As the grapes in the Bekaa Valley ripen amidst the devastation wrought by the continuing conflict in Lebanon, it is looking increasingly unlikely that the harvest will go ahead.
In normal times winemakers would be organising pickers and generally gearing up for harvest – now about two weeks away.
But that would be futile now that every road in the valley has been destroyed by the Israeli bombardment, the workforce has fled, and itinerant pickers, mostly from Syria, are staying well away.
‘In two weeks we should be harvesting,’ Sami Ghosn, president of premium winery Massaya in the north of Bekaa told decanter.com this morning. ‘But the roads have all been bombed, and there are no pickers. We must just pray for a political settlement.’
Ghosn is also praying that ‘the Israeli miltary knows what it is doing, that it can discern between different facilities’.
He admitted this is a somewhat hollow hope given the seemingly indiscriminate nature of the bombing so far, in which scores of women and children have been killed.
Although Israel is concentrating on destroying communications in Bekaa, a known route for arms shipments between Syria, Iran and Lebanon, wineries in the valley have suffered only ‘collateral damage’, Ghosn said. A bottle factory has been bombed, and windows of offices have been blown out. ‘This is manageable, but we want an end to it.’
And he rebutted in the strongest terms the idea that wineries could be hiding places for Hezbollah arms. ‘It is absurd to suggest that Hezbollah [a strictly Muslim movement] would have anything to do with alcohol.’
Ghosn pointed out ambivalent relationship Lebanese wineries have with Hezbollah – ‘we are not popular with religious people because of the alcohol’ – but insisted on the value of wine as a unifying force.
‘We are the only people who encounter all cultures. We have moderate Sunnis who are investors. Shia Muslims grow grapes for us. We are not sectarian and we bring a message to all moderates. We aspire for a better world for everyone. Wine is the tool that can do that.’
Written by Adam Lechmere