Despite the fact that the last time I set foot on the Domaine Des Tourelles property was well over a year ago, my memories are just as vivid as if it happened yesterday. Hot sun beamed down in the late afternoon, exemplifying a typical Lebanese summer day. The winery itself is located in the suburbs of the town of Chtaura, on the eastern side of the Beqaa Valley. There is a strange juxtaposition between the dusty sprawl of the town, and the winery estate’s limits. It feels as if you’ve crossed some magical border upon entering the fenced-in premises, and the best part about it is that the wine you will find there is some of the best in all of Lebanon.
The winery is jointly run by two families, the Issa and Issa-el-Khoury. I got to know the team’s members Emile Issa-el-Khoury who helps manage marketing and other business-related issues, and Faouzi Issa who is the winemaker, who dually promotes the wine on a global scale with international trips several times a year. The winery itself has some of the most compelling history of any of the various and perhaps more well-known wineries in Lebanon. Founded in 1868 by the Frenchman, Francois-Eugene Brun, an engineer who was in the area working on the development of the first railroad connecting Beirut and Damascus, he fell in love with the Beqaa Valley and decided to move his entire family there from France. Grapes were planted, and wine production began and has continued ever since.
My introduction to Domaine Des Tourelles and their wines came as a result of two and a half years spent living and working in Lebanon. Eventually, both through mutual acquaintances, and attendance at various Lebanese wine-related events, I got to know the two partners, and they do not fall short of the standards of hospitality that the Lebanese are known for. I reached out to Faouzi and Emile to get their take on what its like to make some of the best (in my humble opinion) wine in Lebanon, let alone the Middle East.
- What do you love about making wine in Lebanon?
(Faouzi) What I love the most is the contact with nature and the environment. Wine is not a cooked or fabricated product, it is the result of a blend of human activity and nature.
- What are some of the biggest challenges you face running a winery in Lebanon?
(Faouzi) Mainly the political instability due to the regional wars and, hence, the continuous economic crisis that results from this challenging situation. The last one for example is the unprecedented Syrian refugees’ populations who are based in the Bekaa Valley.
- Is there anything that you believe makes Lebanese wine unique or different from wines made in the rest of the world?
(Faouzi) In the technical elements:
- The altitude of the Bekaa valley, we are 1000 m above the sea level which is very unique compared to most other terroir around the world.
- The earthy Mediterranean aromas, which I find exclusive to our region.
In the concept:
- The beautiful and rich history when it comes to wines… Lebanon is among the oldest sites of wine production in the world.
- The presence of the Phoenicians back in time and their role in spreading the vines and the wines to the coastal strip.
- Despite the many conflicts of the region, Lebanon is still growing in the wine industry with a sexy appearance in the wine international scene.
All the above helps to differentiate us from wine made in the rest of the world.
Who has been your biggest mentor, or influencer in shaping your style of winemaking?
(Faouzi) Pierre Brun, he was the grandson of the founder of the winery. I received my winemaking diploma from the same university he graduated from back in 1937.
- In your opinion, what is the most important element of a well-made wine? (Balance? Acidity? Structure? Age-worthy?)
(Faouzi) All the above are important elements. But if I want to choose one word it will be balance… I think balance is a key word in everything we do, no?
- How would you describe your style of wine-making?
(Faouzi) Typical Mediterranean, a projection of Bekaa valley potential.
- Why did you decide to work in Lebanon as winemaker instead of somewhere more “traditional” for wine-cultivation?
(Faouzi) My love for the Lebanese terroir, and because this is a family business.
- Where do you see the future of the Lebanese wine industry going?
(Faouzi) Expanding both locally and in the international market. The world needs a new and spicy concept. Lebanon ticks all the boxes… we just need stability in the country and the industry will double in size every year.
- What is the best wine you’ve ever drunk?
(Faouzi) My 100% old vines Cinsault… a very special wine!
- What is the most important thing about Domaine Des Tourelles that people should know?
- (Faouzi) We are the youngest team running the oldest winery in the region.
- We produce wine with minimal intervention, using indigenous yeasts and fermentation in concrete vats.
- In the few years from when we’ve taken it over, we succeeded in placing Domaine des Tourelles’ name as one of the top most reputable international wineries.