In the Middle East, some notable Muslim countries include Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon. This article will extensively discuss the history of wine production and the related prospects of these countries.

Wine in Palestine

An Egyptian, Sinuhe, stated in the 14th century that [1]:

In Palestine, wine is more abundant than water.”

Palestine—also known as the State of Palestine in Western Asia—is officially governed by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). It also has claims over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

However, in 1967, the Israel state took over the territory after the Six-Day War, also referred to as the June War.

As a whole, Palestine comprises the area of the eastern Mediterranean region. Moreover, it constitutes the Palestinian territories of the Gaza Strip—which is present along the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea—and the West Bank—which lies west of the Jordan River. In addition, Palestine has been controversial concerning this small Jordan region for multiple reasons, thereby impacting Jordanian-Syrian relations.

, Wine in Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon

Jerusalem Garden Tomb Wine Press by Gary Todd

History of Winemaking in Palestine

First millennium to the third millennium

In Palestine, viticulture and viniculture have a vast history, dating back to 300 BC.

Numerous archaeological studies and textual references have found that wine production saw immense popularity during the first millennium. It has been researched that grapevine cultivation in this area dates back to the third millennium BC. In contrast, the remains of cultivated grapes date back to somewhere between 3300 BC and 1200 BC, during the era of the Bronze Age. Furthermore, the evidence of these records has been ascertained through various places in the Palestinian region, namely Arad, Jericho, Lachish, Ta’annek, Bab edh-Dhra, and Numeria. Natufian civilisation

The Natufian civilisation—originally known for being the ‘first agricultural civilisation’—was first named by archaeologists, having its roots as back as the 13th millennium BC. Located northwest of Jerusalem, this valley also had a site in the Raqefet cave south of Haifa in northern Palestine. Primarily, this region served as an internment place for the local Natufian people from 12,500 to 10,000 BC. It is most notably known for being the oldest alcohol-producing area in the entire globe.

Being the ancestors of the Palestinians, these people were the first to develop a habitation for themselves, also being able to cultivate the land and domesticate animals.

According to a British archaeologist, Kathlee Kenyon, Palestine had attained a high agricultural production standard by the 8th millennium BC. Moreover, it is predicted that the irrigational techniques developed for the oasis in Jericho must have been extremely well planned. For this purpose, there must have been a proper centralised system to manage it.

Owing to all these advancements, one can envisage Jericho as a real city in terms of its social development.

Chalcolithic period

Ever since Palestine has produced wine for export business from 4000 and 3000 BC—or the Chalcolithic period—grapevines used to be domesticated in the lowland region of the Jordan Valley, which perhaps never grew, due to which they were probably imported from the upland regions. An example of wine’s tremendous popularity during this time was that during 3150 BC, Scorpion I of Dynasty 0, considered one of Egypt’s earliest leaders, was buried with around 700 jars of wine at a place called Abydos. Additionally, during that time, the inhabitants of Palestine were called the “Canaanites.” The archaeologists also observed the presence of a real wine industry which was either consumed locally or exported via the merchandise to Egypt and Mesopotamia 4.

Moreover, the Canaanite texts refer to the wine on numerous occasions—stating it as the “blood of the vine“—used to be consumed in excellent glasses and kept in treasured jars. Other than this, it was taken along with the sacred bread in the temple 5.

Roman period

In the Roman era, a minister of Ptolemy II (247 – 283 BC) completely possessed a village in Palestine for wine production. It is noted that the last meal of Christ was a driving factor behind wine’s popularity in the new faith 6.

Many places during those times were known for producing quality wine, including those Gaza, Askalan, Deir El-Balah, Bissan, Ramallah, Al-Khalil (Hebron), Al-Jibe (near Jerusalem), and Al Quds (Jerusalem). So much so that a place called Al Quds, present in Jerusalem, was named the “mountain of wine, ” said an Arab historian, Yakout. The Romans much appreciated Gaza’s wine, which exported it to Bordeaux, a place in France during the 6th century 7.

Several Palestinian cities and villages carry names associated with vine and wine, including  those of Carmel, Karma (as a vine), Tulkarem (as the “mountain of the vineyard“), Anabta (as grape), Jaffna (as a vine), Majd Al-Kouroum (as the “glory of the vines“), Daliyat Al-Carmel (as the “hanging vine of Carmel“), Assira (as the “juice of the grape“), Jet near Nablus (A Canaanite word that means ‘wine or olive press’), Marousse (Syriac word meaning ‘those who press the wine’), Fara near Safad (an Aramean word meaning ‘grape press’)

Islamic period

In the Islamic age, the export of Palestinian wine to the world had been halted. However, the production remained for local consumption. Moreover, during the era of the 10th Omayyad caliphate (724-43), an excellent royal wine press located in the Hisham palace depicted the common usage of wine in the regions. Many other shreds of evidence also suggested that the production of wine was spread over the whole of Palestine.

Modern period

In 1890, the Franciscans built the Latrun monastery, a place located 15 kilometres to the south of Jerusalem, next to their winery. Similarly, in 1885, the Cremisan winery was built next to the Salesian Cremisan Monastery, about five kilometres from Bethlehem 6.

In 1935, Gustav Dalman, the German anthropologist, published seven volumes revolving around wheat, olive, and wine themes. In his books, there were illustrated images showing winemakers from Bethlehem pressing wine. The author observed that the wild grapes still existed in Galilee, which the Palestinians referred to as “Barrïeh,” which means wild. In addition, he noticed that the settlers imported European grapes, whereas the Palestinians continued utilising their local grapes.[2]

Perhaps one of the most intriguing aspects of Palestinian wine production is their increasing use of their indigenous Palestinian grapes. However, some use them partially, an example of which is the Cremisan winery.

Famous Palestinian wineries

There are various Palestinian wineries, and some of the most notable ones include the Latroun winery, Cremisan winery, Ashkar winery, Taybeh winery, Jascala winery, Philokalia, Domaine Kassis, Holy Land, Chateau Laffey, Mony Vineyards, and the Julia Winery [3].

Wine in Syria

Syria,  officially known as the Syrian Arab Republic, is a country in Western Asia. Regarding its geographic zone, Syria is a Muslim-majority country located on the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea in south-western Asia

Moreover, Syria borders the Mediterranean Sea to the west, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east and southeast, Jordan to the south, and Israel and Lebanon to the southwest. Furthermore, it comprises the area, including the territories in the Golan Heights that Israel has taken over since 1967.

Regarding geographical area, today’s Syria does not correspond with ancient Syria, which was fertile land between the desert of northern Arabia and the eastern coast of the Mediterranean coast.

, Wine in Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon

Limestone stele depicting a Syrian mercenary drinking wine; reign of Akhenaten, Amarna Period, New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty Gary Todd from Xinzheng, China, CC0

History

In Syria, the wine culture is approximately as old as its capital, Damascus, which was formed in the 8th millennium BC. Moreover, Damascus is considered one of the oldest continuously occupied regions of the world. It has also been found that the oldest preserved wine remnant in the world, a grape press dating back to 8000 BC, was discovered near the area. During the Greek-Roman period, grapes were grown densely over the slopes. At first, the Christian Orthodox monks were the ones who developed and systematically cultivated wine in Syria, which at that time was not very widespread.[4]

 

Wineries

Presently, the total number of wineries in Syria is not yet known. There is only one winery called the Domaine de Bargylus.

Domaine de Bargylus

A wine-producing estate, Domaine de Bargylus, is found on the slopes of the Coastal Mountain Range of Syria. In the Hellenistic and Roman ages, these mountains—collectively known as the ‘Mount Bargylus’—were significant in producing wines till the dawn of Islam. Today, this winery is being handled by two brothers, Karim and Sandro Saadé, with the aid of the well-known consultant Stephane Derenoncourt 9. These brothers bought 12 hectares of land around the place Latakia at the height of approximately 900 meters in 1997. Then in 2003, they planted vineyards, setting up their winery. Some wine critics describe it as “the finest wine of the Eastern Mediterranean.” However, since the start of 201, the two brothers have not been able to visit Domaine de Bargylus for security reasons. Consequently, they are managing the entire business by telephone from Lebanon [5].

Various red grapes produce red wine, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot. Similarly, to create white wine, two notable white grape varieties include Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc 10.

 

Wine in Lebanon

Lebanon, officially called the Republic of Lebanon (or the Lebanese Republic), is a country in present Western Asia. Lebanon is a Muslim-majority country located on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea.

One of the smallest countries in Asia in terms of geographical area, Lebanon is one of the world’s smaller sovereign states. The third-largest city in the Levant state, Beirut, is the capital of this country[6]. It is present to the north and east of Syria and the south of Israel, whereas Cyprus is located to its west through the Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon accompanies approximately six million people, spread over 10,452 square kilometres (4,036 sq mi). Moreover, it is one of the smallest countries in the world.

, Wine in Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon

Roman grotto at Chateau Ksara winery in Lebanon MyaBell117, CC BY-SA 4.0

History

It has been reported that Lebanon is one of the oldest places to produce wine globally[7]. Now been made for over 5,000 years, it all commenced when the Phoenicians started domesticating grapes[8]. Coming from the coastal strip, these Phoenicians primarily spread this wine culture and viticulture across the Mediterranean. Despite the various conflicts in this region, the country still manages to have an annual production of about around 8.5 million bottles of wine.

Originally, the term ‘wine’ is coined from a Phoenician word describing grapes fermentation. The Phoenicians became very skilled in ancient times with all the processes related to viticulture; thus, it was not only a source of pride for the people but also revenue. Interestingly, Robert Ballard—a retired Navy officer who discovered the Titanic wreck—found two Phoenician ships dating back to 750 BC; they contained a cargo of wine still intact. It made us understand that the Phoenicians kept their wine in amphorae, after which they protected it from oxidation by layering it with olive oil and sealing it with resin and pine. On the other side, the Egyptians could not make quality wines compared to the Phoenicians, due to which they became a leading consumer of their wines. For this purpose, the Greeks learned to make wine from the Phoenicians before the knowledge came from Europe 13.

Upon Lebanon becoming part of the Arab world, alcohol production was halted except for Christian religious purposes.

An account of modern Lebanese winemaking had its roots in 1857 when the Jesuit Monks planted grapevines in the Bekaa Valley called Chateau Ksara. Brought over from Algeria, these were known as the Cinsault grapes. After nearly a decade, Domaine des Tourelles was made by a French engineer named Eugene Brun. At this time, Lebanon was ruled by the Ottoman Empire. Afterwards, it was held under the French mandate 13.

Moreover, Lebanon’s most famous winery, the Gaston Huchar, was founded by Chateau Musar in 1930. The country’s capital emerged as an international city after World War II, owing to its strong French influence. As a result, this upscaled the Lebanese wine industry, and the wines became more French in terms of style.

Although the wine industry in Lebanon is now well established and stabilised, the political situation has brought significant challenges to production. Due to the constant wars with Israel and other terrorists, winemaking has become a life-risking attempt. An example of this is Morard from Chateau Kefraya, who was an Israeli spy arrested for knowing how to make wine. Similarly, in the 2006 Israeli bombing, Chateau lost most of the harvest for not being able to hire workers 13.

Having about 300 days of sunshine each year, Lebanon has a long growing season for several crops. In the Bekaa Valley, all of the wineries have vineyards with them. However, the wine industry is yet majorly influenced by the French today. Some of the region’s most densely planted grape varieties include Merlot, Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault, and Mourvedre. In total, Lebanon produces approximately 0.6 million cases of wine each year.

 

Wineries

Chateau Ksara

In Lebanon, the largest winery is known as the Chateau Ksara. The name was derived from the word Ksar — previously a stronghold utilised during the Crusades. Originally, the Jesuits attained this winery as a vineyard in 1857. At first, the wine cellar was a Roman grotto or a natural cave. Then during World War I, the Jesuits expanded these grottos to develop an employment system for people similar to the WPA 12. It was eventually sold to private investors in 1972. However, this winery became primarily out of business due to the Civil Wars and other divergences. However, in the 1990s, further investments made this winery maintain its quality again. Today, Chateau Ksara makes about 1.6 million cases on an annual basis. Its variety includes seven reds, three Roses, and a fortified wine 13.

Chateau Kefraya

After Chateau Ksara, the second-largest winery in Lebanon is Chateau Kefraya. Established in 1951 and sold to Walid Jublat in the 1980s, some of the varieties here include four red wines, two white wines, four roses, and a dessert type of wine13

Chareau Musar wine

Generally, Chareau Musar is considered to be the best-known winery in West Lebanon. This winery was a favourite of the English journalist and novelist Auberon Waugh. Musar attained international fame at the Bristol Wine Fair of 1979.

This winery is the only Lebanese one that has been widely available in the United Kingdom for a long time. Moreover, Musar is also known for transporting grapes on the frontline during the Civil War 12.

Grape varieties

Lebanese winemakers have French varieties, including the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Rhone varietals. The more specific indigenous grapes to Lebanon—such as Obaideh and Marwah—are also present 12.

Currently, the wine industry exports over 50% of its production, mainly to the United Kingdom, France, and the United States12.

[1] https://ps.boell.org/en/2021/08/21/wine-palestine

[2] Tubb, Jonathan (2002) People of the past: Canaanites. British Museum Press: London.

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palestinian_wine

[4] https://www.weinstore24.de/en/content/71-syrian-wine-culture-syria

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ch%C3%A2teau_Bargylus

[6] https://www.britannica.com/place/Lebanon

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lebanese_wine

[8] https://www.intowine.com/wine-lebanon-history-varietals-and-producers

 

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