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GROUPE ESA The Bekaa Valley A geographical area that valorizes the Sauvignon Blanc grape varietal Barbarah Destouches and Joseph Moukarzel 05-Dec-14 Master VINTAGE

Fiche terroir: Bekaa Valley

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The Bekaa Valley A geographical area that valorizes the Sauvignon

Blanc grape varietal

Barbarah Destouches and Joseph Moukarzel



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Introduction: The Bekaa valley contains 50% of the total of Lebanese wineries which produce 7.700.000

bottles (75cl) per year. Wineries are for the most located in Zahle, Baalbek and West Bekaa. Sauvignon

Blanc has recently become a varietal in Lebanon, where it represents 18% to 20% (fig1) of the total vines

planted for white wines, it is the second most used white grape after Ugni blanc, therefore it can be

considered that the Bekaa valley is a region which promotes and valorize this varietal. Depending on the

region of production, Sauvignon Blanc develops different types of aromas such as: boxwood, flint or cat

urine, nevertheless in Lebanon it produces notes of exotic fruits like papaya or guava (Rozelier, Zawaq,

2012). This paper focus on the three main regions in the Bekaa: West bekaa, Zahle and Baalbek.

History: The history of Lebanese vineyard dates back to the Phoenicians (Rozelier, Zawaq, 2012),

merchants by nature, they were producing wine to export all over the Mediterranean Sea. After the

Phoenicians came the Greeks and the Romans empires, for these two civilizations wine was sacred;

justified by the presence of the gods of wine such as Bacchus and Dionysus, there rule stretched in an

area covering all of the modern Lebanon, and there vineyards were mainly in the Bekaa valley, justified

by the temple of Bacchus in Baalbek. The production and consumption of wine reached its peak during

the Christian era, where the wine had religious meanings; it was the symbol of Christ’s blood, therefore,

viticulture boomed in Lebanese soils. Finally, with the advent of Islam, especially during the Umayyad

and Abbasid periods, wine production stopped, marking the death of Lebanese viticulture, because wine

is strictly forbidden in Islam. However, the Lebanese vineyard sees a “renaissance” or rebirth,

implemented by the Jesuits in 1857 (Ksara, 2014) and a boom during the post-war in 1975.

There were eight areas in the 90’s against 41 in 2010 (Rozelier, L'embellie du vignoble libanais, 2011).

The main plantations are in the Bekaa with 1,241 ha calculated as 57% of the total area. There are also

vineyards in northern Lebanon (633 ha), in Mount Lebanon (256 ha), and in South Lebanon (50 ha).

There is no direct relationship between the choice of grape variety and the Lebanese soil. However, the

use of noble varieties justifies the seriousness and passion of some Lebanese wineries; we distinguish

the “Sauvignon blanc” in this paper.

Geographical situation of the studied area: The Bekaa valley is a large area situated between the two

mountainous chains of Lebanon: Mount-Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon (fig2). It has an average altitude of

1000 meters and is almost everywhere above 850m (Walley, 2003). It is located on 34.0089° N, 36.1453°

E (Google, 2014). The Bekaa Valley is about 120 kilometers in length and has an average width of about

16 kilometers. It contains two rivers, the “Assi” river (or Orontes), sourcing from the north of the Bekaa

and flowing into Syria and then Turkey (Deford, 1973), and the “Litani” river which also source from the

north section of the Bekaa and flows into the Mediterranean sea while forming a large lake in the south

Bekaa called “Qaraon” (Wikipedia, 2014). The Bekaa Valley consists of five main regions or “Cazas”:

Zahle, West-Bekaa, Rashayya, Baalbek and Hermel (Localiban, 2009).

Geology (fig3): The Bekaa Valley is the result of tectonic plate activities; it is situated between two large

faults: The “yammouneh” fault and the “anti-Lebanon” fault (Walley, 2003). It is a series of different

geological formation stacked up on each other, with Cretaceous and Jurassic sediments (sandstone and

marine limestone) in the bottom, conglomerates and Miocene alluvial fans in the middle, and Pliocene-

quaternary lake deposits (mainly from Litani river) on the top. Some chalk and limestone from Senonian-

neogene can be found in the south region of the Bekaa (Dubertret, 1955).

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Figure 1, grape varieties used in the Bekaa

Figure 2, Geographical location of the Bekaa

Figure 3, Cut view of Lebanon

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Pedology: The soil consists mainly of clay and limestone in the Bekaa. The soils present on the slopes

are shallow and have high levels of limestone (between 25 and 80%) with high levels of active limestone.

The soils of the Bekaa have significant clay content about 50%. The land is generally poor in humus and

organic matter (ROBY, 2003). The main type of soil is Eutric Cambisols in the flat center of the valley, and

Lithic Leptosols on both sides of the valley, where moderate slopes begin to form (Darwish, 1999).

1. Cambisols (isric, major soils of the world,


They are soils beginning their transformation in structure, and brownish in color.

Medium and fine-textured materials from a wide variety of rocks, mostly in colluvial, alluvial or eolian deposits.

ABC profiles

Wide variety of agricultural uses.

Contain silt and sand.

Occur in regions with precipitation surplus but the terrain position permit surficial discharge of excess water.

High porosity, good water holding capacity and good internal drainage.

Neutral to weakly acid soil, with an active fauna.

2. Leptosols (isric, 2014):

Shallow soils over hard rock or highly calcareous material.

Deep soils are gravelly and stony

Mostly in land of high altitude

ABR or ABC profiles

Free draining soils, may have grounded water in shallow depth.

Low water holding capacity

Earthworms are chief soil organisms.

Climate (ROBY, 2003): Lebanon's climate is generally Mediterranean, with oceanic tendencies in winter

and subtropical in summer. Since the mountains of Lebanon are parallel to the coastline, there is a fast

transition between the maritime climate on the coast and the semi-continental climate in the Bekaa. A

dry season, characterized by the complete absence of precipitation affects Lebanon between the end of

April and early October. The dominant southwestern winds bring moisture from the sea for all

Lebanon’s maritime facade. However, Most of the rain will precipitate on the mountains, which causes a

natural obstacle, leaving the Bekaa with lower precipitation. The continuous melting of snow from

mountain tops is the main water resource for the Bekaa during summer.

The mountainous region of Mount Lebanon: precipitation (rain and snow) increase usually with

altitude. They are large (1300mm) on the west side of Mount Lebanon and are much reduced on

the eastern side. Temperatures are much cooler and decrease with altitude.

The central and southern parts of the Bekaa Valley: the rainfall is about 650mm, distributed in

winter. The air is dry. The average temperature ranges from 10 ° C in January to 26.7 ° C in


The northern Bekaa: it can be characterized as semi-desert, with a continental drift. It rains less

than 300mm. The temperatures are very high in the summer and the wind is often strong. The

two tables in the next page represent the ombrothermic diagram of “Zahle”, the capital city of

the Bekaa, and “daher el baydar” on the hilly areas of the Bekaa. Source: Lebanese Republic,

Ministry of Public Works and Transport, Directorate General Of Civil Aviation Meteorological

Department, between the period of 1971 and 2000.

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Station : Zahlé_Houch_el_OumaraLat 33 :49 N lon 35 :51 E Elevation : 920 m

Jan Fév Mars Avr Mai Juin Juil Aout Sep Oct Nov D♪0c Tot /Moy

precipitation ( mm ) 141.1 112.2 94.1 42.4 10.2 0.6 0 0 0.9 33.8 68.5 131.1 635

T max ( ° ) 9.8 11.6 15 20.8 26.5 30.3 32.6 33.1 30.5 25.7 18.4 12.3 22.22

T min ( ° ) 1.8 2.2 4.2 7.2 10.5 13.3 15.4 15.5 13.2 10.3 6.6 3.1 8.61

Température Moyenne ( ° ) 5.8 6.9 9.6 14 18.5 21.8 24 24.3 21.7 18 12.5 7.7 15.40

Max Relative Humidity. (°) 91 88 86 79 70 58 50 70 73 81 97 94 78.08

MIN Relative Humidity. (°) 51 41 37 27 21 17 9 15 18 33 31 51 29.25

Mean Relative Humidity. (°) 71 64 62 53 45 37 29 43 55 57 64 73 54.42

Max wind speed. (m/sec) 19 20 19 8 31 9 19 18 26 25 16 22 21.00

Mean wind speed. (m/sec) 4 4 3 4 4 4 4 4 3 3 3 4 3.67

Evaporation (mm / day) Gel Gel Gel 143.3 251.2 284.3 306.8 279 294.1 228.5 64.9 Gel 231.51

Nb of days of precipitation 13 13 11 7 3 0+ 0 0 1 4 8 10 70

Nb of days of Snow 2.9 2.5 1.4 0.1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.2 0.4 8

Nb of days of ice 8 7 3 0.5 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 5.5 25

Nb of days > 30 ° 0 0 0 1 6 14 23 27 15 4 0 0 90

Station : Daher_el_Baidar

Lat 33:49 N lon 35 :46 E Elevation:1524 m

Jan Fév Mars Avr Mai Juin Juil Aout Sep Oct Nov D♪0c Tot /Moy

precipitation ( mm ) 310 232 227 84 33 2 0.5 0.5 4 55 149 273 1370

T max ( ° ) 4.5 6.3 8.9 13 17 21.4 22.5 23.4 21.4 17.5 13.4 7.1 14.70

T min ( ° ) -0.6 0.1 1.9 5.2 8.7 13.3 15 15.5 13.6 10.3 6.9 2.5 7.70

Température Moyenne ( ° ) 2.2 3.3 5.4 9.1 12.9 17.3 18.8 19.7 17.5 13.9 10.2 4.8 11.26

Max Relative Humidity. (°) 89 83 76 87 80 74 81 87 88 86 75 81 82.22

MIN Relative Humidity. (°) 50 43 36 33 37 20 21 22 23 43 38 48 34.50

Mean Relative Humidity. (°) 69 63 56 60 59 47 51 55 56 65 67 81 60.75

Max wind speed. (m/sec) 27 23 23 23 9 17 1 17 7 29 28 29 19.42

Mean wind speed. (m/sec) 4 5 5 5 4 4 4 4 3 4 4 4 4.10

Evaporation (mm / day) Gel Gel 146 131.4 246.2 326.4 384.9 341.4 317.4 148 Gel Gel 255.21

Nb of days of precipitation 15 18 10 4 2 0 0 0 2 6 8 17 82

Nb of days of Snow 15 14 6 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 5 43

Nb of days of ice 22 18 14 6 1 0 0 0 0 0 2 11 74

Nb of days > 30 ° 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1

Table 1, Zahle ombrothermic table, with relatively low precipitation and higher temperatures

Table 2, Daher el Baydar ombrothermic table, with relatively high precipitations and lower temperatures

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Scientific studies concerning the area: A team of Lebanese winemakers want to create a system of

Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC). This system established in France is for a specific product located

in a limited geographical area (CHAOUI), its soil and climate unit, its technical constraints and practices

are to be observed. For Lebanon, it seems difficult to apply such legislation because vinified grapes in

the same cave usually come from very different regions: Bekaa, Mount Lebanon…

The Lebanese wine is changing: introduction of new varieties, different ways of growing the grapes are

compared to other models in order to find the best adequacies in the production of quality wine. It

would be harmful to end this dynamic. In addition, the proliferation of Controlled Origin Denominations

on the French model results in a lack of clarity for the international consumer. The creation of various

names within a small wine country like Lebanon will accentuate the problem of recognition of the

product on the international market.

Rootstock: The use of a rootstock is indispensable in the fight against phylloxera. Furthermore

considering the high risk of chlorosis in a large part of the Lebanese soil and the lack of rainfall during

the vegetative cycle of the vine to the choice of the rootstock should generally be directed towards

those supporting active high levels of limestone and drought resistant (ROBY, 2003). Because of the

strong daily hot weather, it is interesting to use rootstocks delaying the vegetative cycle of the vine to

slow the rate of maturation of grape berries and get more aromatic grapes.

Local nurseries offer grafted plants welded table grapes and wine grapes. The rootstock used is very

predominantly “41B” associated with local varieties of table grapes and the grape varieties most in

demand for wine grapes. The vines produced in Lebanon are much cheaper than imported ones, but

their quality is lower. The rootstock “41B” represents about 80% of the champagne region vineyards and

it is particularly represented in the Bekaa region (Midi, 2003). It is resistant to drought, so it is used in

the Baalbek region of the Bekaa, and at the same time, appreciates humidity, like in the humid mid-

sections of the Bekaa and the regions surrounding the Litani river.

Viticulture practices (BEL, 2009):

Pruning: In the Bekaa, we only have two types of pruning, the first one is “en gobelet” (fig.4) which

is a traditional mode of pruning used widely in the Bekaa and all over Lebanon, and the second one

is “guyot”, (fig.5) which is getting more popular in the Bekaa vineyard, because of international

standards, but because of its high cost, it holds nowadays only 39% of the total vineyards. However,

the Bekaa is losing slowly its traditional Mediterranean viticultural landscape. (BEL, 2009).

Planting density: for the “gobelet” mode, the planting density is traditionally 1600 plant per hectare.

It is left intentionally low to allow all plants to get enough water without generating any

competition. However, in modern viticulture, the number has risen to 3200 plants per hectare, it has

doubled because of the rising in real estate prices, but controlled via pruning. As for the “guyot”

pruning, the planting density is 5000 plants per hectare.

Irrigation: winegrowers make sure not to irrigate their plants, but only in the first two years of the

plant, to assure adequate growing and healthy plants.

Groundwork: Heavy machinery is used to plow the land.

Disease: Blackwood disease, oidium, esca, are found in the Bekaa valley.

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Figure 4, Vineyards "en gobelet" in Kefraya, Bekaa west

Figure 5, Vineyards "en guyot" in Kefraya

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Oenological practices: The Sauvignon blanc is usually blended with other grape varieties, such as

chardonnay, semillon and viogner, Only one vineyard (Domaine wardy) has a 100% sauvignon blanc

single varietal in the Bekaa. Because of the hot weather, especially in summer, all grapes including

Sauvignon reach their full maturity in the beginning of September. No special wine making techniques

are recorded; it follows the major worldwide trends like in Bordeaux. However, the Bekaa valley

traditionally made sweet red wines destined for religious purposes (Ksara, 2014) and lately, sweet white

wines have been introduced in the market such as the “Moscatel” of chateau Ksara, and “pinot gris” of

Chateau Khoury.

The Vineyards: The vineyards area in Lebanon is 10.609 ha with 70% for “table grapes” and the equivalent of 3.183 ha for wine production. Bekaa Valley contains 69% of the total area (Table 3). The vineyards are managed by three types of managers:

Independent winegrowers1. (Mostly located in West Bekaa and Zahle)

Independent winegrowers, members of a cooperative (Côteaux d’Heliopolis)

Wine producers2. (Ksara, Kefraya…)

Types of wines in the “appellation” (Wehbe): Lebanon has joined the OIV (Office International de la Vigne et du Vin) on 10/04/1995 at the initiative of the leading wine producers. The OIV is an intergovernmental institution which goals is to inform its members about proper measures to take into account regarding consumers and producers, to contribute to the international harmonization of practices and standards, to improve the development and marketing of wine products. The OIV also contribute to the harmonization and adaptation of regulations by its members particularly the respect the AOC guidelines in order to evaluate the characteristics of wine qualities. The AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlee) concept is not officially implemented in Lebanon; instead they have the geographical indication (GI) which is used as a protection tool to designate products by the name of their place of production. GI protection is ranked among the rights of intellectual property that contain particular copyrights, invention patents, industrial designs and trademarks. As the trademark, geographical indication is a sealed sign on specific products to distinguish them from others. Besides Sauvignon blanc, winegrowers in Lebanon use other type of varieties such as Ugni Blanc, Bourboulenc, Clairette, Vionier, Chardonnay for white wine and Cinsault, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Carignan, Grenache, Temprenilo for red wine.

1 By winegrowers we mean the people who cultivate vineyards but do not produce wine.

2 By wine producers we mean people who produce wine. They might be winegrowers at the same time but not


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Table 3, Presence of Sauvignon Blanc in all of the wineries of the Bekaa. (Rozelier, Zawaq, 2012)

Domain’s name Estate Production/ Bottles

Exportation (%)

Yied Sauvignon Blanc (Monocepage)

Blending with other varieties

Zahle Château Khoury 15 ha 50 000 20 20-35 hl/ha --no -- no

Château Ksara 70+270 under lease

2 700 000 45 55-75 hl/ha -- no Yes

Coteaux du Liban

6+10 ha under lease

60 000 100 40 hl/ha -- no -- no

Domaine de Baal

4.5 ha 12 000 30 18 hl/ ha -- no Yes

Domaine Wardy

35+10 ha under lease

250 000 65 16-45 hl/ha Yes Yes

West Bekaa

Cave Kouroum 200 ha 700 000 40 35-40 hl/ha -- no Yes

Château Ka 70 150 000 40 30-35 hl/ha -- no Yes

Château Marsyas

55 ha 50 000 15 60 hl/ha -- no Yes

Château Kefraya

150+210 ha (under lease)

2 000 000 33 40hl/ha -- no yes

Château Qanafar

10 + 5 under lease

12 000 -- 10 hl/ha -- no -- no

Chateau St. Thomas

30 + 35 under lease

450 000 65 30-55 hl/ha -- no Yes

Domaine de Mas Helios

8 ha 3 000 -- -- -- no -- no

Domaine des Tourelles

20 + 20 under lease

150 000 35 45-50 hl/ha -- no -- no

Heritage 5 + 50 ha under lease

300-400 000

60 -- -- no Yes

Massaya 17 + 23 ha under lease

300 000 85 40-60 hl/ha -- no Yes


Château Barka 7 ha 5 000 -- -- -- no Yes

Côteaux d’Héliopolis

250 ha 6 000 Cooperation

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The specification is one of the most important elements to become a GI (Geographical Indication). It’s a

document developed by producers who undertake to observe the entire period of protection. The

regulations are:

a- product name b- the demarcation of the geographical area c- the product description and characteristics d- description of the method of obtaining the product e the appointment of a supervisor who controls the product conforms to the specifications f- elements relating to packaging and labeling g- the requirements prescribed by the special local regulations.

Market Information (Antoun, 2014): Wine industry in the Bekaa is nationally oriented. Consumption of

the wines produced locally does not exceed 2% to 3%, of its total production which accounts for 50% of

the Lebanese market. The national orientation of wine activity is mainly related to wine activities

conducted outside the Bekaa such as printing houses and label makers, wine producers take part of

exhibitions on the national level to promote their vintage. Exportation is about 50% of local production

(figure 6). Top export markets in order of market share are: UK 32%, France 17%, US 14%, Canada 5%,

UAE 5%, Germany 4%, Belgium 4%.

Landscape value (MOUKARZEL, 2012): The value of the Lebanese viticulture landscape is in the contrast of topography at first place and the variety of soil types throughout the Bekaa. Slopes create the need of terraces which generates new types of vertical landscapes, sometimes very specific for viticulture, whereas in the flatlands, terraces are absent and replaced by parallel lines and a horizontal perspective. As for the soil types, the bright brownish soils on slopes indicates the presence of rock alteration, these soils are rich in minerals and low in organic matter, whereas the darker redder soils in flatlands indicates the richness of organic matter and a fertile soil, in a general way, there is a degradation of color proportionally to the altitude. In the Bekaa valley, there is no “official” wine itinerary, tourists visit the wineries depending on individual efforts of tour operators and the domains themselves, unfortunately, collective work and unity is shy in the Bekaa valley, on the contrary of their neighbors in the north of Lebanon. Some of these domains host many events, such as Ksara which is very popular for marital events due to its remarkable landscape and beauty. In terms of enotourism, there is a great potential for the Bekaa valley because of its attractive landscape and its proximity to major cities and other activities.

Strengths and Weaknesses (MOUKARZEL, 2012):

Strengths Weaknesses

Suitable climate no clear equation between soil/climate/grape

Diversified soil Unsuitable varieties for the climate

Modernization, technical improvement Dominated by non-Mediterranean varieties

Competition and developing consumer Wine style that copies other international styles

Popular concept of “Vins de garages” Recent revival, no identity

Potential viticulture lands, that are not yet exploited Undeveloped viticulture lands

Soil rich in limestone (limestone represents 3% of the total earth’s surface)

No clear laws

Surprising topography , contrasts plain / mountain producers rely on personal efforts

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Figure 6, wine export in Lebanon

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