War forces late harvest

Bunch o' grapes

TEXT OF STORY

MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: Lebanon's economy is slowly coming back to life after the Israeli blockade and weeks of bombing. But some industries, like tourism, are taking a long while to recover. The result is a ripple effect in other areas of the economy. One of those is the country's ancient wine-making business. Ben Gilbert took a trip to Lebanon's Bekaa Valley to see how the vineyards were faring.


BEN GILBERT: There are many stories of misfortune in the wake of the fighting between Israel and Hizbollah, but in the Bekaa Valley in Eastern Lebanon, vintners not only endured Israel bombshells, they had to deal with Mother Nature's immoveable timetable.

At Chateau Ksara winery, the fighting was escalating just as the grapes were maturing. The window to harvest is narrow. So, the managers had some tough decisions to make.

RANIA CHAMMAS:"We intended to pick the grapes even under the bombs. Yes. We didn't have any choice, because the whole harvest is gone if we don't do that."

Rania Chammas, the Public Relations Director at Ksarra, says grape pickers waited for the fighting to stop and then quickly went to work.

Like the real estate business, location is everything for vineyards. Ksara spreads out over 700 acres that produce 18 different grape varietals, including Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Winemaking in the Bekaa dates back to ancient times. The Roman Temple of Bacchus, God of wine, dominates the 2,000-year-old ruins in the nearby town of Balbaak . The town is also one of Hezbollah's headquarters. And that may have well been the reason so much real estate here was chewed up by Israel bombs.

CHAMMAS:"They bombed also in front of us a chicken farm, yes. We were a little bit afraid because they target the economic enterprises."

Chammas points across the street where a tangled jumble of concrete marks the remains of what used to be the chicken farm. And the war and its aftermath continue to keep tourists away. Normally, hundreds them would be at Ksara at this time of year for wine tasting and tours of the ancient caves.

A cavernous room of Bamboo furniture, paneled walls and a cozy fireplace stands empty.

But vineyard is back in business. At the back of the winery, two trucks dump huge piles of healthy looking red and white grapes into an enormous stainless steel mixing machine.

Ksara survived a war and a rushed harvest. But after all that, will it yield a fine wine? Ksarra's in-house French wine specialist, James Beljay.

JAMES BELJAY [translated]:"It's too late to know if it's a good year, but usually when we have late harvest, we have a good wine. If it continues to be hot like this during whole harvest, it will be a good year."

Hopefully both the wine, and the truce, will hold up to the tests of time.

In Zahale, Lebanon, I'm Ben Gilbert for Marketplace.

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