A History of Lebanese Wine


Winery in Bekaa Valley Lebanon

It’s no secret that wine pairs excellently with Middle Eastern food, but many of Terrace Restaurant’s patrons will be surprised to learn that the ancient Lebanese (then the Phoenicians) wwere actually the world’s first wine makers. Read on for a brief history lesson on Lebanese wine, then come try a bottle of authentic Middle Eastern vino from Terrace’s extensive wine menu!

The Oldest Wine Makers in the World

Though we often think of wine as an Italian, French, or Spanish invention, the first wine makers were actually inhabitants of the ancient Middle East. The Phoenicians, in particular, were excellent wine makers and traders, and along with the seeds of culture (like the modern-day alphabet) they exported wine from the port city of Byblos throughout the Mediterranean. For a millennia, these Lebanese, Syrian, and Israeli predecessors extended their influence along the African coast and up into southern Europe.

The Phoenicians, however, were not mighty warriors, and their lands were eventually conquered by the Persians in 539 B.C. For the next 2,000 years, the Middle East was successively ruled by the Persians, the Macedonians, and the Romans. In the 16th Century, present-day Lebanon was conquered by the Ottoman Turks, and under Muslim law wine making and consumption of alcohol was prohibited. For the next 350 years, the only people in the region permitted to make wine were Christian Turks, and even this wine could only be used in religious ceremonies.

Winery in Bekaa Valley

Bekaa Valley Produces Some of the Best Wines in the World

Lebanese Wine in the 19th & 20th Century

In 1857, Jesuit missionaries living in the fertile Bekaa Valley created Lebanon’s first commercial winery, Chateau Ksara, on the basis that the Turkish Empire’s Christians were allowed to produce wine for religious purposes. Today, the country’s first wine producer is also its largest, with around 30% of all Lebanese wine coming from Ksara’s wineries. The popular vintner also makes Arak, a popular fruit-based liquor flavored with anise seed.

Another popular winery, Chateau Musar, was founded in 1930 by descendants of French Christians who settled in Ghazir during the Crusades.

Wine Cellars of Château Ksara

Wine Cellars of Château Ksara

Present-Day Lebanese Wine Production

In the past few decades, Lebanese wine production has enjoyed somewhat of a Renaissance, with roughly six million bottles of wine being produced, year-on-year, from Lebanon’s wineries. In 1998, there were fewer than ten wineries in Lebanon–now there are more than 30, and they extend from the Bekaa Valley region to Jezzine. The majority of Lebanese wine is exported to the United Kingdom, France, and to the United States.