According to Union Vinicole du Liban, located within one of the oldest wine producing areas, the earliest Lebanese viticulture can be traced to 7000 BC. (UVL) For thousands of years, wines produced in the region today encompassed by Lebanon were traded with areas from Cyprus and Egypt to Italy and Spain. Unfortunately, the Lebanese wine sector fell victim to the many twists and turns of politics throughout the centuries of 1700s, 1800s, and 1900s. During the Ottoman Empire’s occupation, wine production was forbidden, except for religious purposes. Despite this restriction,, in the mid-1800s, Jesuit missionaries introduced new cultivation and production methods and vines from the northwestern region of Africa (present day Algeria), laying the foundations of the modern Lebanese wine industry (UVL). The period following WWI through the beginning of the Lebanese civil war in 1975 was a period of growth in Lebanese viticulture, viniculture, and exports. Despite the 15 year stagnation in the wine industry caused by the civil war (1975 - 1992), the wine sector in Lebanon is thriving today, with production levels at seven (7) million bottles with 2,000 ha of land being cultivated by 40 wineries (UVL). The industry’s value is estimated at $41M; its top export markets being:
Source: Ministry of Economy.
Lebanon Wine: A History and a Future
Lebanese Wine Industry History
The history of viticulture in Lebanon extends back to the Phoenicians and their extensive culture of trade, bringing wine to the Mediterranean (Italy, Greece, Sardinia, Sicily) to North Africa (Egypt), and Middle Eastern (Turkey, Syria) regions. In particular, the Phoenician ports of Byblos (north of modern day Beirut), Tyre, and Sidon, were wine production and trade centers. However, following the conquest of the territory by the Ottoman Empire, and the prohibition of wine production and consumption under Sharia law, the wine industry stagnated with only non-Muslims allowed permission to produce wine for religious purposes. This loophole enabled the establishment of Chateau Joseph Spath (Chateau Chbat) in 1847 at Aaramoun Kesrouan, followed by the Jesuits founding of Chateau Ksara in 1857 in the Bekaa Valley, the primary wine production region in Lebanon, with the planting of Cinsaut vines from Algeria,
At least dozen new cultivars were been introduced to the country in the early-mid-1990s. Some producers are experimenting with new terroir – notably in Batroun, Kfifane, Bhamdoun, Richmaya, Majdel Maouche and Jezzine as well as areas in the Eastern Bekaa – but most of the viticulture for wine grapes takes place in the Western Bekaa and the hills above Zahleh. Domestic consumption has increased to 1 liter per person per year, or some 4 million bottles (including imported wines).
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