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Both sides suffer amidst Middle East conflict

Published:  23 July, 2008

Israeli industry in the firing line; 2006 harvest at risk.

By Michael Karam

The conflict in Lebanon between Israel and the militant group Hezbollah could have serious consequences for Lebanon's $27 million wine industry.

A prolonged military campaign would make harvesting in the Bekaa valley almost impossible, while a continued sea blockade would deprive most of Lebanon's 20 major producers of vital oenological products and packaging material.

The fighting could not have come at a worse time for Lebanon's small but burgeoning sector. The country exported around 2.2 million bottles in 2005, a year-on-year increase of 13%. The UK was the biggest importer of Lebanese wines.

'I have 45 hectares in Zahleh, but most of my vineyards are in the north Bekaa and we are unable to reach them,' said a furious Selim Wardy, owner of Domaine Wardy. 'What would be really devastating to the morale of the sector would be the undoing of all the good work [Lebanon's wine producers] have done in the past 10 years in terms of building awareness, improving what is an excellent product and trying to penetrate new markets. If we have no harvest, all that work will have been for nothing.'

The good news is that not one winery has been hit, although there have been some very close shaves. One of Wardy's vineyards was slightly damaged, while Charles Ghostine, managing director of Chateau Ksara, Lebanon's biggest producer which is set to celebrate it 150th birthday in 2007, confirmed that a shell had landed 200 metres from the famous winery on the outskirts of Zahleh in Lebanon's Bekaa valley. Chateau Ksara took the lion's share of Lebanese wine exports in 2005 with a 40.5% market share of all Lebanese wines sold abroad.

Elsewhere, Ramzi Ghosn, co-owner of Massaya, located in the Bekaa town of Tanail - which exports 80% of the 300,000 bottles it produces - was trapped in his winery for the duration of the conflict, because shelling on the main Beirut to Damascus road made travel hazardous.

Meanwhile, Chateau Musar's Serge Hochar, whose record of harvesting and fermenting in conflict - especially during Israel's last major incursion into Lebanon in 1982 - became the stuff of PR legend, confirmed that his London office had been inundated with enquiries by concerned devotees of his famous reds. 'We don't have a clear picture of what's going to happen, but I can confirm that, for the time being, we can supply the market as normal,' he said.

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