffee in the morning?
Fabrice Guiberteau, the winemaker of Château Kefraya might not be able to answer these questions, but he will push you very adamantly to find them for yourself: “If you want to exist meaningfully, even if it’s for just one second in your life, you need to find your own identity”.
His philosophy about wine is not much different: Fabrice and Château Kefraya are a staple in the Lebanese winemaking industry. For decades, they have contributed to pushing the industry forward, making Château Kefraya one of the most respected wineries in the world.
The secret to this success? Fighting every day to define and represent Lebanon’s identity through their wines. And the truest way to do so is by letting the soil speak for itself: not intervening, and actually letting the grapes, the seasons and the stories, express themselves freely in the wines.
Fabrice, a Frenchman coming from a long tradition of winemaking in the region of Cognac, admits that Lebanon fascinates him, and especially Lebanese wine. According to him, Lebanese wine should never be thought of only in terms of how it’s made, but rather on the historical, traditional, geographical and cultural aspects behind what make it such a good quality wine: “You need to ask the right questions: where do your raw materials come from? How and why are they helping you make the best product possible?”
A firm believer in the identity of the terroir, Fabrice is a hands-on activist for the for the exceptionalism of Lebanese wine, and his way to prove it is by actually making truly exceptional wines.