Selling Lebanon with wine

In early July at Beirut’s Gabriel Hotel Lebanon, the Union Vinicole Du Liban, Lebanon’s association of wine producers, held a press conference to tell everyone about its recent activities, in particular its groundbreaking “Wines of Lebanon” campaign in the UK, one of the world’s most competitive wine markets.

To the best of my knowledge, it is the first time a Lebanese professional body has ever embarked upon such a venture, a remarkable feat given our genetic aversion to doing things as a group, and even more remarkable given the fact that it has so far been self-funded.

But the producers held their nerve and the campaign is by all accounts set to continue into 2012. It is a credit to them they have not reverted to type and gone it alone. It might at times have appeared the best way to go forward but as John McLaren, director of Wine of California, said very correctly in a film prepared for the press conference, “you cannot sell a wine in isolation”.

In other words it has to come as a part of a country package. Most consumers will choose a wine based on images of that country and this is why more than anything to sell Lebanese wine we have to sell Lebanon its culture its history its sights its food and even its people. Only then will the wines on the shelves begin to really move.

Economy minister Nicolas Nahas attended the press conference. A former industrialist, he proved a capable advocate for the sector. In a perfect world tourism minister Fadi Abboud, or at least his director general should also have been in attendance. They would have seen a new, vibrant way to sell Lebanon – via its food and drink – two elements of a countries culture that can do wonders to market a country and bolster its image.

Lebanese food has been a major export since the early 60s. Today, we can say that the wine has arrived. It is no longer an ethnic curiosity but a thundering ambassador for a country with a millennia old culture. We can also add our blue chip Arak brands and our high quality craft beer 961 to a stable of marketable brands that can all sell Lebanon.

I have no idea how much the Lebanese wine producers are paying to market Lebanon – for that is what they are doing – but surely the government should be able to put its hands in its pocket and contribute.

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