Today we went to Beqaa Valley – the valley of the two red Lebanese: wine and hashish. Our idea is to make a story about these two very old traditions, traditions which go back thousands of years in Beqaa Valley and which are deeply rooted in the people living there. It is their culture.
Last time I visited Beqaa (it was also with Bea), the Syrian army had just left, 6 or 7 years ago. They invaded Lebanon during the civil war to “secure” their interests – mainly to suppress a possible Sunni majority. Here, Syria is only a stone’s throw away (15 minutes drive to the border). Life looked pretty much normal. No signs of war. Business as usual. Good to see.
The valley welcomed us with this view as we passed the peak of Mount Lebanon … Breathtaking!
Our first stop was Chateau Kefraya, one of the 45 wineries in the valley and one of the best. Kefraya produces 2.2 million bottles of wine every year and export up to 50% all over the world. We went there without advance notice and surprisingly we were lucky to meet and talk to Fabrice Guiberteau, the oenologist at the Chateau. Fabrice is native French and he came to Lebanon in 2006. He is married to a Lebanese and truly enjoys his work. He couldn’t sleep the night before we came because our arrival date was the first day of the harvest. A huge event every year!
His passion for wine one could feel in everything he said and explained. He was here to build something special, to create something different, to synch it with the environment and the culture and the people. Full of relish. He has an extraordinary way to combine his knowledge of wine and the place he lives in. Wine making is a job. A great job for him. It is work full of challenges and possibilities. Completely different from what he would experience back home in France. And he loves it and fully embraces it.
He mentioned that the challenges became a bigger since the unrests in Syria started – the number of visitors at the Chateau has dropped almost by 50% (appr. 25.000 visitor per year) – but business itself is increasing. People feel more insecure – even though they are used to live in insecure circumstances. No turmoils have spilled over – yet the anxiety is there. But still the place gives him and his team the freedom to build and expand the brand. The winery secures 30 jobs year round, and up to 100 and more during harvest. Most of them locals.
We left after a tour through the winery and a brief wine tasting. We’ve gathered enough material for the first part of the two Lebanese red. Our next stop was Chtaura, located between the Mount Lebanon and the Anti-Lebanon mountain range. It is located halfway on the Beirut Damascus highway. In Chtaura you can eat the BEST labneh (strained yogurt) sandwiches. Simply divine! And exactly this we did;-)
What a wonderful excursion inbetween all this insanity going on around us!
Update: We skipped the second part of the story because in the hashish area, north of Baalbek, the situation became worse the last weeks. Many people have been kidnapped and killed. The Shiite- Sunni conflict in full blown.