Talking and walking with a Lebanese winemaker
“Punctuality is the virtue of the bored.” Evelyn Waugh
I can’t say that the Winesleuth is ever bored and so I was running to meet the Lebanese winemaker, Habib Karam at a winetasting in West London, late as always. I don’t know how it happens, time just seems to creep up on me and before I know it, I’m late.
Habib, however, being of Mediterranean stock, much like the Winesleuth, was not too concerned with my timekeeping as I found him sampling various wines at the tasting where I was meeting him. “Come, you must try this one” and he dragged me by the hand to try this “amazing” white from southern France or his favourite red Burgundy or “this minerally Alsatian”. After about 2o minutes my head was spinning and not from the wine. Have you ever had a winemaker take you around a tasting where none of his wines are on display that day? It was a fun experience to hear his critiques of the other winemakers. “Too much oak…. unbalanced…. green….” were just some of his findings. He did however also find wines he considered sublime and I was also treated to his exposition on them and their composition.
Since I had gotten there so late in the day ( a fact of which was not entirely my fault as Habib had called me right before I was to meet him to change our meeting place), the tasting was ending and I still hadn’t had a chance to ask Habib any questions. “No problem. We walk now and you ask me your questions. ” I knew I was going to be late for dinner but Habib was such an engaging character that I found myself trailing in his wake down Holland Park Rd.
Habib has a day job. He’s not a full time winemaker as I soon discovered jogging to keep up with his long strides. His day job is as a pilot for a Middle Eastern airline but his true passion lies with the vines. He plans to retire in a few years and take on wine making full time. I asked him how he came about to making wine and he explained that he has been making wine at home for the past 30 years. It’s only recently that he decided to go commercial with his wine making. Prior to Habib planting in Jezzine, south Lebanon, all the vineyards were in the Bekaa Valley. He wanted to make a different wine, one that was uniquely his own. He also aims to make his wines as artisanal as possible with small yields and high quality being the keys to his production.
Karam winery is currently producing 65,000 bottles as year but Habib says that once they reach 100,000 he will stop. He believes that any more and the quality would suffer. The winery produces 2 whites and 4 reds. Why only 4 reds, I asked him. “Because those 4 can cover any type of food.” He produces 2 single red varietals,a syrah and a cabernet sauvignon. His top wine, the Corpus Christi is found in the best restaurants and hotels in Lebanon and demand far outstrips supply.
Another of Habib’s aims is to revitalize the south of Lebanon and, since he has planted his vineyard more and more winemakers are joining him in his quest to bring the area back to life. He’s not only interested in wine making but also in bringing industrial agriculture to the area, giving it a new lease on life.
Lebanese wine is now making an effort to get noticed on the international scene and will be doing various events in the coming year, culminating in the London International Wine Fair 2011. There will be tastings and visits to Lebanon as well as winemakers making the trip to London to sell their wines. Habib, unfortunately did not have any of his wines to try. He had been stranded here due to the Icelandic volcano canceling all flights into and out of London. He had just been here on a flying visit but he did promise me that I would be able to try his wines the next time he was in London. Having had a fair amount of wines from the Bekaa, it will be interesting to see how the wines of South Lebanon compare.
All too soon, we had reached Notting Hill Gate and we went our separate ways but I will keep an eye out for Karam wines.