Dinner with sommelier Frederic Ballario of San Diego and winemaker Hicham Geagea of Lebanon in Chavignol, autumn 2008.
I first met Hicham Geagea while working the harvest with Alphonse Mellot in Sancerre last autumn. Hicham is the winemaker at his family’s Vignia Verde winery in Lebanon, and was working as a stagière at Domaine François Crochet in the nearby village of Bué. We met through our mutual friend, sommelier Frederic Ballario of San Diego, and arranged to meet for dinner one night. Elizabeth and I drove from Sancerre to Chavignol, where we began our friendship with Hicham at a small, family-run bistro serving typical and local fare.
Six months later, Hicham remembered our meeting and invited me to participate as a wine judge in conjunction with the Lebanese Food and Wine Festival held in Al Bayt Al Horafi–Zouk Mikael on the Mediterranean coast. This invitation might surprise some people, but in my 13 years working as a wine professional, I’ve come to expect the unexpected, and like so many times before, I’m sure that my experience in Lebanon will lead to even more friendships in the wine world.
Map of Lebanon from CIA World Factbook.
The ancient Phoenicians grew wine there and the region is considered by many to be the one of oldest wine producing region in the world. Its modern wine production, however, dates only to this century and has frequently been interrupted by war.
There are currently around 30 wineries, mainly concentrated in the fertile Bekaa Valley about 19 miles east of Beirut. Much of their success has been based off of French “international” grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. Americans and Europeans are most familiar with Château Musar. Serge Hochar, Musar’s owner and winemaker, achieved international recognition at the Bristol Wine Fair of 1979 in the midst of his country’s civil war and thus put Lebanese wine on the international map. Other wineries of note include Domaine de Baal, Lebanon’s only organic winery, and Château Ksara, the country’s largest winery.
posted on December 8 2009 by jesse