Lebanon has an ancient wine culture that has seen something of a rebirth over recent years. Last year, some 6 million bottles of wine were produced here, by 5,000 acres of vineyards. Most of the vineyards are found in the region of Bekaa. Lebanese wine is imported mainly to France, the United Kingdom and the USA. Interestingly, it took just around a decade for the number of wineries in Lebanon to triple.
History of Lebanese Wines
Wine has been produced in Lebanon for well over five millennia. The Phoenicians, held largely responsible for the development of trade in the Mediterranean, were first to start exporting wine. They brought it to Egypt and was exchanged for gold. Not only did they develop the trade in wine, they also invented many of the tools used in viticulture and are even believed to be responsible for the introduction of vitis vinifera.
Byblos, which is now Beirut, was one of antiquities most established wine centres, in part due to the fact that it was well placed along the Mediterranean Sea and always had favourable winds to take part in trade. However, in the 16th century, the Ottoman Empire took over the country and prohibited wine under Sharia law. However, there were some non-Muslim citizens in Lebanon who were allowed certain freedoms, in particular the Jesuit priests.
Lebanese Wines Today
Thanks to the Jesuit priests, the vineyards in Lebanon did not quite die out. Varieties on different wines have been created, and today, the most popular varieties are:
The wine industry in Lebanon is now very much modelled on the French viticulture methods, most probably due to the close links between Lebanon and Algeria, a French colony. Lebanon itself was also ruled by the French briefly in the beginning of the last century, which further solidified the methods of viticulture. It is for this reason that the wineries of Lebanon are known as Chateaux and that their wine authority is called the Union Vinicole du Liban.
In May 2000, wine laws were drafted in Lebanon for the first time. These introduced a regulation system for the national wines. Interestingly, the majority of the wine making regions are no longer near the ports now, having moved inland to the Bekaa Valley instead, where the soils are more fertile. New vineyards are starting to appear near Jezzine now as well.