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Wine from Lebanon launches in Texas 7,000-year-old winemaking region uncorked

By: Debra Ford
| Published 09/13/2022

Sam A. Jaoude, NAWSKI
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HOUSTON, TX -- North American Wine & Spirit Importers, LLC (NAWSI) has launched a new wine program, Wine from Lebanon, in Houston, bringing the taste of 15 innovative winemakers from one of the oldest and finest wine growing regions in the world and introducing four unique indigenous grapes to the state of Texas. Texas ranks 4th in the U.S. for wine consumption and Texans have a thirst for exploring new wine regions consuming 60.3 million gallons of wine a year. The Wine from Lebanon program features 15 winemakers including several female-owned and managed wineries, winemakers under 40 years old and winemakers utilizing indigenous grapes like Obaideh, Merwah, Meksassi and Sobbagiegh, some of which has never been tasted in the U.S. Interested wholesalers, retailers and restaurants can attend select tasting events to try the wine firsthand. NAWSI is actively seeking distribution for the Wine from Lebanon program.

Sam A. Jaoude, who was born in Lebanon and one of the managing partners of NAWSI, saw this as an opportunity years ago while operating his MadeNLebanon exporting business. “Lebanon’s winemaking history stretches as far back to the Phoenicians and Cana where Jesus turned water into wine,” explained Jaoude. “We have incredible terroir for growing grapes across the entire country and we felt it was finally time to share our story with the rest of the world. I’m a proud Houstonian and as I’ve watched this city with its appetite for gourmand expand, I knew the time was finally ripe for bringing wines from Lebanon here as a springboard to the rest of the country,” said Jaoude.

Jaoude found a kindred spirit in his now business partner Constance McDerby, co-founder of Food & Vine Time Productions, producers of a vast portfolio of consumer lifestyle events with a wine and food focus for more than 20 years. McDerby commented that “Lebanon enjoys a vast variety of wine production that is unique both in taste and culture, but our focus is on wine crafted from indigenous grape varieties. We’re looking forward to introducing this wine collection to consumers with a thirst for new and exciting tastes in the not-too-distant future,” added McDerby.

From the mountain peaks of the Batroun region to the fertile Bekaa Valley to the Jezzine Caza in South Lebanon and across the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, winemakers have been producing wine for generations. While there is truly a wine renaissance in progress, this is a story of tradition, innovation, and survival as old as civilization itself.

For history buffs the tale of Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding in the land of Cana is well known. But spoiler alert, Lebanon was part of the biblical land of Cana. And that’s where this tale begins. 7,000 years ago, when the Lebanese people’s ancestors—the seafaring Phoenicians, domesticated grapes.

The term wine is derived from a Phoenician word describing the fermentation of grapes. While the Phoenicians may not have invented wine, they perfected viticulture and spread it throughout the Mediterranean between 2700 B.C. and 300 B.C.

Two Phoenician ships dating back to 750 BC were found intact by Robert Ballard, who discovered the Titanic. On board, and still intact, was a cargo of wine. Protected from oxidation with a layer of olive oil and then a seal of pine and resin.



Wine was an important trading item, but evidence of winemaking had been scant until the recent discovery of a 2,600-year-old winepress unearthed at Tell el-Burak, about five miles south of the Lebanese coastal city of Sidon.

Today’s winemakers in Lebanon are as unique as the grapes they craft. Generational traditions are carried on, while new winemakers look to the future trying their hand at enticing new tastes like Pet-Nat Gold from Couvent Rouge, the first Lebanese sparkling wine. Domaine Wardy, a winery dating back to 1881 and started by a young widow, is run by the fourth generation of winemakers. Mersel is committed to sustainable farming supporting local farmers and shepherding herds of desert goats on their property, the symbol of the winery. Chateau St. Thomas focuses on cultivating local varietals including its Obeidy St. Thomas, a dry white wine featuring the Obadiah grape. A chapel dedicated to St. Thomas graces the grounds of the vineyards. Named one of the World’s best vineyards in 2021 is Chateau Cana, a father-daughter operation. Atibaia, which focuses its efforts on small yields, sits atop one of the oldest villages in Lebanon where a feudal castle stronghold was built during the Crusades.

Programs like this enable emerging countries to gain a stronghold into the giant wine business. Thouraya Karam, from Karam Wines said, “we are thrilled to be part of the Wine from Lebanon program and to have the opportunity to market our wines in the state of Texas as we believe this program will promote Lebanon as a wine producing country and create access to new markets with huge untapped potential for Lebanese wine sales.”

'We have been producing wine for over 20 years. As the managing partner of Château Cana, I have envisioned reaching many places, spreading the Lebanese culture worldwide and raising Lebanon's name higher,” remarked Joanna Gerges. “I am thankful for this program that will help us reach a market that has so much potential,” Gerges added.

Every bottle has a unique story to tell from the land of the cedars where the sun shines more than 300 days a year. And where altitude, protection from mountains, and breezes from the Mediterranean Sea provide one of the best wine growing regions in the world.

Mark Rayner, a grocer wine buyer, commented “these varietals are new, and I've never experienced them before. It's eye-opening to discover so many new untapped wine regions in the world. And great to taste them in an intimate setting like this.'

A trade tasting event will be held on September 20 from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. at the Texas Wine School in Houston. Interested wholesalers, retailers and restaurants are invited to attend. For more information contact admin@nawsimporters.com or to learn more about this curated collection of wine visit winefromlebanon.com.

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