BERLIN: The Lebanese diaspora doesn’t have the strong presence in Germany the way it does in other countries, and that’s one reason it was chosen for this year’s wine fair in Berlin – for producers to get their foot in the door of a relatively new market.
In the ballroom of the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Berlin Monday, 33 Lebanese wineries showcased their wines to distributors and importers from central Europe. Some of them were already well acquainted with Lebanese wine, while many others were there to learn about a new product that could be added to their international imports.
“I don’t import Lebanese wine yet,” said Christian Mueller, a Berlin-based importer who specializes in New World wine, primarily from Australia and Latin America, and is now looking for several Lebanese labels to add to his offerings.
Although impressed with what he has sampled, he said his one hesitation in signing up with a Lebanese wine company is the price, which tends to be higher than most other New World wines – often $30, compared with around $5 for what he now sells to the public. His colleague concurred.
“If someone is interested in an area where they haven’t had the wine before, they won’t start with a $50 wine,” said Beirut-based sommelier Carl Boyles. “Wines need an entry-level stage, and then people will start buying the more expensive wine [from that country].” This might mean a long road ahead for Lebanon’s high quality but relatively expensive boutique wine labels.
“There are a lot of potential buyers,” and we need to have a presence,” said Zafer Chaoui, chairman of Ksara, Lebanon’s largest and oldest commercial winery, which has already been exporting to Germany since 1991, but is looking to get a greater foothold in the market beyond sales to Lebanese ethnic restaurants. As Lebanon’s largest producer, Ksara might have a greater opportunity than some of its smaller counterparts to use this event to penetrate the central European market with its entry-level wines.
Chaoui sees Germany as a good springboard from which to sell Lebanese wine, having withstood the financial crisis better than other major European countries.
In addition, he notes that it might have a demand for red wine, as most of its domestic production is white, and 60 percent of Lebanon’s production is red.
After decades of building a reputation for high quality wine, Lebanese producers – and now with the full support of the government, notably the Agriculture Ministry – are now working to translate that success into high volume sales, from a niche curiosity for connoisseurs to drinks that can be found at shops across the world.
Monday’s event was opened by the agriculture and foreign ministers, as well as the Lebanese ambassador to Germany, who noted that trade between Lebanon and his country has more than doubled in the past 10 years.
It follows the inaugural Lebanese wine fair that took place in Paris last year, which saw an attendance of 800, resulting in a greater awareness of the product in Lebanon’s second-biggest market for Lebanese wine exports after the U.K. This 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 as part of a separate Wines of Lebanon generic campaign.
With its location in central Europe, Germany is considered a hub for European distribution.
Lebanon is already gaining a foothold in the German wine market, having exported to the country around 130,000 bottles at a value of $600,000 last year, more than double the value of its 80,000 bottles at $275,000 it sold in 2010. Still, it lags far behind Lebanon’s two top European wine markets – the United Kingdom and France, which import an approximate annual value of $4.3 million and $2.4 million respectively.
Fortunately for Lebanese wineries, not all importers and distributors need to be convinced of the quality of their country’s wine.
“Lebanon has a bad reputation,” but I’m walking proof that the situation is OK,” said Tomas Blahut, a Czech wine importer based in Prague, who for the past five years has been importing from six Lebanese wineries – to a country whose imports tend to be from the more traditional markets of France and Italy. With a growing popularity in the Lebanese wine he already sells, he is looking to add at least another one soon.
“It is absolutely necessary to do events like this – to introduce Lebanese wine to the public.”