October 6, 2009 / 2:11 PM / 9 years ago

Winemaker wishes weather was his only problem

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Most of the world’s winemakers worry about the weather because great wine is made in the vineyard, but in Lebanon they worry about other things.

“Weather, if only I could worry about the weather. No, I don’t worry about the weather. We are blessed with wonderful weather,” said Sami Ghosn, 43.

Along with his brother, Ramzi, 44, in the early 1990s Ghosn reopened the family’s Massaya vineyard in the Bekaa Valley where there is sunshine some 300 days a year.

The vineyard had been closed since 1975 when the Ghosn family, who are Lebanese Christians, fled at the start of the 15-year civil war. First they went to France and in 1984 to the United States.

They had refused several offers to sell the land, which is covered with a clay and limestone soil and lies between the mountains and the Mediterranean at more than 3,000 feet up.

“I knew I wanted to go back. It is beautiful,” Ghosn said. “Massaya, by the way, does not refer to the messiah. It is the Arabic word for twilight and it’s just so beautiful in the vineyard at the time of day.”

Shortly after the political situation improved in the early 1990s Ghosn left a successful architectural career in Los Angeles to pursue his dream of becoming a vintner in Lebanon, where wine has been made in the region since Phoenician times.

“You know we joke. You have New World wines. You have Old World wines. We have Ancient World wines,” he said.

Massaya’s Silver Selection Red is a blend of four grapes — Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Mourvedre and Cinsault, a varietal native to Lebanon. A medium-bodied wine, it is a cherry color that smells of a spice market.

Some of the vines on their property in Tanail are 80 years old, Sami said. The grapes from these vines, which produce smaller yields with intense flavor, are used in Massaya’s Gold Reserve wine, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvedre and Syrah that is a deep purple and smells of incense and sandalwood and just the hint of vanilla reflecting the two years it spend in French oak barrels.

The 2006 vintage will be released on November 22, Lebanon’s Independence Day. It is from the harvest that began just as the ceasefire went into effect at the end of the Israel-Lebanon war, when vineyards on both sides of the border were under fire.

“Luckily, there was the ceasefire and while we lost some vines, we were able to make a harvest,” he explained.

Holding up a T-shirt saying “massaya.com Make Wine not War,” Ghosn said, “I think if there has to be a battle, the battle should be who makes the best wine.”

Editing by Patricia Reaney

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