Lebanon’s Newest “It” Winery: Les Vignes du Marje
At first glance, one might consider the Lebanese national drink to be “arak,” that white, murky, anise-derived spirit related to France’s pastis and Italy’s sambuca. Dig a little deeper, however, and you’d immediately reconsider: Lebanon boasts upward of 70 wineries spanning the Bekaa, Batroun, Bhamdoun and Byblos regions. In my book, we’re unequivocally a wine-producing nation.
Surprised? According to Farrah Berrou, founder of B for Bacchus which host workshops and tastings surrounding Lebanese wine, the number of vineyards registered in 1990 was a measly seven. Fast forward to the millennium, and the tally reached 17. In 2010, it surged to 41, and by 2017, we hit 49. That means in the past two years alone, the rate of induction of new wineries has grown by a factor of seven!
|In the past two years, Lebanon has witnessed an unprecedented growth in the number of wineries|
One in particular, Les Vignes du Marje, is worthy of close attention. In the less than one year since its launch in December 2018, Les Vignes du Marje has captured the notice of wine connoisseurs, sommeliers, restaurateurs, grocers, and vino lovers alike. It has participated in a wide array of festivals and fairs, from “Byblos en Blanc et Rosé” in July to the approaching wine event of the year, Vinifest, scheduled for October 2-5, 2019.
|Les Vignes du Marje has been actively participating in wine festivals throughout Lebanon, like Byblos en Blanc et Rosé pictured here|
Here’s the story behind the brand, why it’s gaining considerable traction, and how it’s poised to quickly outgrow boutique winery status in no time.
Laying the Roots
Carol Tayyar Khoury and her family had recently returned to Lebanon after nearly two decades of living in Dubai. Keen on cultivating a plot of land she owned in Jdeidet Marjeyoun, a town on the southern border from whence she and her husband hail, she toyed with the idea of establishing a winery. It would be the first in the region and no doubt contribute to the revitalization of local tourism. What’s more, Khoury could compel her son and daughter, presently in their 20s, to partake in the family business.
|Founder and managing partner Carol Khoury pictured with (left to right) husband Imad Khoury, Lebanese Industry Minister Vreij Sabonjian, son Christopher Khoury, and mother Aida Tayyar|
Determined to make her mark, Khoury enlisted the help of a wine consultant to study the viability of the soil. Once that had been affirmed, more than half a dozen grape varietals were planted, mainly Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains.
Marjeyoun’s hot summers and inclement winters render an ideal climate for the growth of the grape vines, resulting in five unique brands of wine.
The 2018 white has been described by the prestigious Nicolas wine shop in Achrafieh as possessing an “expressive nose and floral aromas” reminiscent of “Gewürztraminer Alsace wine.”
|Vin du Marje white 2018|
Rosé 2018 is fruity, fresh, bold and vivacious. Its hue is a conspicuously deeper pink than typical Lebanese rosés.
|Vin du Marje rosé 2018|
Classically, you can determine the quality of a winery by its reds, and those of Les Vignes du Marje are no exception. Presently there are three red wines available, the first of which is Le Vin du Marje 2016, a full-bodied wine tinted deep purple with notes of red fruits and raspberries on the nose.
|Vin du Marje red 2016|
Le Rouge du Marje 2013 is a limited edition wine aged for 12 months in oak barrels, resulting in a balanced taste with lush tannins. Copywriter and journalist Sandra Skriver describes Le Rouge du Marje lyrically: “the nose is very elegant, while the alcohol lingers in a smooth and inviting way. The Merlot is definitely the star in this blend, and it is allowed to shine. It is the front in a charming trinity, where the Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah do a beautiful job as backup singers.”
|Le Rouge du Marje Limited Release red 2013|
Perhaps the most formidable of the trio is Couvent de M, the red chateau 2013 which blends Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot to produce a finely aged wine with a velvety texture and ruby-red appearance.
|Couvent de M red château 2013|
As of now, Les Vignes du Marje has an annual volume of 10,000 bottles, but that number is expected to ramp up remarkably as demand climbs. You can find the label at diverse points of sale, from gourmet epiceries like Vinothèque, Aziz, La Cigale, Stop & Shop, and Le Goût Frais, to fine dining institutions such as Cocteau, Le Phoenician, EL Boutique Hotel, Resto Museum Sursock, Gefinor Rotana Hotel, Le Mythe, La Petite Maison, Le Petit Gris, Metropole Brasserie, Bergerac, Slate and Le Maillon, to name but a few. Online cellars 209 Lebanese Wine and Vinileb also carry the brand. For a comprehensive list, visit Les Vignes du Marje’s dedicated Instagram page. Equally, you can place an order for the wine directly via their website. The white and rosé each commands a price of USD 12, while the reds vary from USD 13 to USD 30.
|Couvent de M is the "haut de gamme" of Les Vignes du Marje and fetches a price of USD 30|
The increasingly widespread availability of Les Vignes du Marje is only outpaced by the deluge of testimonials flooding in from both locals and tourists to Lebanon. One French visitor named Olivier de Croizant wrote the following:
“De passage au Liban pour les vacances en famille, nous avons acheté votre vin blanc. De retour en France, nous l’avons bu avec des amis et nous tenions tous à vous féliciter pour la qualité de ce vin subtil, vif et fruité à la fois. Encore bravo à vous, sans oublier la boutique qui nous l’a vendu (Vinothèque à Achrafieh) car de très bon conseil.”
“While on vacation in Lebanon, we purchased your white wine. Upon returning to France, we drank the wine with friends, and we all wanted to congratulate you for the quality of this at-once subtle, lively and fruity wine. Props to you, without failing to mention the boutique (Vinothèque) that wisely recommended this wine.”
If any nation and its people can be collectively deemed authorities on wine, it is France and the French, and this gentleman’s voluntary feedback speaks volumes about the outstanding potential Les Vignes du Marje already holds.
|Wine aficionados enjoying Les Vignes du Marje at an exclusive event|
As a rule of thumb, it takes wineries countless years of consistent excellence, a long string of accolades, and repeated exposure before they start enjoying success for their winemaking prowess. Les Vignes du Marje, in just nine months since its arrival to market, has already put Marjeyoun on the map as a bastion of exquisite wine. What has been described as “an iron fist in a velvet glove” captures the balance Les Vignes du Marje strikes between restraint and ripeness, structure and softness.
|In the scant nine months since its debut, Les Vignes du Marje has already drawn public notice|
Khoury has major plans for her passion project, which explains why she’ll be representing Les Vignes du Marje alongside a delegation of Lebanese wineries at a key wine consortium in Denmark this fall. Projecting ahead, her aim is to augment output to at least 20,000 bottles annually and to allocate a good percentage of production for export.
The factors for success are certainly in place: an exceptional product, growing channels of distribution, positive word of mouth, and, perhaps most critically, thinking big. If this year’s wins are a criterion or compass for the coming years’ performance, then Les Vignes du Marje is positioned for noteworthy prominence.
Mark my words, for these wine-stained lips never falter! Get yourself a bottle (or five), and take the time to see, swirl, sniff, sip, and savor every last drop.
|Carol Khoury (right) toasting with family and friends|
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