Modern Lebanese Wines Honor the Past | Wine Enthusiast
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Make Wine Not War: How One Winemaker Is Redefining the Lebanese Wine Narrative

Winemaker Eddie Chami wants to change the conversation around Lebanese wine culture. “Lebanon and the Mediterranean go through war every four or five years and so our history is erased every four or five years. It’s under rubble. This is why I choose not to be associated with war. I want to be associated with identity, history, with what we can keep,” he says. “I never, ever want to use war as a tool for people to sympathize with Lebanon or to drink Lebanese wine.”

Instead, Chami’s wines speak of the country’s 7,000-year-old winemaking history and the major impact it has had on generations of wine drinkers. But neither the young winemaker nor his wines are stuck in the past. Instead, Chami is combining the old with the new by honoring the historical lands, using native grapes and taking a minimal intervention approach to truly highlight those varieties.

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Born and raised in Australia, where his parents immigrated in 1963, Chami recalls growing up enjoying elaborate meals with fellow Lebanese community members. But, he says, “I was torn between these two cultures.” His family frequently traveled to and from their homeland, visiting his parents, who grew indigenous grapes like Merwah and Obeidi for the anise-flavored spirit Arak.

This, then, was his gateway into winemaking. And while he found inspiration from the traditions of his native country, it was Australia’s wine industry that provided him with his first opportunities to learn firsthand winemaking skills from local producers.

Sunset over Wadi Qannoubine, the indigenous grape capital of Lebanon
Sunset over Wadi Qannoubine, the indigenous grape capital of Lebanon – Image Courtesy of Eddie Chami
Grape Harvest on a September Morning
Grape Harvest on a September Morning – Image Courtesy of Rami Sabban

He eventually ended up in the U.S., where he received his degree in Viticulture and Enology from the University of California, Davis. Armed with a wine education, Chami ultimately decided to return to his family’s hometown of Wadi Qannoubine in northern Lebanon. Chami’s goal: to use the same vines his grandparents used—some more than a century old—to make modern wine that honors the past.

“I felt if I could get people’s attention with a sparkling wine from Lebanon, then making a still wine would just become a natural progression,” says Chami. “I chose to take the risk and it made me stand out.”

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Low-intervention, terroir-driven Mersel Wine was born, releasing its first batch of sparkling “LebNat” in 2019 using indigenous Lebanese grapes. Chami’s wines quickly gained popularity in the U.S. Their versatility in food pairing landed them in several Michelin-starred restaurants, including Galit in Chicago, Albi and Maydān in Washington D.C. and others.

Chami’s efforts don’t stop at his own vineyard. Today, he and his family work with more than 50 local grape farmers. He’s also helped a new generation of Lebanese winemakers launch their own careers, including Laila Maghathe of Love Letter, Abdullah Richi of Dar Richi and Amman Alsaqqaf of Cloud Amman. And Chami’s wife, Michelle, recently cofounded woman-owned wine brand Heya Wines.

“I am empowering other winemakers in my region to make wine because we are in one of the most unique viticulture areas in Lebanon,” says Chami. “If one day we can make it a wine tourism destination, I will die a happy man. Everyone would benefit, and we would then stop talking about war.”

This article originally appeared in the April 2024 of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!

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