The Bekaa Valley is home to Lebanon's most historic vineyards and wineries. Winemaking in the region is a tradition which goes back some 6000 years. The Bekaa Valley has an average altitude of 1000m above sea level, and the valley's climate is very suitable to growing a variety of wine grapes. With abundant winter rains and high sunshine hours in the summer help the grapes ripen easily. Today there are more than a dozen wineries in the Bekaa Valley, producing over six million bottles a year.
Vitis-Vinifera evidence from ancient Roman times, shows wine was cultivated and domesticated in Lebanon at least 2000 years before ‘Alexander the Great’. Vines grew easily in the land of Canaan, the coastal strip along today's Lebanon.
And the wines of Byblos (Gubla, Gebal, Jubail & Jbeil) were regularly exported to Egypt during the Old Kingdom 2686 - 2134 BC. The wines of Tyre and Sidon were renowned throughout the ancient Mediterranean, although not all reached their destination due to their popularity. The Bekaa Valley is long and narrow - running north-south for approximately 65km between the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon mountains. These mountains have provided a unique fertility to the terroir, along with providing protection from the deserts to the east and the maritime rains from the west.
The original vineyards in the Bekaa Valley were planted with Cinsault, which has subsequently been joined by a number of other French varietals including; Carignan, Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, along with white varietals; Ugni Blanc, Clairette and Chardonnay. Along with some indigenous varietals being used, most notably Obaideh and Merwah, both white grapes.
Few places in the world have a longer tradition of winemaking than Lebanon, with the Phoenicians domesticating the wine varietals and sharing their knowledge of winemaking so long ago. The Bekaa Valley is the home to almost 90% of Lebanon's annual wine production. Although Bekaa has long agriculture history, it is only in the past few decades that its vinicultural potential has been truly realized.
Once Lebanon became part of the Arabic realm, the production of alcohol was eliminated except wine made for religious purposes. Modern winemaking in Lebanon can also look back to 1857, when Jesuit Monks planted grape vines at Chateau Ksara in the Bekaa Valley. These were Cinsault grapes brought from Algeria. During WWI Lebanon was under the control of the Ottoman Empire after which time it was placed under French mandate. By the end of WWII Beirut had obtained the reputation of an international city with a strong French influence. This was very helpful to the Lebanese wine industry and the wines produced tended to be Bordeaux and Rhône in style.
Although the wine industry is now well established, the political situation in Lebanon has made wine production extremely difficult. Ongoing wars and attacks from terrorists have often make wine production a dangerous endeavour. Regularly wineries have lost most of their harvest due to the inability to hire workers during the bombing periods. The region has a rich wine history, we can only hope that the future will enable us the opportunity to enjoy wine from this unique region again.