JDITA, Lebanon: Rustic and raw, Chateau Nakad is a far cry from the more corporate wineries in the neighborhood. In keeping with the homespun atmosphere, the winery has started holding bespoke picnics.
Formal dining isn’t the order of the day, however.
“We aren’t planning on serving people with silver spoons,” explained Jalal Nakad, the grandson of the Chateau Nakad’s founder who now runs the winery with his father and two siblings.
But the overwhelming hospitality, verdant setting and delectable cuisine make the Chateau Nakad picnic an absolute must.
Nestled in a residential corner of Jdita, the property seems an unlikely space for a winery. But a brief pre-picnic tour of the premises reveals an impressive operation steeped in both family and regional history.
The original caves were constructed by Jalal’s grandfather in the early 20th century from earth and hay, and still stand today. A black, painted fish can be made out on the cave wall.
“It was back when the Ottoman’s were still here, and Christians were afraid to use the cross,” said Jalal.
A triangle stamped on a nearby wine storage area hails from the mandate era, when French soldiers would lay claim to Chateau Nakad’s best batches. A picture of French soldiers smoking cigarettes at the winery’s entrance is on proud display in the living room.
While antiquated French equipment scattered across the premises gives insight into the technical evolution of the winery over the past 90 years, an excavation of the area surrounding the house revealed that the ancients had also used the property for oenological production.
As the family was renovating the house in the 1950s, a number of Roman-era wine-making instruments were found, including a stone press that the ancients used when crushing the grapes with their feet.
Heritage, tinged with nostalgia, seems to define Chateau Nakad, where bottles of wine are still transported in tin Almaza crates from the 1960s, some still pockmarked with bullet holes from the Civil War.
After the tour, guests are led down a crude path to a small forested area below the main house, where wooden pallets serve as a picnic table, and stuffed potato sacks as cushions.
Groups can request their own menu and theme, based on their budget, and the Nakads will do their best to accommodate, either preparing the food themselves or ordering from a local caterer.
“I would like people to feel comfortable, to enjoy the beauty of nature and the serenity of the place,” explained Lara Mariam Nakad, who quit a marketing job in Dubai to return to the family winery last year.
“But at the same time I would like people to feel like they are being served,” she said.
The Daily Star enjoyed an embarrassment of meze and home-cooked chicken on plastic plates while soaking in the pastoral scene. Both the call to prayer from a local mosque and church bells could be heard over the chirping birds and nearby stream.
Naturally, the meal was paired with two bottles of Chateau Nakad’s wine, a citrusy white and full-bodied red.
The curated picnics have drawn interest from neighbors in the small town, adding to warm, familial atmosphere, said Mariam.
“There was this couple having a picnic, and the neighbors came by,”she recalled. “They wanted to see what was happening. I went to go check on our guests, and I saw the neighbors sitting there, and they were all singing together!”
After the meal, guests are invited for a small hike – or “promenade,” as Mariam calls it – through the forested area. The casual ramble is the perfect distraction for nature-starved Beirutis.
Back at the main house, Jalal and Mariam offer sweet cakes alongside their latest product, Afandello, a local variation on Limoncello, made from sweet tangerines.
A picnic at the Nakads is ideal for anyone seeking a unique, bucolic afternoon without corporate frills.