Monthly Archives: October 2014

Syria: War, Terrorism … And Great Wine

If you know anything about current world events and see this title, it may make you do a double-take. Regardless, with notoriety that dates back to ancient and biblical times, it’s hard to believe, while Syria may be in the news everyday as the most dangerous place in the world, it’s also home to a world renown wine.

A tranquil vineyard setting in an unlikely location surrounded by brutality and bloodshed.

This revived winery dates back to the Canaanites, Phoenicians, the ancient Greeks and Romans, and now produces perhaps the finest wines made in the Eastern Mediterranean. The estate is Chateau Bargylus, otherwise known as Domaine de Bargylus, and is a Syrian vineyard and winery on the hillsides of a coastal mountain range called Al-Ansariyah – a region once known for its vast vineyards and olive orchards.

Yes, in a country ravaged by a despot, terrorism, civil war and of course Islamic extremists; somehow, a winery has emerged this century, reviving historical wines that thrive even in these most difficult times with so much external influences. And yet, the region is relatively safe in comparison to the rest of the countries brutal and bloody conflict. What’s left of the President Bashar al-Assad’s government still controls this portion of Syria.

Although considered a unitarian republic (a dictatorship of sorts), the country is heavily influenced by Islam and therefore treacherous for any other religion living in the area. Since alcohol is banned, the idea of making wine is at its best, dicey. Still, according to The World Atlas of Wine:

“The finest wine produced in the Eastern Mediterranean is arguably the most surprising: Bargylus, a blend of Cabernet, Merlot, and Syrah grown near the ancient Roman city of Antioch in Syria by the Saadé brothers, who also make wine in their native Lebanon.”

Bargylus produces world-class wines

The grapes are grown at some elevation reaching 3,000 feet into the mountains with unique and ideal weather influenced by sea breezes. Not unlike our region here in Paso Robles, the diurnal is large with winds cooling the grapes in the evening.

The Lebanese-Syrian Saade family, led by brothers Sandro and Karim, own the winery and also have a winery located south in the Bakaa Valley of Lebanon – another region that was wracked with war and terror not too long ago. Amazingly, the Sadde’s are able to produce excellent vintages though they can’t venture often in Syria because rebels and terrorists are likely to capture them for ransom. The Saade’s are Christians, who’s population at one point stood at well over two million in Syria, but due to the violence, many have become refugees in surrounding areas like Lebanon.

Sandro Saade

Sandro Saade

Long trip 

The risky ventures first vintage was in 2006, but recently production has stalled somewhat. However the boutique wine is still selling for roughly $35 a bottle internationally, even though they aren’t sold in their native country. It is too dangerous to truck the less than three hour path from Latakia to Beirut, so while the Bargylus wine is bottled in Syria, it’s then shipped to Egypt and sent back to Lebanon before dispersing off to mainly Europe.

As the war and terror rages on and around Domaine de Bargylus, it’s hard to calculate and even consider the fact that this one-off winery will be able to continue in the hills of Al-Ansariyah. Yet the brothers keep hoping – and at the very least, trust that the war doesn’t spill over into Lebanon.

War and terrorism continue but for now, so does a great wine from a very improbable place.

Additional source: WineStory.co.uk

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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Smaller 2014 Harvest? More Barrels Available?

The 2012 and 2013 grape crop production was huge and this year, many thought 2014 would bring yet an unusual third straight big vineyard haul. This is still possible but several factors that have changed the harvest process this year may reduce the tonnage for producing wine. And that may increase the likelihood of more used barrels becoming available.

California wine grapes on the vine

Wishful thinking on our part? Yes, I’m hoping for this potential bonanza of unneeded barrels, but it appears those hopes have some facts to back them up.

Leading up to 

To back up a moment, the season began with ideas of yet another larger than normal crop year. The combination of some spring rains just at the right time after another relatively dry winter, gave an early indication that production could be big again. After an earlier than normal bud break, early veraison happened in July and although that didn’t necessarily mean more and/or bigger grapes, it did offer an earlier timetable that for one, would mean earlier harvest and less chance of freezes or early Autumn rains that might create mildew.

Winemakers told us at Paso Wine Barrels that they were holding on to their neutral and used barrels in case a third-in-a-row big harvest occurred. With an earlier than normal picking period, wineries were busily processing their grapes – so we waited.

Raisin crop drying

At that same time, in the Central Valley, the raisin crop was off the vine. However, a smaller than expected yield – attributed mostly to drought and government induced water shortages – gave pause to the rest of the industry. It should be noted that farmers have been hit hard by the state and federal water regulations that have forced vintners in particular to use less water or just plain not grow some of their crops. Catch more of this insidious man-made disaster here.

Some farmers had a compressed harvest but one good spell of cooler than normal weather in August slowed harvest down for others, giving several winemakers a little break while allowing the grapes to mature, improving the quality. The little bit of rain that vineyards in the northern part of California received in mid-September was nowhere near enough or even on time to help improve growing conditions.

More barrels?

Filling wine barrel

How many barrels will be needed this harvest?

Now it appears that a lighter than normal crop set up, but with good quality grapes. Smaller berries are being reported and from a personal standpoint, I too have seen grapes from different vineyards and they appear smaller than normal. This decrease in grape crop tonnage from the past two years seems to becoming more obvious, which leads us to, well, us.

Barrels have been much harder to come by with vintners essentially hoarding them until harvest came through. I haven’t seen an abundance yet of request from winemakers to come pick up their barrels, but from all the current signs, it points to the possibility that more of the wonderful wooden casks that make our business possible, could be available soon.

I’ll let folks know as time goes on, but if we are right and a cornucopia of barrels flows our way, this will be good news for everyone who follows our little family-run company.

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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