Château Qanafar is a winery located on the oak-forested mountain above the town of Khirbet Qanafar, on the foothills of the Barouk Mountain overlooking the Bekaa valley, Lake Qaraoun, and Mount Hermon. It lies about 70 km southeast of Beirut and 2 km south of the village of Kefraya.

A decade ago, George Naim began planting vines on an ancestral parcel of land in Qanafar. What started as a mere hobby post-retirement later evolved into a family business thanks to the high quality of grapes produced and the exceptional taste of wine resulting from them. We had the chance to intercept Naim’s son and General Manager of Château Qanafar, Eddy Naim, who tells more about the liquid potion and the plans the family has for it going forward. How did the idea to plant grape vineyards come about?

Naim: Château Qanafar began as a pastime for my father, George Naim, who wanted to have something to do after his retirement. As he was passionate about wine, he decided to cultivate a small one-hectare plot in Khirbet Qanafar with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah vines to make wine for family and friends. When we saw the level of quality he was able to produce, we encouraged him to turn it into a family business. I was working in Dubai in 2009 when I left my job as a management consultant and came to Lebanon to work with my father. Why the West Bekaa region? Were you parents living there prior to opening Château Qanafar?

Naim: My family is originally from Khirbet Qanafar, and we're lucky in the sense that this region is one of the prime locations in Lebanon for growing vines. There was a study conducted some time ago that analyzed various terroirs in Lebanon, and it identified the West Bekaa as such. That is probably why several wineries have vineyards in the area. Though our heritage is in Khirbet Qanafar, we had never lived here. My parents left Lebanon in 1976 due to the civil war, and I spent all of my life abroad (Belgium, USA, Dubai, and Canada). Who is involved in running the Château ?

Naim: It is equally and fully owned by our family: George, Colette (my mother), Eva (my sister), and myself. Do you have formal training or education in oenology?

Naim: From 2009 through 2011, I studied for a winemaking certificate at the University of California, Davis. My father has a degree in chemistry and taught himself winemaking by reading oenology books and other reference material. We also tap the expertise of local and international oenology consultants. What types of grapes/wines do you produce?

Naim: We make red wine using Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. We do have other varietals in small quantities, but they are not currently used in our wines. For white wines, we have Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, and Riesling, but thus far we have only produced a 100% Sauvignon Blanc. This year we may produce a Viognier as well. When was the first year of yield? What was the batch size then? How has that transformed today?

Naim: The first wine was made in 2005, a total of 300 bottles. Since then, we produced roughly the same amount each year until 2008, when we made 3,000 bottles. In 2009, when we launched Château Qanafar into a family business, we produced 14,000 bottles and about the same yield for three years thereafter. In 2013 we grew to 50,000, and this year we are aiming for approximately 70,000 bottles! Château Qanafar has two labels, Château and Paradis. What is the distinction between the two?

Naim: The Château is our haut-de-gamme, made using the best grapes we can grow. Paradis is our second wine, a bit lighter and fruitier. Lebanon is experiencing a golden age in alcohol, particularly in the birth and flourishing of wineries (Ixsir, Château Khoury, and Château Nakad readily come to mind). How do you deal with the competition? Or is your target market more niched?

Naim: Lebanon in general is producing quality wines, and we believe it will soon be recognized around the world for it. We applaud the growth of the Lebanese wine industry; it is creating a buzz in the market and more people are opting for wine during meals and get-togethers. While we are in competition with other wineries, there is also a sense of camaraderie. For example, we seek each other’s advice on laboratory analyses.

We are members of an industry association called Union Vinicole du Liban, comprised of about 20 wineries and growing. Through it we coordinate marketing efforts—particularly abroad (l'union fait la force!)—and share technical knowledge to address any threats like diseases and pests to Lebanon's vineyards. The way we compete is by trying to produce the best wine we can and then letting the consumer decide what to buy. At the Horeca Trade Show earlier this year, Qanafar 2011 was identified and praised by a visiting sommelier for its unique taste and complexity. What makes this vintage so markedly extraordinary from the others? And has it been bottled yet—can consumers go out and buy it?

Naim: I believe it all comes down to the vineyards. Since we grow our own grapes, we can focus on their quality and achieve these kinds of results. That is what makes a winery a boutique winery, after all: the emphasis on quality rather than quantity. Yes, it has been bottled, and we recently started releasing it onto the market. It has since garnered numerous awards. The acclaimed French wine guide Gilbert & Gaillard scored it 93/100 (the highest among all Lebanese wines that participated in the tasting). At the “Ultimate Wine Challenge” in New York, it landed a 92/100 mark. Qanafar 2011 was also a finalist for the Chairman's Trophy award.

Château Qanafar brand wines can be found at Le Gray, The Four Seasons Hotel, Smallville, and Soha Village. It is also available inside the following restaurants: Avenue du Parc, Bardo, Beirut Cellar, Bergerac, Bread Republic, DT, Le Petit Gris, L’Autre, Liza, L’Osteria, LUX, Rouge Bordeaux, Stove, The Gathering, and The Hangout. For purchase in-store, visit The Wine Teller (Jal el Dib) or Carrefour (Beirut City Centre).

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