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Lebanese vineyards gearing up to break Europe

  • Massaya wine bottles. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

  • Massaya winery. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

  • Vineyards at Chateau Belle Vue winery in Bhamdoun. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

  • Chateau Belle Vue wine bottles. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: Wine producers throughout Lebanon are getting ready to showcase their drinks in Germany for the “Lebanese Wine Day in Berlin.”

The all-day event, on May 5, will gather 33 Lebanese producers and around 50 government officials at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in the German capital, where they will hope to land contracts with European distributors and raise the profile of Lebanese wine.

“It’s important for people to know about and discover Lebanese wine,” says Elie Maamari, export manager for Lebanon’s largest winery, Chateau Ksara, which has been exporting to Germany since 1991 but is looking to get a greater foothold in the market beyond the Lebanese diaspora.

“Most of what we now sell is to Lebanese restaurants.”

The inaugural annual Lebanese wine fair took place in Paris last year, helping to boost awareness about the product in Lebanon’s second biggest wine export market after the United Kingdom.

It is part of a larger combined effort to put the country’s internationally acclaimed $50 million wine industry on the mainstream map. In March, 11 of Lebanon’s producers showcased at ProWein in Dusseldorf, Germany, as part of a separate Wines of Lebanon campaign. With its Central European location, Germany is considered a hub for distribution across the continent.

Lebanon is already gaining a foothold in the German wine market, having exported around 130,000 bottles to the country last year at a value of $600,000, more than double the $275,000 for which it exported 80,000 bottles in 2010.

Still, it lags far behind Lebanon’s two top European wine markets – France and the United Kingdom – which import an approximate annual value of $4.3 million and $2.4 million respectively.

Along with apples, honey and olive oil, wine is regarded as one of Lebanon’s best agricultural exports, making it a point of pride for many. At a conference last Thursday to promote the Berlin fair, both producers and the Agriculture Ministry suggested that each bottle could serve as an ambassador for Lebanon.

Lebanese wine has long been known among international connoisseurs. It made its first big splash at the 1979 Bristol Wine Fair in the U.K., where it received rave reviews from wine writers who highlighted the perseverance of serious production during hard times.

Since then, Lebanese wines have won prestigious prizes, such as a Decanter bronze medal for Kefraya in 2009, a lifetime achievement for Serge Hochar in 2010 from the German gourmet magazine Feinschmecker, a Green Buildings Award from CNN for IXSIR winery, in addition to consistently high praise from world-renowned wine writers.

But even with its hard-earned reputation over the past three decades among experts, Lebanese wine still hasn’t managed to penetrate the international market or consciousness in the way that the “new world” wine exporters, such as Chile, Argentina, South Africa and Australia have.

Confident that they can join the ranks, Lebanese wine producers – who, though relatively new to the modern commercial market, can in fact claim to be from one of the world’s oldest winemaking countries – are hoping to attract distributors looking for something new, no doubt a long process that will require sustained efforts.

“It is very rare for a winery to get a distributor the first time they exhibit in a new city,” says Beirut-based wine writer Michael Karam.

“Marketing is a long-term project. They shouldn’t assume that if they don’t land a distributor that they’ve failed.”

“This will be one more advantage Lebanon will have on the international awareness scale. Once they can remind people of Lebanon’s strong winemaking tradition, then they can hold their own among other winemaking countries of the world.”

 
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Summary

Wine producers throughout Lebanon are getting ready to showcase their drinks in Germany for the "Lebanese Wine Day in Berlin".

The all-day event, on May 5, will gather 33 Lebanese producers and around 50 government officials at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in the German capital, where they will hope to land contracts with European distributors and raise the profile of Lebanese wine.

The inaugural annual Lebanese wine fair took place in Paris last year, helping to boost awareness about the product in Lebanon's second biggest wine export market after the United Kingdom.

Still, it lags far behind Lebanon's two top European wine markets – France and the United Kingdom – which import an approximate annual value of $4.3 million and $2.4 million respectively.

Lebanese wine has long been known among international connoisseurs.


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