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News

Harvest 2017

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.

Fermentation of the whites was slow and smooth, temperatures ranging between 18 to 21 degrees. All wines proved very aromatic and in particular, the last Cabinet Sauvignon picked, which was impressive. Of our local grape varieties, Obaideh and Merwah, Obaideh was the first to be picked on 19th September, earlier than usual directly due to this year’s weather conditions. All the wines finished their malolactic fermentation by 1st November and preliminary tastings are showing that 2017 is a different year with more structure and a powerful taste. 2017 looks promising, the wines are unique and yet retaining the Chateau Musar style. Three factors came to our minds during the whole process: the similarity in style of the different decades; 2007, 1997,1987, the taste of the Cabernet-Sauvignon and the quality of the Obaideh and Merwah which exceeded our expectations. As always, its passion combined with natural wine-making philosophy, leading the way.

 

 

The World's Most Admired Wine Brands

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.

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History

Lebanon is one of the oldest sites of wine production. The cultivation of the vine goes back to the Phoenicians who traded their wines along the Mediterranean trade routes, introducing viniculture into many parts of southern Europe. Some centuries later, the Romans chose Baalbek in the east of Lebanon as the site to build the Temple of Bacchus as their tribute to the god of wine, a temple that still stands today.

Château Musar, by far the finest and best known of the Lebanon wineries, was established in 1930 by Gaston Hochar in an 17th century castle whose cellars provide storage for over a million bottles of maturing wine. Still a family concern, Château Musar in owned and managed by Gaston's two sons, Serge and Ronald.

Musar is famed for having made wine every year with the exception of 1976. They even continued throughout Lebanon’s long civil war, except for 1984 when their grape trucks were held hostage by practically every political group. Château Musar has had many problems with shells and tanks. In 1983, when battle raged around the vineyards during harvest, Serge Hochar had to be smuggled in by a tiny boat to make the wine. In 1989 the winery suffered direct hits from gunfire, and for a short while the wine cellars served as a trustworthy bomb shelter for both château workers and locals. In spite of the realism that wine making has been a repeatedly dangerous venture in Lebanon, Château Musar has continued to make excellent, long lasting wines. This has continued to be so even though the 36 kilometer drive from the vineyards of the Bekaa Valley, which are remarkably close to the frontline, to Musar´s winery, has so often been a theatre of war.

 

The eldest son Serge entered the business after completing his oenology diploma in Bordeaux. Serge says that he only seeks to translate what nature intended. He is not looking for varietal or fruit aromas, he wants his wines to speak to him – of the place it comes from and of all that went into it – and for it to integrate with his own brain and history and memories.

–If it doesn't talk to me, I stop drinking. I'm not interested in a wine that's been killed by technology, I want one that vibrates, a true wine.

 

In 1930, at just 20 years old, Gaston Hochar founded Chateau Musar, inspired by Lebanon's 6,000 year winemaking tradition and his travels in Bordeaux. His 'wines with noblesse' greatly impressed senior officers in the army following on from the French mandate of the 1920s. Major Ronald Barton, of Château Langoa-Barton, stationed in Lebanon during World War II became a great friend, strengthening the links between Chateau Musar and Bordeaux that remain to this day.
 

Serge Hochar, Gaston's eldest son trained as a civil engineer, then decided to study oenology and with the encouragement of his father became a student of Emile Peynaud at the University of Oenology in Bordeaux. Having declared to his father "I want to make the wine my way, I want it to be known world-wide – and I want you to quit!" he became Chateau Musar winemaker in 1959, Gaston senior having graciously given way. He then spent 18 years perfecting the formula for Chateau Musar's Red and was chosen as Decanter Magazine's first 'Man of the Year' in 1984 for his dedication to producing superb quality wines during Lebanon's Civil War (1975-1990). Serge has two sons: Gaston and Marc. Both have studied engineering and worked in the banking sector. Gaston now manages the day-to-day running of the Chateau Musar winery, Marc its commercial aspects.

"My brother looks after the liquid, I look after the liquidity." Like his brother Serge, Ronald Hochar was encouraged to participate at Musar from an early age: both grew up washing bottles and working at the winery before pursuing their separate paths within the business. Ronald would work 7am-5pm in Ghazir then work in the evenings at the Musar shop in Beirut. "We were paid 5 Lebanese pounds a day" says Ronald "I learned everything about selling from my father." Having studied law, Ronald's good-humoured contributions on the commercial and logistical fronts (against huge odds he kept Musar's trucks running during the war) remain vital to the business. Ronald's son Ralph works with the on-trade sector from Chateau Musar's UK office and his daughter Elsa recently produced a documentary film about Chateau Musar.

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Vineyards

The vineyards of Chateau Musar are located in the Bekaa Valley and in Mount Barouk, around Kefraya and Aana, which is about a two-hour drive from the winery in Ghazir, just north of Beirut. The Bekaa Valley receives an average of 300 days of sunshine annually, and 1,000–2,000mm (39–78 inches) of rain per year. The Bekaa has a Mediterranean climate and an altitude of more than 900 meters (3,000 feet) above sea level. The soil is predominately gravelly with a limestone base. The white vines are 100–150 years old, and are located at 1,200 meters (4,000 feet) above sea level.

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Winemaking

The Hochar family’s philosophy of respect for the environment means that the 180 hectares of Musar vineyards are managed with minimal human interference and all the wines are made as naturally. 

Chateau Musar was the first producer in Lebanon to achieve organic certification for its vineyards. Most are located in the Bekaa Valley, cradled between two mountain ranges running parallel to Lebanon’s Mediterranean coastline. Vines have been cultivated here for at least 6,000 years: the Phoenicians (seafaring ancestors of the modern Lebanese) were instrumental in bringing vines and wines from Byblos across to all of the areas around the Mediterranean. 

Flanked by snow-covered mountains, and nestled at 1000m (3,000 feet) above sea level, the serenely beautiful Bekaa Valley is blessed with 300 days of sunshine a year, fresh mountain breezes and an average temperature of 25°C (encompassing snowy winters and hot summers). Remote and unspoilt, the Musar vineyards were ‘organic’ by default before the term was coined. 

All the grapes are hand-harvested by local Bedouins between August and October. 

In the winery, ambient yeasts do the work of fermentation. The bare minimum of sulphur is used and the Chateau Musar wines are neither fined nor filtered. 

Chateau Musar also produces L'Arack de Musar, Lebanon’s purest aniseed-flavoured spirit.
 

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Inside information

1930 – Gaston Hochar of Lebanon’s Chateau Musar plants his first vineyards, after returning from Bordeaux. 

1941 – Major Ronald Barton (of Château Langoa-Barton), stationed in Lebanon during World War II, befriends Gaston Hochar, strengthening links with Bordeaux and influencing the Musar style.

1959 – Serge Hochar becomes Chateau Musar winemaker, while completing his winemaking studies at the University of Oenology in Bordeaux, under the tutorage of Jean Riberau and Emile Peynaud.

1962 – Ronald Hochar (Gaston’s second son) takes over the financial and marketing aspects of the winery.

1977 – Serge Hochar finalises the "formula" for Chateau Musar Reds.

1979 – Michael Broadbent ‘discovers’ Chateau Musar at the Bristol Wine Fair, hailing the 1967 vintage as the “Find of the Fair”.  Chateau Musar opens its UK Company to develop its sales into the UK market and thereafter into Europe.

1984 – Decanter magazine nominates Serge Hochar as their first ‘Man of the Year’, recognising his dedication to producing superb wines throughout Lebanon’s Civil War (1975-1990).

1994 – Gaston Hochar, Serge's son joins the winery, to later become its managing director.

2003 – Ralph Hochar, Ronald's son joins the UK office in charge of sales in the on-trade.

2006 – Chateau Musar obtains its first official organic certification for some of its vineyards.

2010 – Serge Hochar receives the "lifetime achievement award" from the German magazine Der FeinSchmeker. Marc Hochar, Serge's second son, joins his brother Gaston to help run and expand the winery's activities. 

2014 – Serge Hochar passes away in a swimming pool accident. The great Hochar legacy continues with the descendents.

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9 different wines with 80 vintages

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Wine Moments

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 Château Musar  has news

Harvest 2017 In January, we experienced above average rain and snowfall which  more ...

2m 30d ago

 Achim Becker / Wineterminator.com, Wine Writer (Germany)  tasted  13 wines  from  Château Musar . In a tasting of  13 wines 

Château Musar 1970-2009.

1y 8m ago

 Chris May / Wine Dealer, Pro (Netherlands)  tasted  1 wines  from  Château Musar . In a tasting of  33 wines 

“Some of the greates wines I have tasted during 2016.”

1y 9m ago

 Georg Linde, Wine Writer (Germany)  tasted  1 wines  from  Château Musar . In a tasting of  25 wines 

“Hermitage La Chapelle 1978 / "Youthful colour. Deep bouquet of cedar, cassis, hrbs. On the palate a nice melange of eukalyptus, candied fruits, silky tannins. This bottle was extremely young and almost forbidding until it opened up."”

2y 1m ago

 Bartholomew Broadbent / Wine Writer, Wine Importer (United States)  tasted  7 wines  from  Château Musar . In a tasting of  7 wines 

“At a “Musar Maniacs" dinner in San Francisco. Chateau Musar 1972 rouge: Appearance is younger and thicker than the 1982. Nose: Great old wine. More mature than wine drinkers would accept unless they have an understanding of age. Evocative smokey fireplace embers. Palate: Harder than the 1982. Still not telling its story. Huge but closed. Dry. Tannin showing. More vinous. It didn’t open up. Needs more time. This is one of the greatest ever vintages for Ch. Musar.”

2y 2m ago

 Achim Becker / Wineterminator.com, Wine Writer (Germany)  tasted  16 wines  from  Château Musar . In a tasting of  20 wines 

“Château Musar 1956 -1989 / In youth, Chateau Musar Reds are dense and richly-textured, with intense ‘baked fruit’ characters: plums, damsons, cranberries, cherries, figs and dates. Bordeaux grape Cabernet Sauvignon lends black fruit flavours; Rhône grapes Cinsault and Carignan contribute fragrance (violets; pepper) and supple spiciness. Either set of qualities might dominate a particular vintage, but the style is always emphatically Lebanese: enticingly aromatic, with persistent fruit flavours. Over decades the wines acquire tawny hues and mellow notes.”

2y 3m ago

 Pekka Nuikki / Founder of the Fine Wine Magazines, Pro (Finland)  tasted  1 wines  from  Château Musar . In a tasting of  30 wines 

“A true masterpiece by Gérard Chave - Hermitage 1990. Chave is known for opting for blending Syrah from their 15 ha vineyards on the Hermitage hill. Their philosophy is against single vineyard wines since blending guarantees more complexity in the wine. In this superb wine this is clearly indicated by the tremendous complexity. Syrah from Bessards is giving rich fruit intensity and concentration to the wine while Méal more depth in flavours and bouquet. Rocoules adds finesse in structure and length along the floral tones. L’Hermite contributes peppery earthy tones and colour. Péléat gives wildness and firmness in structure whereas Diognières provides colour and the savoury tastiness. Gérard Chave himself has compared this top vintage to 1952 and 1961.
Fine looking bottle. Decanted for two hours. This beautiful Hermitage has a deep, dark and seductive colour. On the nose amazing aromas of blackberry, vanilla, herbs and refreshing minerals. The palate was remarkably rich and long and less tannic than expected. The finish was super-long and pure with pleasant sweetness and rich, earthy flavours. This is the essence of Syrah with a long life span ahead.

2y 4m ago

 Juha Lihtonen / The Best Scandinavian Sommelier 2003, Pro (Finland)  tasted  1 wines  from  Château Musar . In a tasting of  8 wines 

“It's hard to set wines to match the Finnish Christmas cuisine - salty cooked pork leg, sweet purees of turnips and potatoes and hot mustard. Well, Chateau Musar 1994 and Robert Weil Riesling Spätlese 1992 served their purpose while the young New World wines struggled. ”

2y 5m ago

 Georg Linde, Wine Writer (Germany)  tasted  1 wines  from  Château Musar . In a tasting of  10 wines 

“The Guigal La Mouline 1976 is even thicker, richer, and more jammy than some of the other great vintages of La Mouline. In essence, it is something between a dry red table wine and a vintage port. Of course it is not sweet, but it is so concentrated; one simply does not see wines such as this except for 1947 Petrus or 1947 Cheval Blanc. The wine has thrown a couple of ounces of sediment. It offers a heavenly bouquet of sweet, floral-infused black-raspberry/cassis fruit. Extremely unctuous and viscous, with mind-boggling concentration, this wine has always been exceptional to drink, but it continues to defy the aging curve. I have drunk my last bottle, so I am dependent on friends for future tastings. This is one of the legendary wines of the century!
RP”

2y 8m ago

 James Aylward, Wine Collector (Australia)  tasted  1 wines  from  Château Musar . In a tasting of  11 wines 

““Romanée Conti 1973 - beautiful and great for the vintage, 98 points.
"Surprisingly deeply colored for both the vintage and for a 30 year old Burgundy with a ripe, elegant, complex nose that has now evolved into mostly secondary aromas. The flavor profile is rich and still together though there is a slightly stewed quality to it though this is subtle and doesn't really detract from the overall sense of quality. Completely mature and this should be drunk sooner than later. In short, remarkable period but especially so for the vintage." Allen Meadows””

2y 8m ago

 Mikke Frisk, Wine Collector (Finland)  tasted  1 wines  from  Château Musar . In a tasting of  15 wines 

“First day, first 15 wines -some wonderful champagnes!”

2y 9m ago

 Mario Sculatti / Sleeping Lady Vineyard, Wine Maker (United States)  tasted  1 wines  from  Château Musar . In a tasting of  21 wines 

“Great Saturday dinner at 100-event.”

3y 1m ago

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