When will the penny drop?

What do you think of when you read Lebanon? Sadly, many people will think of violence, chaos, sinister Islamists and all things bad. Madeleine Waters of Coco PR was tasked by the Union Vinicole du Liban promote Lebanese wines in the UK.

One of her challenges was to change consumer perceptions of Lebanon, so when they saw a bottle of, say, Chateau Kefraya on the shelf or wine list, they would think of soaring snow-capped mountains, vineyard-filled plateaus, alfresco dining, crusader forts framing a Mediterranean sunset and maybe, if we are being honest, even a few doe-eyed women.

The message is filtering down. Lebanon now has the makings of a decent industry and I believe it is about time that serious UK agents and distributors put their money where their mouths are and add Lebanon to their portfolio of new world producers.

Easier said than done. “Not at those prices,” they moan. But ten years ago, Thorman Hunt took a gamble on Massaya, then only a few years old but clearly brimming with potential. The relationship appears to be going strong.

The point I’m making is that it can be done. Massaya was the first Lebanese winery since the Chateau Musar captured the UK’s imagination in the late 70s to make an impact in the mainstream (i.e. non Lebanese on-trade) wine trade. Why? Well, the wine obviously had to be bloody good, as did the packaging, but I firmly believe that a willingness to work hard and closely with a credible importer in a ferociously competitive market is also key to cracking the formidable UK market.

On that note, I predict UK success for Domaine des Tourelles. It has a clean range, a great story and the packaging is spot on. But what is arguably even more important is the readiness of winemaker, Faouzi Issa, to take his wines, his story and his enthusiasm the length and breadth of the UK as he did two weeks ago.

Chateaux Ksara and Kefraya, two giants of the Lebanese industry have major distributors. Others such as Ixsir, Chateau St Thomas, Coteaux du Liban, Domaine Wardy, Karam Winery (no relation) can also thrive with the right support. Importers should read Decanter editor, Adam Letchmere’s blogpost http://adamlechmere.blogspot.com/2011/05/wines-of-lebanon.htmland, if you believe what he says, you will see that Lebanon can conjure up wines that sit outside the plethora of uninspiring offerings that sit on shelves and wine lists across the UK. I had come to London eager to taste different styles and grapes and from different countries and climates, but I

When will the penny drop?

often found myself yearning for the body and complexity of Lebanon. The penny must surely drop.


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