Welcome to Lebanon, one of the oldest sites of wine production in the world. Today, with about 30 vineyards in this tiny country, we produce about 600,000 cases of wine per year. Our winemakers have favored French grapes for ages – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Grenache, etc. – and have blended the Lebanese Obeide grape with the French ones for years. Yet despite having a viticulture that goes back to the Phoenicians, no one has ever created a native varietal wine from an indigenous grape, until now…
Meet Joe-Assaad Touma, one of the owners of Château St. Thomas and the man behind their newest, unique wine, the OBEIDY. I met Joe at Byblos en Blanc et Rosé Festival de Vin as I tried this new wine at their booth, and he was amazing enough to invite me to their private wine tasting at Les Caves de Taillevent in Tabaris.
Of course, I was thrilled. Of course, I attended. And of course, I asked Joe a ton of questions. I started with the typical question…
You’re a “wine maker” and that’s pretty awesome, but what got you into wine making?
Well, it’s a passion of mine. I grew up in a family that had been making wine and arak for about 100 years; I am among the 5th generation of wine makers. But no one made me get into the “family business”; I just loved it.
So did you study it, or was it passed down through experience?
I actually studied it. I studied Agricultural Engineering at university, then went to France for a higher degree, where I went deeper into the field of wine, arak, brandy, etc. the tasting, the distillation, and all of that. It’s the family business, but it’s also my passion.
What inspired you to create the OBEIDY?
Château St. Thomas does a lot of wine exports outside of Lebanon. I also attend a lot of wine tastings abroad, and do a lot of talks about Lebanese wine, our wine culture, and the history behind our wine production. During some presentations about International grapes, I was repeatedly asked why, despite having one of the most fertile lands for growing vines, we’ve never used our own indigenous grapes. And that’s where it clicked. I thought, “why hadn’t anyone thought to do that?”
So I decided I would, and the Obeide grape was the obvious choice. It has been used for ages to make our arak, but to make wine with it was very tricky, and required creating some “new” techniques. When picked, the light yellow Obeide grapes turn brown from the sun, so we had to start picking them at dawn or after sunset, and directly transfer them to fridges so they wouldn’t spoil. That’s how we created the OBEIDY.
It wasn’t this simple, though. To prove the authenticity of this grape, I sent grape leaves, wood samples, and small quantities of the OBEIDY to labs in France and Switzerland. They performed studied and found that the genes in the Obeide grape were really 100% from this region, from Lebanon.
What was the public’s first reaction to this new indigenous wine? It doesn’t taste like anything else, really…
Even though this isn’t what you’d call a “big” wine, I’m proud of making it because it is 100% Lebanese. It can’t be compared to other wines, even though other local winemakers have been using the Obeide grape in their blends for years, but never as a single variety. I’m also proud to say that, when I sent small quantities of the OBEIDY abroad, the reviews were great!
Well, I love it! I think it’s a perfectly light wine for this hot summer season. One last thing, how would you describe the OBEIDY?
OBEIDY is very, very light in color, this very light yellow, which is characteristic of the grape; that’s why we chose a transparent bottle for it. On the nose, it has a citrus, floral, and herb smell, all natural scents from the fermentation phase. It also has a very light taste, not strong at all, and gradually fades out, which makes it very refreshing.
There you go; the inside scoop from the maker himself! As for my own opinion, I think the OBEIDY is just perfect, especially for 2 types of people: those who need a light wine to drink throughout this summer, and not feel like heavy drinkers; and those who are new to wine, and want a wine that feels classy, yet has a very light taste.
*OBEIDY sells at $ 17 a bottle from 209 Lebanese Wine.
See you soon with another glass of red!