Thu 02 May 2013

Chateau Musar: Great Wines From The Most Difficult Of Vintages


There are difficult vintages and there are difficult vintages. From the Californian drought of ‘77 to 2003s scorching European heatwave via the Bordeaux washout of ‘92, Mother Nature finds a variety of ways to test the mettle of both vine and man the world over.

Chateau Musar

Chateau Musar

For most winemakers the common worries of a vintage concern the weather: too hot, too cold, too dry, too wet and/or a multitude of other combinations. Throw in a host of generally unpleasant diseases that prove troublesome to the vine and a tricky economic climate and the winemaker’s lot is not always a happy one.

But then of course there is the other kind of difficult vintage, those where man despite all the elements being in balance does his utmost to throw a spanner into nature’s carefully constructed works.

2006 was one of those difficult vintages for Lebanese winery Chateau Musar. Indeed at Chateau Musar difficult vintages can sometimes be translated as dangerous vintages.

Chateau Musar vineyards

Chateau Musar vineyards

On July 12th the troubles that had blighted Lebanon through the latter part of the last century rose to the fore once again with the start of the 34-day conflict with Israel. Over 1,300 people lost their lives and approximately half a million more were displaced, and serious damage was inflicted to the country’s civil infrastructure.

Given such circumstances the team at Musar could have easily been forgiven if they had decided to look to their own safety first and leave the grapes hanging on the vines while the conflict raged around them. The grapes were harvested safely thanks to the dedication and bravery of the vineyard workers.

But sadly such adversity is not new in a country plagued by over 15 years of civil war and Chateau Musar has a proven history of shining when the days are darkest. Incredibly only two vintages were missed during the war years of 1975–1990. That the Musar winery is located just outside Beirut makes this achievement all the more astonishing. Indeed, the journey from their vineyards in the Bekka Valley to the winery is a particularly dangerous one, following a route known to be used by Hezbollah and in times of war often subjected to shelling by artillery.

Harvest at Chateau Musar

Much has been written about Musar’s enigmatic figurehead, Serge Hochar. He was Decanter Magazine’s inaugural man of the year in 1984, and today in his 70s he still exudes energy and travels extensively. His eldest son, Gaston, named after his grandfather whose name appears on the label and who founded the winery in the 1930s, now looks after the day-to-day running of the estate and while of a different, perhaps calmer character to his father, he shares the same passion that that has propelled Musar to become a wine of worldwide acclaim ever since its emergence onto the international wine scene back in the late 1970s. Both men are engaging, unique and deservedly well renowned throughout the world of wine – qualities that are also rightly used to describe Chateau Musar itself.

The Society was one of the first merchants to import Chateau Musar into the UK, and we are delighted to announce that both Serge and Gaston Hochar will be visiting our premises in Stevenage as part of our Grand Day Out event on May 19th. They will be pouring wines and talking to members as well as hosting a masterclass showcasing several Musar vintages.

A fitting opportunity, then, to raise a glass to this remarkable estate and to pause and reflect on the dedicated and sometimes quite incredible efforts that go into making great wine.

Gareth Park
Marketing Campaigns Manager for Lebanon


  1. Stephen Booth says:

    Fantastic wines with every vintage having a characteristic all of its own. I first drank Musar in 1966 in Beirut (happy days!) and was delighted when the Society first listed it. I am desperately upset not to be able to attend the Grand Day Out and meet the Hochars. I shall have to make do with some of southern France’s finest in the little town of Uzes perched between Provence and the Languedoc. Good wishes to all and especially the Hochars for a Grand Day out!

  2. Mrs Susan Brown says:

    I lived and worked in Beirut in the early ’70’s and was weaned on Chateau Musar, which instilled in me a life-long love affair with wine. I later worked as Sales Manager for Robert James & Son/World Wines in London and introduced Wine Appreciation evening classes to the London boroughs of Lewisham, Bromley and Croydon in the 1980s. At every opportunity I tell people about the bravery of the Hochars and the wonderful wine they produce. It is so rewarding to find other wineries now thriving in Lebanon and listed by The Wine Society (Ksar, Masaya, Ka). Living in the Yorkshire Dales I sadly cannot make the Grand Day Out next week but will be raising a glass of Ch Musar 2004 to Serge and Gaston.

  3. Gerald Milner says:

    I have very happy memories of enjoying the distinctive red wines of a number of vintages of Chateau Musar in years gone by, and must re-embark on a tasting in the near future. To Serge Hochar and his family I send my best wishes for continuing success in the face of terrible adversity. May God bless you.

  4. David Swann says:

    I first discovered Chateau Musar serving with the 16th/5th Queen’s Royal Lancers in Beirut in early 1984. I arrived in the New Year and benefited each evening in the small officers mess from President Amin Gemayel’s generous Christmas gift of several cases on the wine to the four contingents of the Multinational Force. As for others, it was the start of enduring affair. The great sadness was our early withdrawal, when the security situation deteriorated, which meant the mess stock was left behind; a tragedy!

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