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First Syrian wine to hit UK

The first wine from Syria is about to be released onto the UK market.

Bargylus bottles, and vineyards in Syria

Domaine Bargylus
, near the town of Lattaquie, or Latakia, in the north-west of the country, is a 12ha vineyard planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

Bargylus is a part of an enterprise started in 2003 by the Lebanese-Syrian Saadé family, which bought land in Syria, and also in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, in order to make wine ‘which has everything to do with the land’.

Saadé businesses include marine and land transport, wine, tourism, property development and finance.

Although the Romans made wine here 2000 years ago, this is now the only commercial winery in Syria, Sandro Saadé, who with his brother Karim directs the company, said. ‘It is the only recognised wine produced to international standards.’

All other wines in the country, Saadé said, are ‘Vins de Messe’ – communion wines – and wines produced in cooperatives for non-commercial domestic consumption.

They have hired Bordeaux-based consultant Stephane Derenoncourt, who has some 60 consultancies in Bordeaux, Hungary, Turkey, Italy, California, Virginia, Spain, India and other regions.

The Saadé brothers are clear they want to make a wine with international credentials. ‘We are trying to avoid the ethnic label,’ Sandro said.

In Syria the vines are planted at an elevation of 900m on limestone and clay soils. The climate is maritime, with considerable variation between day and nighttime temperatures.

As for the current political situation in Syria, with the Assad regime regularly shelling anti-government protesters in and around the town of Homs, some 200km to the south east, ‘Production is not affected,’ Johnny Modawar, head of communications told Decanter.com.

‘Day to day operations are not affected by the situation. It is not risky, as all the conflict is taking place close to Homs and Damascus.’

The wines are vinified at Bargylus; at present the technical team is unable to travel between Syria and Lebanon but is in contact with headquarters via daily conference calls, a spokesman said.

Bargylus wines will retail in the UK for around £33, available from London importers Philglas & Swiggot, and in high-end restaurants such as Gordon Ramsay and Marcus Wareing. They are not sold in Syria.

The Saadé family also has a winery in Lebanon, Chateau Marsyas, in the town of Kefraya in the Bekaa Valley.

Also with Derenoncourt as consultant, Marsyas has 55 ha planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Annual production is currently 40,000 bottles with 200,000 forecast.

Wineries are being built at both sites; Marsyas should be ready for the 2014 harvest, while Bargylus, which will have capacity for 840 barrels, has no completion date as yet.

Written by Adam Lechmere

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