Massaya’s story may go back over 40 years, but it is only in the last two decades that they have really cemented their name as one of the Lebanon’s most respected wineries.
In the early seventies, the Ghosn family acquired a table-wine growing estate in Bekaa Valley, historically the most famous and fertile wine-producing area in Lebanon and home to the temple of Bacchus, Roman God of wine. Initially they only used the grapes to distill Arak – a traditional Levantine spirit with a distinctive anise flavour – but their sons Sami and Ramzi grew up in the vineyards learning to love nature and developing a passion for wine.
Sadly, when civil war broke out in 1975 the Ghosn family was forced to leave the estate. Seventeen years later, Sami revisited a war-ravaged Massaya. The beauty of the land persuaded him to abandon his life as an architect in Los Angeles and convince his brother to leave his successful restaurant company in France: it was time for them to breathe new life into their beloved family domain.
To this day Ramzi controls Massaya’s marketing while Sami oversees the winemaking. They still make the family Arak, but their big success is their Rhône-like red wines. They have made the most of the French grape varieties they grow by seeking the wisdom of some top French producers – both Daniel Brunier from Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s Vieux Télégraphe and St. Emilion’s Dominique Hebrard own a share of Massaya and have helped it achieve greatness.
They in turn are assisted by the wonderful Bekaa Valley landscape: mountains protect the vineyards both from the sea and the desert, and help give cool nights to compensate for hot summer days. Melting snow from the mountain peaks also helps hydrate the vines in the dry weather: this natural irrigation makes the vines dig deep for moisture which in turn imparts mineral, terroir flavours to the wine. The constant sea breeze reduces moisture around the vines, preventing disease and fungal growth.
The three grapes used in the Massaya Classic – a Society favourite for several vintages – are cinsault, cabernet sauvignon and syrah. All three undergo a double selection process to ensure only the best fruit is used: once when they are hand-harvested in September and October, and once before pressing in the winery. Vinification of this wine is on the traditional side - most notably, they still practise manual pigeage, wherein the grape skins are literally rather than mechanically trodden through the wine – vital for tannin extraction. The wine is kept in concrete vats for eight months before bottling to develop suppleness while preserving the fruit flavour.
To its credit, Massaya has spent the last 20 years striving to show a different side to the Lebanon seen in newspaper headlines. Having worked hard to reverse the harm done to their land, their philosophy remains to try to be true heirs of Bacchus while his temple remains in the valley.