I was very fortunate to meet Serge Hochar at the Fine Wine 2010 conference in Ribera Del Duero in April. He truly is one of the wine world’s most remarkable men, not least because he produces fine wine that is accessible to all! Serge is living proof that fine wine does not need to be expensive – Majestic wine merchants in the UK are selling the 2002 Chateau Musar for around £20. It’s a small amount to pay for such an outstanding wine.
Serge Hochar is a man who has made, and continues to make fine wine in less than ideal conditions, and that’s putting it mildly! Chateau Musar was founded by his father Gaston, in the Lebanese town of Ghazir. During the Second World War, he met the Irish winemaker Ronald Barton, of Leoville Barton in Bordeaux, who was based in Lebanon. Barton inspired Gaston to take up the mantle of fine wine-making, although for decades virtually all their production was sold at home. The defining moment of the estate came in 1979, when Musar created a sensation at the Bristol Wine Fair and the name of the wine spread across the world. Now, 85 percent of its production is sold abroad.
Chateau Musar has had its fair share of problems to contend with, not least the Lebanese Civil War. Their grapes are grown in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, 50 miles from Ghazir, and during the war the road down which they travelled was full of snipers, roadblocks and gun-wielding gangsters demanding money. The family even produced a wine in 1983, at the height of the fighting! Serge related a particularly poignant story about the challenges of the war during the conference. One time, the Syrians were shelling the neighbourhood where the Hochars lived and most people (quite understandably) took refuge in a shelter. Friends and family begged Serge to take cover. But he refused; he stayed in his home and opened a bottle of the 1972 Musar and poured it into one giant glass. Over the 12 hours the shelling continued, he sipped the wine each time a shell went off, noting carefully how it changed hour by hour through exposure to the air.
There are three different levels each of red, white and rose wine. The white wines are really fascinating, nothing quite like them exists in the wine world – aged examples offer noble complexity and an oxidised but intriguing cinnamon character. The star of the show is undoubtedly though the leading red wine which has made Chateau Musar world famous. It’s a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Carignan – an exotic and rich wine, which can live for decades. Serge made it his mission to produce fine wine for all, not just the rich. The wines are a monument to his dedication and resilience.