TV report transcript
The Beka’a Valley in Lebanon was long known as a fertile region for drugs and terrorists. But today the valley is a showcase for Lebanon’s thriving wine industry.
VOA’s Correspondent Laurie Kassman and Videojournalist Craig Fitzpatrick take us there. Laurie Kassman narrates.
This year's grapes hang heavy on the vine in Lebanon's Beka'a Valley, confirming what some winemakers in the region like to say: "There are no bad years - only good years and better years." That's because this valley has the perfect weather conditions for growing grapes and making wine.
Nathalie Touma is the marketing director of the St. Thomas winery.
"We have six months of sun and hot weather, or warm weather, and it doesn't rain much during the summer time which is perfect for the vines."
Nathalie's family owns this winery. Their wines have received many international awards. Lebanon's population is mostly Muslim and Islamic law frowns upon the consumption of alcohol. But Nathalie says she sells their wines to Muslims as well.
"Not all of them are very religious. Even if they are religious some of them drink all year round and don't drink around Ramadan time."
And many of the grape growers in this region are Muslim. But a climate and a soil that's good for growing grapes is also good for growing illegal drugs. For years this valley was a hotbed of drug activity, as well as a haven for terrorist training camps. But now the camps and most of the illegal drugs have been removed and grapes have become the new cash crop.
No one knows this better than Charles Ghostin, managing director of the 150-year-old Chateau Ksara vineyards. He says, along with an increase in the consumption of wine in Lebanon, his winery is exporting more bottles each year. He says these changes have affected the mind-set of many of his neighbors.
"Now many of the farmers and the landlords here are thinking to have vineyards, large important vineyards, in Lebanon."
When people discuss Lebanese wine, inevitably comparisons are made to French wines.
Mr. Ghostin says his Beka'a Valley Cabernet Sauvignon cannot be compared with French Cabernet Sauvignon because his grapes are grown under different conditions. Nevertheless he says, the French are enjoying his wine too.
"One-third of our exportation goes to France. We export to France more than 350,000 bottles of wine every year, in France."
And this Frenchman, Yves Morard, was so impressed with the soil and favorable weather conditions when he arrived here 25 years ago, he stayed. He now roams the valley as a wine expert. He even survived the 15-year civil war that paralyzed much of Lebanon. However, on the first day of the 1982 Israeli incursion into Lebanon, there was this incident.
YVES MORARD (SPEAKING IN FRENCH)
"I was taken by the Israelis when they invaded Lebanon. They thought I was a spy. I told them I was a wine expert, nothing more. So, they made me explain in detail how to make wine, to prove who I was."
Now that the war has ended, Lebanon is on the road to recovery. And in the Beka'a Valley a new breeze is blowing through the safsaf trees and along with the breeze has come change, and good fortune, for those who live and work here.