“This is when it all happens. The harvest time is our playground,” Eddie Chami said, surrounded by vines, as he stood on a mountain slope in Bousit village, wearing a T-shirt and a khaki hat. It was early morning, the best time to harvest fragile grapes. Further ahead, a group of men and women were carefully cutting fruits from vines. “We won’t take these,” Chami pointed to a few low-hanging grapes. “We always leave the small ones for the birds.”
Similar scenes play out across Lebanon each fall. It is a small country but has one of the longest-standing wine-making traditions in the world. The Bible describes it as a place of fragrant wines. And it was here, as is traditionally believed, that Jesus turned water into wine. But with a dwindling economy, despite their rich culture of making wine, natural winemakers in Lebanon face the challenge of existing perceptions surrounding the country; one does not think of wine when they hear its name. The country has, it seems, been consonant with political upheaval and disruption, the last in line being the explosion at the Port of Beirut in the capital city.
“Lebanon is the first place where wine was traded, when the Phoenicians had trading posts in the whole Mediterranean,” Michael Karam, a wine expert, told me. “The French were not even in the game then.” After first emerging in the nearby Caucasus around 6000 BCE, viniculture took root in Lebanon. Its fertile Bekaa Valley possesses a unique micro-climate perfect for growing grapes: warm and dry summers, rainy winters and high altitudes. “We never have to intervene a lot in our wines, nature does everything for us here,” Farah Berrou, a podcaster on wine based in Beiruit, said.