Mon 05 Jan 2015

Remembering Serge Hochar of Chateau Musar

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‘Wines are made to be opened and enjoyed. Tomorrow the wines may not be here or you may not be here.’ – Serge Hochar, November 2014

Serge Hochar Chateau Musar The Wine Society

Serge Hochar pouring Chateau Musar for Society members in June 2014

Lebanon’s great wine luminary Serge Hochar passed away last week whilst on holiday with his family in Mexico. He was 75.

Serge Hochar was the driving force behind Chateau Musar, having taken over the reins as winemaker from his father Gaston in 1959. At this time, the wines were sold exclusively in Lebanon, but under Serge’s stewardship Chateau Musar became one of the great internationally celebrated wines of the world.

However, Serge leaves far more than a monumental winemaking legacy. He will be remembered as much for his charismatic, eccentric personality and sense of fun, which touched everyone who had the chance to meet him.

The Wine Society’s first contact with Serge was during his UK visit in the late 1960s when he met with then Society buyer, Christopher Tatham, to taste the new vintages of Musar. The tasting was a success and The Wine Society became the first wine merchant in the country to ship the wines: the 1967 listed in April 1971.

Chateau Musar Wine Society

The first listing of Chateau Musar by The Society, from our 1971 List

Since then, Musar, especially the red, has always held a special place with members of The Society. It is a wine style like no other: both bewitching and baffling, reflecting Serge’s non-interventionist approach to winemaking, his courage to take risks and his determination to stick with his vision. As he once said, ‘I once produced a wine that was technically perfect but it lacked the charms of imperfection.’

It was family friend Ronald Barton of Château Langoa Barton in Bordeaux who persuaded the Hochars to plant cabernet sauvignon, adding to Musar’s exuberant carignan and cinsault bush vines in the Bekaa Valley. It is why Musar red can resemble claret one year and Châteauneuf the next, depending on which variety or varieties appear to hold the most promise.

In 1984 Serge was chosen as Decanter magazine’s first-ever recipient of the ‘Man of the Year’ award, for continuing production in defiance of Lebanon’s 15-year Civil War. And now, three decades on, the wines of Chateau Musar are exported globally with a fervent following around the world.

Serge Hochar with Wine Society Chairman Sarah Evans in May 2013

Serge Hochar with Wine Society Chairman Sarah Evans in May 2013

Serge said: ‘I make wine on the edge, every vintage is different. There is no one Chateau Musar exactly like the other.’

Likewise, it is fair to say that there is no personality in the wine world like Serge. He will be missed.

Pierre Mansour
Society Buyer

Categories : Rest of the World

Comments

  1. Stephen Booth says:

    Really saddened to hear of the passing of Serge Hochar. I first tasted Musar in Beirut in 1966 and have been a fan ever since. He was character in a world of too many clones, and I’m not talking varietals!

  2. JerryW says:

    Oh, I am really sorry to learn this, Chateau Musar is surely the most well known of vineyards outside the major centres, and deservedly so, and in large part thanks to Serge. I do hope the vineyard will carry on as it has.
    Not that it matters, but my father regularly bought and served Ch. Musar during the latter part of the 1960s, I have no idea where from, but it would have been a UK retailer of some sort. And never mind 69p, it would have been in shillings and pence 🙂

  3. John McLusky says:

    I never met Serge Hochar, but about a year after I joined IECWS in 1974, Mark Buckenham advised me that, having had a stocktaking, 50 dozen mysterious Ch. Musar was lying in the Bonded Warehouse. This was after the sale of the stock mentioned above. We investigated and discovered that somehow M. Hochar had slipped onto the Shipping Manifest 50 cases in addition to Christopher Tatham’s order (Christopher had by then left and I was his successor); the wine was Rosé and presumably the same 1967 vintage, although I do not recall. The wine was acceptable but clearly needed swift drinking so we paid the Duty on our ‘present from Serge’ and sold the parcel in an offer for, I think, £5.00 a bottle to cover costs etc. M Hochar never visited the Society during my tenure; perhaps there was too much war going on.

  4. Paul green says:

    How sad. A pioneer, brave as well as innovative. But at least some of us have some glorious wine still to enjoy.

  5. Alan Ford says:

    How very, very sad.

    Several in our local wine-tasting circle are big fans of Musar and the cheaper but excellent Hochar. I still have a bottle of Ch Musar 2003. We shall drink it to his memory. And perpetuate it by buying more!

    Serge Hochar RIP

  6. Tony Kirkby says:

    This brought back memories of our family visit to the Bekaar in the early sixties. Over the years I have enjoyed the odd bottle of ch. Musar and never been disappointed.

  7. DAVID DUNSMUIR says:

    Very sad for all who give his wine the respect it deserves. I have ordered a case of 2004 Magnums in his memory and when I drink it I will think of the pleasure he has given our family every Christmas since we discovered his wine.
    Aye we will never see your like again

  8. Jacqui Davies says:

    Chateau Musar was the wine chosen by my (then) new husband from the wine list at The Albright Hussey near Shrewsbury where we spent our honeymoon night. He later said that he wanted to impress me with his know-how, since he knew I loved good wines, so took a punt on this. It certainly worked! I spent 10 minutes just inhaling!
    Since then, we’ve regarded it as our special wine, and it truly is special. Serge Hochar has left a legacy to all of us lucky enough to drink his great wines.

  9. Mike White says:

    I discovered Musar far too late in life, buying it first in 1990. It’s embarrassing to admit that we drank just one bottle a year, at Christmas, till there were none left. But that’s how special it was to us. In May 2013 we were among the many Musar aficionados who were at the Stevenage tasting hosted by Serge and Gaston. As a true Musar ‘groupie’ I not only spoke to the great man but have his and Gaston’s autographs on my ticket. And even more of an honour was for Serge to give me his business card. And, as I type this, I can look at both ticket and card in their frame. Serge, you have given us some wonderful memories. Thank you.

  10. David Prosser says:

    How Sad – particularly as having survived all the unrest and fighting in Lebanon during which time he continued to ensure deliveries of Chateau Musar were made on time, he should have perished in a swimming accident in Mexico. I was introduced to a bottle by a member of Leeds United football team, and it knocked me over! Let’s hope the family perpetuate his name by continuing the good work.

  11. Gerald Milner says:

    I have very happy memories of being privileged to drink Chateau Musar in many past years. I join in the chorus of regrets at the passing of a fine wine maker.
    Gerald Milner.

  12. Bill Landels says:

    Came very late to Musar….always our family special for a lot of reasons not least the sheer effort…..just want to say thanks and RIP Mr Hochar x

  13. George Peake says:

    First introduced to this wine by the 1978 vintage, I think described by your buyer as being able to ‘ taste the gunpowder ‘, a reference to the continuing strife in the area. Since then always enjoyed a few bottles, the latest 2002, always an interesting drink, and always great value for money. Unique, stand alone wine, a tribute to the winemaker.

  14. charles mercey says:

    I met Serge Hochar at a London tasting organised by a well-known wine merchant some time in the mid/late 1980s (what follows will date it precisely). The venue was the Barbican and it was held at lunchtime on a week-end. Arriving at London Bridge we found the most direct route across the City cordoned off by the police and had to take a wide detour. As we trudged towards our destination a large explosion resounded, which on arrival we were told was an attempt by the IRA to blow up the NatWest Tower. Serge’s arrival was delayed too so we missed nothing – and heard the great man begin his short introductory speech with immortal line “so I see you’re trying to make me feel at home”! Shame he will no longer be around to make great wine.

  15. Alison Leaf says:

    Thank you. A fitting tribute. I have enjoyed Ch Musar for over 20 years. It is in class of its own – always distinctive but never the same. Long may
    it continue.

  16. Brian Jolly says:

    I echo earlier sentiments about the great man. Question – How do you know it is Musar ? Answer – It smells of the desert and sweaty sand-shoes ! Hope the family can carry on the long tradition.

  17. Charles Bradshaw-Smith says:

    A while ago I exchanged Xmas bottles with a friend. We coincidently wrote labels “you won’t believe this gem I’ve discovered…” and each unwrapped a vintage Musar! Could this have happened with any other wine?

  18. Martin Cannon says:

    Drank a bottle of ’02 last night in his memory. Excellent, as ever.

  19. Robin Davies says:

    I was introduced to Ch Musar at our wine tasting group in Horringer in Suffolk. A total and very pleasant surprise. Members were hooked and bough regularly. An amazing story, really hope the family keep going in the same spirit.

  20. Peter Adams says:

    Always different, always interesting, A wonderful story of triumph over adversity, Ch Musar wines have fascinated our members since Lincoln Wine Society’s inception nearly 30 years ago. I hope the family will continue Serge’s individual and unique ethos of wine production. I never could get the hang of the whites, though!!!!

  21. John Charman says:

    I was already a fan of Ch Musar when I went to a la Vignerone tasting in the early to mid 80s, which was tutored by Serge, and someone asked, in a rather self-important way, what the cepage of a particular vintage was and Serge’s reply was “don’t worry what it’s made of, just enjoy it” (I suspect that he could not remember precisely), but I think that was a good indicator of his wine philosophy. The next time that I met him was at Stevenage in 2013 when he and Gaston ran a Musar workshop and he managed to confuse Gaston and most of the rest of us as to which particular vintage we were drinking; a lovely and very funny man. I have just checked what I have got and it is a total of 15 bottles from the years 02, 03, 04, 05 and 07, and the latter bottle was a Christmas present from my son, who is also a fan. I shall think of serge with every bottle that I drink.

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