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© 2014-2018 Yara Zgheib All Rights Reserved


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On a Toast

August 10, 2017


You are the bread and the knife,

the crystal goblet and the wine.

You are the dew on the morning grass

and the burning wheel of the sun.


- Billy Collins, Litany



The old house is half renovated, half ancient. Once an olive picker’s one-room home. The window facing West looks down the hill of vines and trees and onto the Mediterranean Sea. Dry arid climate and salt in the air, but enough altitude for a breeze. The grapes are deep purple, almost ripe for picking. The figs are early this year.


Up a wooden ladder, ten rickety rungs, onto the roof, sun and view. No chairs but a straw mat, some cushions. Labne,[1] zaatar,[2] bread. Vegetables picked from the patch this morning, olive oil pressed this year. Six glasses, mismatched. Stems long. A toast: to being alive and well.


Off the beaten wine path in Lebanon’s famous Beqaa, where Châteaux and Domaines compete for prestige and supermarket shelf space, a narrower, winding trail goes North, along the coast and up the hills. The vines there are planted in rows and bushes, in empty containers of powdered milk, in old rusty barrels and handle-less buckets, and dangling from the roofs of little homes.


The wineries around Batroun are family owned and run. The lands are inherited; the grapes are harvested by the children and dog. Sometimes friends help, and neighbors and people from the villages nearby. No fertilizers, pesticides, not much water, but technique generations old and wine made to be drunk today.


In this microclimate only red grapes grow well, at 600 meters above sea. White grapes grow higher, on colder plots, but this family likes their wine red anyway.


Mourvèdre, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache. Different leaves, different grapes. And weather and life and their surprises give a different blend, different wine each different year.


2014 is still young and in barrels. A light and fruity wine; prominent red berries and spice, some licorice. Perfect for a picnic lunch. The family gave all of 2013 away; they opened their last bottle on Sunday. 2012 tastes of good rain, sun, and memories. A rounder fuller wine to reminisce. 2011 is dry and crisp; a long summer, late harvest that year. And seven years on, 2010 tastes sweeter; nostalgia does that to grapes.


The bottles have been used, reused. The labels drawn and stuck on by hand. The corks are saved, and the leaves washed and dried to be rolled into wara’ aarish.[3] At best, a year’s work will yield 4,000 bottles. Realistically, 3,500. Of those the family will sell some, share most, with loved ones, newlyweds, random hikers passing by, and proud parents of graduates.


There is no money to be made in this business, but they are not in this business for money. Or prestige or shelf space in fine food stores and the dusty cellars of connoisseurs. These people make wine like they live; for themselves and for today. By the same rules of passion and presence, they celebrate every moment from harvest to toast.


Now. On the roof with sun and view, how glorious to be alive and here. Six glasses, mismatched, long stemmed have been filled with deep red while the children and dog look on, proud.


To family, land, and country. To being happy, having enough. To both being a choice. To that being enough. Celebration is a way of life.





[1] Strained yogurt

[2] Thyme

[3] Grape leaves stuffed with rice and meat. Typical Lebanese dish.

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