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Observations from a novice: Week 2: Why?

Published:  10 September, 2008

So, as a communications professional having just finished a stint as a humanitarian worker in West Africa and returning to the UK to have a brief liaison as a banker, what got me and my Lebanese businessman husband into wine, I vaguely hear you ask?

So, as a communications professional having just finished a stint as a humanitarian worker in West Africa and returning to the UK to have a brief liaison as a banker, what got me and my Lebanese businessman husband into wine, I vaguely hear you ask?

The explanation to this question is a little bit long, but if you bear with me this week, then I promise I will rein in the verbal diarrhea in the future!

Having been a wine lover all of my adult life, it was actually partly due to one specific visit to Lebanon that convinced my husband and I to give it a go. Driven partly by the commercial incentive that we tasted in the wines themselves, it was during one specific trip that I appreciated properly for the first time what an amazing tool wine can be - it can bring people together, create understanding of cultures and bring light liquid refreshment to even the most unusual situations.

On one of our regular trips to Lebanon, my husband and I planned to undertake research for another business idea we had planned. That trip inadvertently (but very pleasantly) turned into a tour of Lebanese vineyards.

On the first tour we invited my parents (who had come to Lebanon to meet my now husband's family) and my, at the time, mother-in-law apparent. Now you have to imagine the situation: hot weather (something us Brits have sadly lost any familiarity with), two families that knew very little about each other but had wary assumptions of the other in equal proportions, mixed together with the daunting knowledge that they were about to be bound together for the rest of their lives, add to it the fact that the last meal had been a long time before and, did I mention the hot weather!

It was under these challenging conditions we were charged around the vineyard and then propelled by a very eager guide, into the conclusion of our visit - the wine tasting. After a little while of slurping, spitting and general hilarity, we all became aware that the number of glasses being poured was disproportionate to the number of spits projected into the nearest available spittoon. We also noticed that the amount of hilarity expressed by our mothers was disproportionate to the politeness necessary for fairly average quips.

It was only as these things started to dawn on us all that we noticed our rouge cheeked giggly mothers sitting naughtily at the back of the room. It then became apparent that, both of our mothers, nervous to make a good impression and maintain their respectability, had not fully comprehended the necessity of the spitting out process.

Fortunately, for all of us, this discovery was made before potentially unsettling levels of alcohol had been consumed, so not unsurprisingly, the rest of the day dissolved into easy conversation, wonderfully relaxed amusement and all the stipulated bonding.

Subsequent visits to other vineyards equally made an impression.

On one occasion, we spent three hours longer than planned talking and tasting with one producer's family. There was no meeting long enough for them to convey the pride they had in maintaining the 19th Century heritage of their vineyard. Nor could they show in one meeting the full extent of their passion to nurture the vines which would produce the very best quality wine destined to communicate to the world through a glass, the essence of Lebanon. Seeing wine as a megaphone through which a country could truthfully express itself was something I had not comprehended before.

At another vineyard, as the sun set over the Lebanese mountains, we fully understood that the vines we could see and the wine we were enjoying were the end result of a dream to restore a village abandoned and decimated by a 15 year civil war. Each sip was the realisation of this dream and supporting that dream gave our own changing business plans a purpose and momentum. (How much we were also influenced by our inhalation of the steadily increasing haze of intoxicating cigar smoke will remain a mystery to us!)

Despite the inevitable amusement that our wine research gave us, I have to say that my opinion of wine and of business was changed. Yes we all need our businesses to make money (Note to accountant: don't panic, I am not an idealist that has totally reverted back to my humanitarian days) but surely, there needs to be something else that drives us. As one Portuguese producer said to me, 'I am creating something that comes from the earth, it is a sensual experience and every year, every harvest brings a new adventure,' what can be more magic than that?

...And so, as they say in the Dragon's Den, (and in using this reference, in no way, future customers, do I imply I am a dragon, or, future investors, do I imply I am a millionaire!), it is for these reasons, I am in!

Lucy Khoneizer is the owner of new (and hopefully very successful) company, Lebanese Fine Wines.