Chateau Musar was established in 1930 by Gaston Hochar at the tender age of 20. His inspiration was both the 6,000-year winemaking history of Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley and also his time in Bordeaux – a connection which was strengthened during the Second World War when he befriended Major Ronald Barton of Château Langoa-Barton while he was stationed in Lebanon. In 1959 he graciously stepped aside for his two eager sons Serge and Ronald.
Serge, who sadly passed away in 2014, was the better known of the pair, having travelled extensively to promote the wines and regularly attending annual Wine Society tastings to meet our members. Ronald, however, has been instrumental in running the business side of things, and his huge contribution includes keeping the winery open against all odds throughout the civil war. This is especially shocking given that in 1989 the winery and the Hochar family home were directly hit by shelling, but the Hochar brothers did more than stand their ground: for a short time they even used the cellars as a bomb shelter to give local people refuge.
Today it is overseen by the third generation: like their father and uncle, Serge’s eldest son Gaston now manages the day-to-day operation of the winery whereas his younger son Marc helps to control the commercial aspects. Ronald’s son Ralph also works in Musar’s UK office, and his daughter Elsa has immortalised the winery and her family’s rich history in a documentary.
The Musar property is located in the southern end of Bekaa Valley, around 30km north of Beirut. Here the altitude and shelter from surrounding mountains provide excellent growing conditions; the Bekaa valley is almost completely disease and frost free with long mild summers and just enough rain in the winter. The wide range of gravelly soils over limestone is also ideal for viticulture.
The red grapes – cabernet sauvignon, cinsault and carignan – are grown on mature, low-yielding vines for extra concentration, whereas the white grapes are indigenous varieties are better suited to higher altitude - some are grown as high as 1500m above sea level. Picking is done by hand in the cool mornings to preserve freshness, and all of Musar’s wines are produced with minimum intervention. Wines are made with the minimum of sulphur and are not fined or filtered.
Chateau Musar has been described by many as one of the great wines of the world, and it is certainly eccentric and intriguing in style. The third generation continues to build on Serge Hochar’s artistic craftsmanship. He has been quoted as saying “I once produced a wine that was technically perfect but it lacked the charms of imperfection”, and the ultimate aim is still to make Musar in the most natural and authentic way, but with a touch of fascinating volatility.
Each year, the final blend has varying percentages of each grape variety, and they in turn are sourced from several vineyard sites, resulting in intriguing blends that evolve from year to year. Chateau Musar is a wine that needs time in bottle and is usually kept in vats for several years by the Hochars before being released for sale. The white Chateau Musar is made in an oxidative style that can often divide opinion. For earlier-drinking, the second wines, labelled Hochar Père et Fils, are made in the same distinctive style and are a perfect introduction to the mighty Musar brand.