Domaine des Tourelles – Lebanon, September 2018
VOS team left New York barely a few minutes into Thursday, to arrive in Beirut after a 4 hour layover in Istanbul and shortly before the day was over. We reached our apartments on Armenia Street, in the hip and lively neighborhood of Mar Mikhaël, and quickly put our luggage down to properly greet Lebanon (and Friday) with a taste of local beer. It was almost midnight but everybody was out and enjoying a balmy evening.
A few hours later, after a quick breakfast/café au lait on the terrace of Bar Tartine, we took the Beirut–Damascus “highway” to the village of Ammiq, where Domaine des Tourelles vineyards are located. The Syrian refugee camps encountered on the way were a sobering reminder of the effects of Civil War in neighboring Syria – close to a 1 million Syrian refugees are currently in Lebanon, whose total population is just over 4 million.
The mostly dry-farmed Domaine des Tourelles vineyards are in between the Lebanon (left pic) and Anti-Lebanon mountains – right pic, with Syria and the Damascus plain to the East.
Faouzi Issa, owner and winemaker, was waiting for us there. That’s how much he loves his vineyards!
And we LOVED being there:) Faouzi talked about organic farming, the drought challenge of 2015 – which destroyed 70% of the harvest and prompted him to install drip irrigation, only to be used if such conditions occurred again, his love of Cinsault – “the Pinot Noir of the Bekaa”- and how it was perfectly suited to the hot and dry climate of the Bekaa Valley.
We then drove to the winery, smack in the middle of the town of Chtaura (30 miles South East of Beirut) and impossible to guess from the outside. We saw the grapes being sorted for the Arak production, and tasted several tank samples – Viognier, Chardonnay and Muscat – destined to be used in the Bekaa Blanc and Marquis des Beys cuvées.
Mr Brun’s old office, where he would relax during harvest, has been left intact and is Faouzi’s favorite room – and a glimpse into the past.
That’s where part of the anise seeds bags are kept – in 2015, Faouzi started to grow his own anise out of Deir el Ahmar, a village in the district of Baalbek.
The Arak production has been continuous since 1868, and the traditional copper alembics are still used for the (triple) distillation, made from estate grapes. The Arak is then aged one to 5 years in old clay jars. It was extremely difficult to extend the production, as new clay jars were needed, and very few people still practiced the craft. Faouzi was able to convince an older gentleman, who was in his early seventies and happened to be the producer for the Le Brun jars, to restart his production and teach his skills to a new generation.
The distillation process is overseen by Michel Baaklini, who has been with Domaine des Tourelles for over 26 years.
We then tasted several barrel samples for the reds: the Cinsault 2017, which Faouzi says is their best vintage to date, elegant yet powerful with lovely notes of cherry, an on-the-spot blending of what will be the 2016 Syrah du Liban – silky and classic – and another blend from four barrels that will be the Marquis des Beys 2016: savory, spicy, powerful. Another winner was the tank sample of Tempranillo, which will go into the Bekaa Rosé: a gorgeous juice full of pomegranate, guava and strawberry. We’re ready to jump on this cuvée as soon as it arrives, even in the dead of winter!
On the way back, Faouzi showed us the work-in-progress for a Maison d’Hôtes. After this great tour, we were ready for lunch! The table was set by the hundred year old tilleul (linden tree), under which all important things are discussed.
Christiane, Faouzi’s sister, was the host of this feast, that ended with a taste of Oranjaline, the fabulous Triple Sec liquor they produce from up to ten different citrus fruit.
That was the end of lunch, but just the beginning of our trip! Over the next few days, we would discover the Cedars of God in Bsharri, visit the spectacular Jeita Grotto, enjoy a leisurely lunch in the water at Jammal, a quaint restaurant in Batroun, admire the extraordinary ruins of Baalbek, with their enigmatic megalithic stones, and savor some great cocktails in Beirut.
A heartfelt thanks to Domaine des Tourelles and their team for the wonderful memories!