In January, we experienced above average rain and snowfall which led to expectations that the water table would be replenished. More rain and snow followed in February and in March, the rain continued non-stop but into a mild spring with temperatures rising in April, though not excessively. In late April, a one-day frost hit the Bekaa valley but at the time, was not seen as particularly harmful. June witnessed a lowering of our expectations as after three weeks of normal temperatures, we saw an increase to 37 degrees on the 24th. This was to continue till mid-August, and, unusually in our Lebanese climate, affecting the vines and grapes, with yields dropping 30%. First day of harvest was the 3rd of August for the Chardonnay, ripe and yellowed by the sun. The continuous high temperatures from June to August had led to a reduction in quantities. On the reds, the harvest started with the Cabernet-Sauvignon on the 22nd August. It was followed by the Syrah on the 24th and Cinsault on the 4th September, Carignan on the 7th with Grenache last on the 13th September.
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|At almost 85 years old, Château Musar has once again returned to our report. Steeped in tradition and history, Château Musar narrowly misses out on a place in the top 25. With 6,000 years of winemaking tradition it is only right that a Lebanese wine should appear in the top 30.|
Serge Hochar, whose father founded the Lebanese winery Chateau Musar, which gained an international reputation in spite of the travails of the nation’s 15-year civil war, has died in a swimming accident while on holidays in Mexico. He was 72.
Hochar’s father, Gaston, was 20 when he started planting the first vines near the village of Ghazir in the Bekaa Valley, north east of Beirut.
The Hochars hailed from Picardy in northern France. His ancestors came to Lebanon as knight Crusaders and stayed.
Serge, Gaston’s eldest son studied to be a civil engineer before switching to oenology and learning the craft with Emile Peynaud, the man named “the forefather of modern oenology”, in Bordeaux. Serge was one of five children, including three sisters and began working in the winery in his early teens, hand-washing bottles.
When his father proposed he become more heavily involved Serge issued a demand, saying “I want to make the wine my way, I want it to be known world-wide – and I want you to quit!” and became Chateau Musar winemaker in 1959. Three years later, his brother Ronald Hochar took charge of the financial and marketing side of the business.
“My brother looks after the liquid, I look after the liquidity,” Ronald quipped.
It would take Serge Hochar 18 years to find “his way” and define the “formula” for Chateau Musar’s reds. He was a natural winemaker 30 years before the term became fashionable. He produced Bourdeaux-style blends from cabernet sauvignon, carignan and cinsault grapes. They are funky and age well. The whites feature indigenous Lebanese grape varieties such as Obaideh and Merwah. The winery became organic in 2006.
A stroke of luck came in 1979 when English Master of Wine Michael Broadbent declared Chateau Musar’s 1967 vintage “Find of the Fair” at the Bristol Wine Fair and the winery began to sell into the UK and then Europe.
In 1984, Decanter magazine nominates Serge Hochar as its first Man of the Year, paying tribute to his dedication to producing great wine throughout Lebanon’s Civil War, which began in 1975 and continued until 1990. He only missed one vintage, 1976, because there was no electricity and the roads were impassable.
Serge is survived by two sons: Gaston and Marc, who both have studied engineering and worked in the banking, before Gaston took on the managing director role, while Marc succeeded his uncle Ronald in running the commercial side.