From the snow-covered slopes of Mzaar, there is a view over the Bekaa valley and Mount Hermon to the Mediterranean coast. On a clear day, you can even see Beirut.
Lebanon – Fact Check

"We've been making wine here for 6,000 years!"

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Lebanon – Fact Check "We've been making wine here for 6,000 years!"

Lebanon, the tiny country locked in between hostile neighbors Israel and Syria, is home to some of the world’s earliest vineyards.

Kieran Meeke
Kieran Meeke Travel Writer

As I drive up to the Bekaa valley of Lebanon, snow is what I see around me.

The soldiers at checkpoints slap their arms against their padded uniform jackets to keep warm as they watch the steady stream of traffic flowing to and from the border with Syria. Trucks labor up the steep hills as oncoming drivers squeeze through oncoming traffic by somehow inventing another lane.

The valley is 16km wide and 120km long, and lies above 1,000m less than an hour east of Beirut. The view from my bus window is of flat fields full of vines, for this is the home of Chateau Ksara, Lebanon’s most famous winemaker. Watered by the melting snows of Mount Lebanon, this is the home of some of the world’s earliest vineyards, revived in 1857 by Jesuit missionaries in need of altar wine.

Now in private hands, Chateau Ksara has planted more familiar varieties, such as Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc, while pushing a more youthful image and developing a thriving export trade. A massive recent investment from France has brought expertise, barrels, corks and stylish bottles to the vineyard here. The cellars, dating back to Roman times, stretch for miles underground and are filled with stacks of bottles covered in dust: a priceless hoard.

Perhaps surprisingly, France is the biggest export market and the French make up most of the vineyards foreign visitors, with Germans and British the next biggest groups. However, most visitors are local and communications manager Rania Chammas says: “The Lebanese know little about their wine heritage and are surprised to learn so much. It makes my job very satisfying. It is also the best kind of one-to-one marketing.”

The increase in demand is good news for local farmers, who are finding a better return by planting vines than on former crops that included hashish and opium and a tasting reveals that the wines can hold their own on the world stage. “Why are you surprised?” asks Jamil, my local guide. “We have been making wine here for 6,000 years!”

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