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.
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.”
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.
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
Daryle W. Hier