Monastic orders have a long, indeed ancient, pedigree when it comes to viticulture and making wine. Many of the greatest European vineyards owe their foundation to religious orders, particularly in Burgundy and the Rhine. Caves de Monastere Saint Jean, established in 2006, may not have the historical pedigree in the same regard but there is a link in the form of winemaker Father Charbel Hajjar and the vineyards around the monastery of Saint Jean in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, a region with a winemaking history dating back millennia.
With the backing of surgeon and entrepreneur Dr Charles Eid and the input of consultant oenologist Ulrich Hoffman, Sendiäna was established to make wine from the vineyards that spill down in terraces from the monastery and from local growers. Father Hajjar received training in France, converted a goat shed into a winery and began making wine for local consumption in 2004, but from 2006 things moved up a gear and the first commercial vintage was the 2013.
Altitude plays a key role here on the maritime side of Mount Lebanon. Winters are bitterly cold but summers are long, warm and sunny. The vines grow at 900 to 1200 metres where the heat of the day is tempered by the elevation and night temperatures dip sharply to allow the grapes respite and to retain acidity for freshness. There is no irrigation other than spring meltwater from the higher ground and the dew that follows the chilly nights.
Cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah, grenache, cabernet franc and mourvèdre are all used for the red wines, vinified traditionally at the monastery and aged in French and American oak barrels.