The Story of Chateau Kefraya
|Monday, 28 June 2010 15:54|
The Story of Chateau Kefraya
No story so illustrates the spirit of Lebanon overcoming adversity and the rebirth of an ancient art winemaking as an art, as does the founding and growth of Château Kefraya.
Michel de Bustros inherited the initial plots of land that were to become Château Kefraya in 1950. But making wine was to be a long way in the future. First, the land would have to be cleared; then terraces laboriously dug and walled up the side of a mountain to an elevation of 1100 meters. After the terraces were in place, the soil would have to be prepared and vines planted; then lovingly nursed to maturity. Meanwhile, cellars were to be tunneled out, wine presses purchased and put into place; fermentation equipment, and bottling lines housed, and
assembled. Through all this, long nights were spent in research to learn every trick of the vintner’s art, and the most scientific processes mastered.
This was to take 28 years.
Four years before the first wine was to be produced, a civil war broke out. The Bekaa valley was one of the headquarters areas of Hezbollah and, consequently, the scene of battles, bombs falling, and soldiers fighting across the valley, including the lands of Château Kefraya. “I don’t know if at that time it was wise to start… Not many people were starting any sort of business,” de Bustros says, “it was really adventurous.”
De Bustros’s dream of wine was never just a product in a bottle. From the beginning it involved a total environment for wine appreciation. This meant that in addition to planting the vineyards, De Bustros planned, built, and cultivated around the winery’s cellars a 10,000 acre paradise of gardens, orchards, tree-lined streets, fountains, and arboreta. De Bustros loves opera, and that is the theme of each label he puts on his wines: naming them after famous female opera singers, and hiring women artists to make paintings of them to grace the labels of his red wines.
The streets winding throughout the acres of gardens and orchards that surround the winery’s cellars are named after opera composers, such as Parc Verdi, Parc Rossini, Parc Bellini, and Parc Puccini. The streets are named after plant species: Rue de Gyneriums, Rue de Eucalyptus, etc. When asked about what Lebanon most needs to boost tourists, de Bustros suggests “an opera house.”
De Bustros ’s philosophy is that “Wine cannot be produced in an ugly environment. Good wine in an ugly bottle wouldn’t be the same.” That is why de Bustros has spent almost as much time in designing the total wine experience of Château Kefraya as he has designing—blending—the wine itself to perfection. The gardens include patches of pampas grass, and orchards of apple, cherry, peach, and pistachio trees. The streets are lined with orange-blossomed picaranta shrubs.
With the Châteaugrounds is a restaurant with a gourmet menu that compliments the wines, and outside is patio to enjoy sipping wine through the beautiful rain-free evenings of Bekaa valley’s climate. Tours of the cellars, the vineyard terraces, the lawns and the orchards are conducted for the thousands of tourist who descend on the winery each year to enjoy its total wine experience.
Perhaps de Bustros really sees himself living in an opera. When he decided the time had arrived to begin wine production in 1979, it was hardly auspicious: it was four years into Lebanon’s fifteen year civil war, and his portion of the Bekaa valley was a main headquarters and staging headquarters of Hezbollah—which made it a natural military objective of both of the other factions in the civil war and the Israelis. Battles raged and bombs fell all around as his vineyards, and indeed the whole valley.
Kefraya was the scene of several hard fought battles. But wine production and work on the estates continued nonetheless. Sometimes he or his employees had to negotiate with one side or the other just to let their trucks get through to market. In 2006, the Israeli strikes into Lebanon led to bombing raids that threatened to stop the harvesting at peak time. Fortunately, the five week war ended just in time to let the pickers get back into the fields and save the crop.
Château Kefraya differs from the vast majority of wines on the market by being blended instead of made with only a single strain of grape. Thus, every wine is the product as much of the wine-maker’s mind and taste as it is of the grapes it is fermented from. Thus Château Kefraya’s wines are not “made,” they are “composed”—much like the operas whose memories are evoked throughout the estate. Château Kefraya’s technical director and oenologist, Fabrice Guiberteau sums up the total wine experience, its connection with de Bustros love of opera, and the taste of internationally acclaimed wines perfectly:
"At Château Kefraya we do not make wines,