Accessibility links

Israel-Lebanon War Has Effects on Both Countries' Wine Industries


War and wine -- a bizarre combination. But in parts of Israel and Lebanon, living with both has been the norm for generations.

Lebanon's Bekaa Valley in mid-August should be a verdant oasis, as migrant workers pick grapes for the fall harvest.

Instead, parts of it were reduced to rubble during the 34-day war with Israel.

The ceasefire in late August saved much of the wine crop, but David Schenker, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, says Lebanese wineries have lost significant revenue from related businesses. "They do have a tourism industry that is based on nature, and the skiing and beaches, and then on the 'Wine Road' because there are three, four major vineyards in Lebanon. People go and they tour them all."

Once-beautiful beach resorts are now polluted with oil, after Israel bombed petroleum tanks on the coast. Many of Lebanon's roads are impassable -- all of which means the tourism business will continue to suffer.

Lebanon is already heavily in debt from its 1975 civil war and the Israeli invasion in 1982.

Schenker says Lebanon's economy relies heavily on external investors. The country's award-winning wine industry, which reached almost $10.50 million in wine exports last year, is one way of "selling" Lebanon to potential investors. "Its [Wine is] really a major industry in terms of exporting Lebanon to the world."

Lebanese-born Jad Chamas is the beverage manager at a Washington, D.C. restaurant serving many Lebanese customers. He says, although Islam bans the drinking of alcohol, there is a growing demand for wine among his countrymen in Lebanon.

"We have a 60-40. More like a 60-40. Sixty percent Muslims, and 40 Christians. Muslims do not drink, but for Christians, wine is very important." Despite the restrictions of their religion, Chamas says some Lebanese Muslims enjoy drinking wine too.

Only 50 miles away from the Bekaa Valley, vineyards in northern Israel were hit by Hezbollah missiles, placing their wine crop in jeopardy as well.

For Moshe Haviv, manager of the Dalton Winery, the ceasefire came just in time. "For us the ceasefire was a miracle because at the same time of the ceasefire we started the harvest. It was just that day."

Wine has long been an important part of Jewish culture. Paul Scham is an Adjunct Scholar with the Middle East Institute. "Wine has been grown in the Middle East for thousands of years, and certainly it's something that was a part of Jewish culture because of their connection with wine back in Biblical times."

Like their Lebanese counterparts, some Israelis frown on social drinking. Scham says that perception is changing. "Among more sophisticated Israelis who are interested in behaving, in many ways, like Europeans and upper class Americans, you'll find it [wines]."

Israel's wine industry, like Lebanon's, is growing. In 2005, the industry generated $175 million in sales.

In the vineyards of Lebanon and Israel, disaster, for this year, has been averted, as growers and workers continue the centuries-old struggle to balance war and business.

XS
SM
MD
LG