Chateau Musar

For 6,000 years, vines have been grown in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Chateau Musar's history is more recent, but their wines seem to be from another time - old-school, long-lived, made slowly and naturally. Using a combination of superb fruit from high altitude, organically-farmed old vines, minimal intervention in the winery and extended ageing for even the humblest cuvées, the Hochar family have over four or five generations established Chateau Musar as a legend of the eastern Mediterranean, and a source of world-class wines with a unique Lebanese signature.

When you are a winemaker you have the luck to work with something that is alive. You should never kill it. Serge Hochar

Chateau Musar began in 1930, when a 20 year old Gaston Hochar, inspired by the ancient history of winemaking in Lebanon and his travels in Bordeaux, set it up in his family's 18th century castle in Ghazir, overlooking the Mediterranean. Over the subsequent decades the Hochar family, in particular Gaston's son Serge, defined Musar's distinctive style and made its worldwide reputation as truly great Mediterranean wine. Even during the long civil war (1975-1990) when the vineyards were frequently in the firing line and the mountainside cellars used as air raid shelters, Musar survived heroically, missing only two vintages. Today the latest generation of the Hochar family make the wines the same way, with the same spirit and the same skill.

The Bekaa Valley sits between the mountain ranges of Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon and sees both extremes of the weather, with snow in winter and baking hot summers. At the southern end of the valley, near the villages of Aana and Kefraya and 30km south-east of Beirut, are Musar's vineyards. The red varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Carignan) are at around 1,000m above sea level, and the whites (Obaideh and Merwah - ancient native vines) at around 1,500m. The vines are long-established, yielding around 30-35 hectolitres per hectare, and have been always been farmed organically (being certified as such in 2006). They are all hand-harvested in the early morning by local Bedouins.

Just as the vineyards have been organic since long before certification existed, the winemaking at Chateau Musar was 'natural' long before that became a buzzword. Fermentation uses ambient yeasts, very little sulphur is added, and the wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered. The keys are minimal intervention, and time. The winemaking and subsequent maturation is long and slow. The top red is first released after about seven years, and 'current releases' can be up to twenty years old. Musar also keep and release very old wines, going back to the 1950s. Even the lowest priced wines are capable of ageing well beyond expectations.